Got a problem with alcohol? Someone else's drinking making your life a misery? Just because you're under age doesn't mean you're not drinking and can't have a problem. That's why there's help out there specifically for young people, whoever is doing the drinking.

What's the harm in having a few drinks?

Well, none - if you know when to stop. Anyone who gets very, very drunk is at risk of getting hurt, ending up in A&E, mugged, raped or into trouble with the law. And if you do it regularly it may become a habit you can't break.

Old enough to drive? You might not be for long. If you drink and drive you are likely to lose your licence, cost yourself a lot of money, trash your car (or your mum's if you're borrowing it) and injure or even kill someone on the road, one of your passengers, or yourself.

What starts as a good night out can turn nasty. Ending up in the gutter being sick and feeling like death the next day is a strange definition of a good time. It isn't big and it isn't clever, but it is very easy to do, and hard to resist when your mates are drinking, especially if you actually like the stuff.

As unpleasant and relatively rare as it is, it's not unknown for some irresponsible person to spike your drink (put something strong in it) and get you really drunk without you intending to, at best for a laugh, at worst to get you into a state where they can abuse your trust for things like getting bank details from you or even to commit a date rape. The Roofie Foundation is a specialist organisation dealing with these issues. GTRT "being unsafe or in danger" suggests ways of going out on the town and staying safe. 

What does alcohol do?

Talk to Frank say "Although it is legal for those aged 18 and over to buy and drink alcohol, that doesn’t mean it’s any less powerful than other drugs.

Alcohol is a depressant, which means it slows down your body's responses in all kinds of ways. Just enough can make you feel sociable; too much and you’ll have a hangover the next day, and may not even remember what you got up to; and way too much alcohol in a single session could put you in a coma or even kill you.

Effects of alcohol can include:

  • Reduced feelings of anxiety and inhibitions, making you feel more sociable.
  • Some exaggeration of whatever mood you're in when you start drinking.
  • Causing a wide range of physical health problems, either as a result of binge drinking or from drinking most days of the week over recommended levels. The problems caused by alcohol include cancers, heart problems, high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease, and falls and other accidents."

You're probably not going to thank us for pointing any of this out unless you already know you have a problem and want to stop, or you are worried sick watching someone else drink themselves silly on a regular basis. Anyway we've probably all got drunk at some point, so who are we to tell you what to do?

Well, like it or not, the Government can. This is the law on alcohol and young people now (2012): If you’re under 18, it is against the law:

  • for someone to sell you alcohol
  • to buy or try to buy alcohol
  • for an adult to buy or try to buy alcohol for you
  • to drink alcohol in licensed premises (eg a pub or restaurant)

However if you’re 16 or 17 and accompanied by an adult, you can drink (but not buy) beer, wine or cider with a meal. If you’re 16 or under, you may be able to go to a pub (or premises primarily used to sell alcohol) if you’re accompanied by an adult. However, this isn’t always the case. It can also depend on the specific conditions for that premises and the licensable activities taking place there.

So don't take it out on whoever refuses to serve you. Why should they get into trouble for you breaking the law? A lot of businesses have also signed up to "Challenge 25" where they will ask for ID as proof of age unless you look 25! This may be even more annoying to you if you are 18 but the staff don't have a choice.  

And we're not telling you what to do. And nor should anyone else - it's up to you to decide. We're just giving you something to make you think about the dangers now, the risks to your future health, and where to get help if your drinking is already out of control and you want to stop.

If you want to read about young people and what can happen, Talk to Frank have stories from other people who thought they knew what they were doing. Mia-Louise's story is fairly typical of how one drug led to another.

Anyone can get drunk but it takes a real grown up (however old or young) to take responsibility for their drinking levels.  

What do you really know about alcohol?

Bust the myths with the NHS quiz.

Drinkaware have a fact sheet about young people and alcohol, inlcuding the effects on your health and appearance, and much much more.

How much is too much?

The NHS guidelines recommend a maximum of 2-3 units per day for women and 3-4 for men. Obviously there are no recommendations for teenagers! Use the NHS calculator to see what you really are drinking in terms of units.

How to cut down without cutting it right out -get some tips from the NHS Change4life programme. Downyourdrink helps you work out if you are drinking too much and helps you cut down gradually.

Got a problem?

Have you got a problem with drink or not? Take the NHS test and be honest with yourself.

CASUS (Cambridgeshire Child and Adolescent Substance Use Service) provide information, support and specialist treatment in Cambridgeshire, around drug and alcohol use, to young people under 18 and their families. Their website contains information on their services, including how to refer yourself, or somebody else, and lots of information and advice around drugs, alcohol and mental wellbeing. Young people, family members and professionals are always welcome to get in touch to talk about how they might be able to help.

Alcoholics Anonymous are there to help and support anyone over 18 with an addiction to alcohol. They have local meetings and a 12 point plan to recovery. The local branches are part of the Fenland Intergroup and you can contact them to find your nearest meeting.

Addaction is a national programme of help and support including one-to-one for anyone over 18 with an alcohol problem wanting help to tackle it. You can approach them yourself or be referred by a professional. They have branches in Cambridge, St Neots (covering Huntingdonshire)and Wisbech.

Call Drinkline, the national alcohol helpline, on  Free 0800 917 8282 .

Drinksense offer advice, information and support to the person with the drink problem and their families or carers. They have local branches in Cambridge, Huntingdon, Peterborough, March and Wisbech.

Is your life hell because of someone else's drinking problem?

According to NACOA, there are 920,000 children and young people under the age of 18 living today with a parent ot parents who drink too much. If someone close to you is drinking to excess or is an alcoholic you can get help and support from other people who know what it's like.

NACOA provides information, advice and support for everyone affected by their parent's drinking. You can contact them on a part time helpline or by e-mail or post. They say "There are at least 2.05 million adults in the UK who grew up in an alcoholic family. Imagine how many children are living with the problems that alcoholism and addiction can bring into the family today. Although it may sometimes feel that way, you are not alone" 

Alateen is part of Al-Anon (support for families and friends of alcoholics). They believe alcoholism is a disease that affects everyone in the family. Alateen meetings are attended by 12-17 year olds who meet to share their experiences of having, or having had, a problem drinker in their lives. They help and support each other including learning not to blame themselves. Contact them on 020 7407 0215 but there is no local group at present.

Adfam offer information, advice and support to families affected by drink or drug addiction. There is a helpline and you can share your stories with other families. There is local family support from Addaction in St Neots, Cambridge and Wisbech.

The page was last updated on 18 June 2014 by andrea.bateman.

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