As we learn more about the dangers of alcohol – including alcohol use disorder as well as the short-term and long-term risks of alcohol consumption.
There have been calls to raise the minimum drinking age to 21 in the UK. Some people think that 18 is simply too young to be drinking alcohol.
Read on to learn more about alcohol – including the legal drinking age in the UK, and whether we should raise it to 21.
On this page, we’ll also be discussing the dangers of alcohol, and how you can protect your children from alcohol-related problems.
What Is The Legal Drinking Age In The UK?
The drinking age laws in the UK are simple and easy to understand. First of all, the minimum age is 18 or over in order to buy alcohol – and if you look under 25, you will be required to prove your age by showing a form of photographic ID (e.g passport, provisional licence or driving licence)
If you are under the age of 18, it’s against the law to buy or even attempt to buy alcohol. Likewise, it’s also illegal for an adult to buy alcohol for underage people.
The responsibility doesn’t just fall on the person buying the alcohol – it also falls on the person selling alcohol. It’s illegal for somebody to sell you alcohol if you are under the age of 18.
Premises such as pubs, bars, and restaurants also have a responsibility to ensure young people aren’t drinking alcohol. It is against the law in the UK for underage people to drink alcohol on licensed premises.
That being said, if you are aged 16 or 17 and are in the company of an adult, you can drink (but not buy) beer, wine or cider with a meal.
Depending on the conditions of the premises, you may be able to go to a pub or premises that sell alcohol if you’re aged 16 or under as long as you’re accompanied by an adult. [i]
Can You Drink Alcohol Underage At Home?
You may be wondering whether it is okay for yourself or your child to drink alcohol under the age of 18. Children and teenagers are advised to not drink alcohol before they turn 18 – as teenage drinking has been linked to a range of health and social problems.
Some people believe that if you think it’s okay for your child to consume alcohol, then you should let them.
However, the NHS recommends that children should not drink at home until they turn 15 years old – and they should be supervised. It is also recommended that children have no more than one drink a week. [ii]
But what does the law say about drinking at home? Well, you may be surprised to hear that it is legal in the UK for anybody over the age of five to drink alcohol at home or on other private premises. However – just because it is legal, doesn’t mean you should.
Why Drinking Alcohol Can Be Dangerous
Alcohol is considered a dangerous substance, affecting your life in many ways – for example, alcohol use can affect your finances, work, relationships, and of course, your physical health and mental health.
Excessive alcohol consumption can have short-term effects and long-term effects. For example, drinking alcohol excessively can put you at risk of developing alcohol use disorder.
Read on for some reasons why alcohol is dangerous in both the short term and the long term.
Short-Term Effects of Alcohol
There are many short-term effects of alcohol consumption, whether it be from drinking excessive amounts of alcohol/ binge drinking, or simply enjoying a few drinks on a weekend.
One of the more serious short-term effects of drinking alcohol/ abusing alcohol is alcohol poisoning, also known as an alcohol overdose. Alcohol affects your central nervous system – it changes how your CNS functions.
Alcohol poisoning can occur when your blood alcohol levels are too high, affecting certain areas of your brain that control life-supporting functions (e.g breathing, temperature, and heart rate).
Alcohol poisoning should be considered a medical emergency – it can be extremely dangerous and even fatal. If you, a child, or somebody you’re with is displaying signs of alcohol poisoning, seek medical help from a medical professional immediately.
Some alcohol poisoning symptoms to look out for can include cold skin, slow breathing, confusion, pale skin, and vomiting.
A person with alcohol poisoning may also lose consciousness or have seizures. Vomiting and unconsciousness can be a fatal combination.
Some other short-term effects of alcohol abuse can include injuries (e.g slips, trips and falls, drowning, burns, and even car crashes), violence, and risky sexual behaviours. Excessive alcohol use can also increase the risk of a miscarriage [iii].
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol
As well as a range of short-term effects, alcohol can also cause many issues in the longer term. For example, heavy drinking can put you at a higher risk of developing cancer – and alcohol can cause several types of cancer [iv].
Some cancers that are associated with alcohol include head and neck cancer (e.g larynx, oral cavity, and pharynx), breast cancer, liver cancer, colorectal cancer, and oesophagal cancer. [v]
If you regularly drink alcohol, you should know that excessive alcohol use can also weaken your immune system, as well as put you at risk of heart disease, liver disease, digestive problems, high blood pressure, and a stroke.
Alcohol can have a long-lasting effect on your brain – for example, it can cause the neurons in your brain to shrink in size, [vi] impacting your ability to think clearly and remember things.
You may also experience mental health issues such as anxiety or depression – as well as long-term social problems such as unemployment or family problems.
Drinking alcohol can also increase the chance of you developing alcohol use disorder – becoming addicted to alcohol.
Alcohol is an addictive substance, and regular alcohol consumption, over time, can lead to you developing a physical dependence as well as a psychological dependence on the substance.
If you think you may be addicted to alcohol, or somebody you know is addicted to alcohol, we can help.
Call us today to start the journey to recovery from alcohol addiction, and find the right local rehab clinic for you and your circumstances.
Alcohol abuse is a form of alcohol use disorder. The UK Government and the NHS recommend that you consume no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, across the span of three or more days.
Drinking more than this can be considered a dangerous drinking pattern that can have many negative consequences, as discussed above.
Negative drinking patterns typically involve binge drinking – consuming a dangerous amount of alcohol in a short space of time – so much that it causes physical damage.
So, Should We Raise The Drinking Age To 21?
It’s no secret that the UK has a ‘drinking culture’ – but should this include those under the age of 21? The minimum legal drinking age is currently 18, but some people think we should raise this to 21.
Underage drinking is pretty common in the UK – with one in six young people engaging in underage drinking regularly. In fact, 11% of 15-year-olds in England reported drinking alcohol once a week. [vii]
It’s important to note that starting drinking early can increase the risk of developing alcohol addiction or alcohol use disorder – especially if you binge drink at an early age. [viii]
Although there have been calls to raise the drinking age in the UK to 21, it doesn’t look like there are any plans for this occurring any time soon.
It is considered a tradition to have your first alcoholic drink legally on your 18th birthday in a pub or a bar – which is perfectly fine, as long as young people are enjoying alcohol in moderation.
Preventing Alcohol Problems In Young People
There is no clear answer to preventing problems in young people, and often, it comes down to individual parenting styles. However, some people recommend that you don’t give your children alcohol until they turn 15 years of age.
If you do allow your children to drink alcohol, ensure that they are supervised by a caregiver – and don’t drink more than once a week.
For health reasons, it’s important that young people don’t drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week – the UK guidelines and NHS guidelines. This is around the same as six medium glasses of wine, and six 4% pints of beer.
It can be helpful to teach your children about units – and how to understand how many units they are drinking.
Offering advice, educating them on alcohol, and implementing positive practices can help to prevent alcohol problems in young people.
Talking to your children or child about the dangers of drinking can be extremely helpful.
Although everybody has different parenting styles, it can help if you make it clear that you are there for them, and can answer any questions they have about alcohol or the dangers of alcohol.
Likewise, young people should be educated about drink spiking – or about how alcohol can affect judgement. Knowing about the dangers is necessary when it comes to drinking alcohol.
If you’re worried that your child may have a problem with alcohol, call us today. Our team of friendly addiction specialists can talk with you to find out the problem, and find the right treatment for alcohol addiction or alcohol use disorder.