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You, Your Teen and Alcohol

In the teen years, youth are often trying to know who they are, finding out what they value and are seeking a chance to do things on their own.

Although the legal drinking age in Ontario is 19, research shows that the age between 13 and 18 is the time when your teen may be at risk to start using alcohol. As a parent, you play a key role in shaping your teen’s attitude about alcohol.

What are the risks of alcohol use to your teen?

  • Youth are at a high risk when drinking alcohol as they are more likely to drink large amounts at one time
  • Teen brains are still developing into their mid- 20’s
  • Alcohol use before the age of 25 can damage parts of the brain that control judgement, problem solving, impulse control, decision-making and dealing with emotions. This can lead to harmful short and long-term effects.
  • Short-term effects can include memory problems, sleep disturbances, riskier behaviours and altered decision-making abilities.
  • The earlier a teen starts drinking, the higher his or her risk of serious alcohol related problems later in life (e.g. mental health problems, memory loss, addiction, heart disease and cancer).
  • Teens who drinks alcohol are more likely to experience problems in school (e.g. skipping class & lower grades), social problems (e.g. fighting) and legal problems (e.g. arrest for drunk driving).
teen friends

What is heavy drinking?

In Canada and elsewhere, heavy drinking is defined as drinking five or more standard drinks on a single occasion for men and four or more for women.

Studies have shown that the earlier a teen starts to drink the higher their risk of heavy drinking later in life.  Studies have also shown that among teens who drink, the number of heavy drinking days increases with age.

What are the risks of heavy drinking?

  • Skipping school & lower grades in school
  • Physical assaults, vandalism, legal problems and social problems (e.g. relationships with family/friends/peers)
  • Higher risk of death and injuries from motor vehicle collisions, falls, and drowning
  • Sexual assault
  • Risky sexual behavior, including unprotected sexual activity.  This can lead to unplanned pregnancy and the risk of getting sexually transmitted infections

Here are some tips to help you talk to your teen about alcohol

  • Talk often! What are your teen’s thoughts and knowledge on alcohol?
  • Be informed! What is happening in your teen’s everyday life? Being aware can reduce the chance that he or she will drink alcohol.
  • Let your teen know that not all teens are drinking! Two-thirds of youth in Durham Region reported NOT drinking in the past year. Young people often misjudge how many of their friends are using alcohol.
  • Spend time together as a family. Find an activity that you and your teen will enjoy e.g. biking or walking.

Real-life stories from parents on talking about alcohol and:

You are an important role model for your teen.

  • Teens learn from what you do, more than from what you say
  • Start by making healthy changes in your own life