Reducing harm caused by alcohol

Alcohol and young people

Alcohol can put young people at serious risk of harm, whether they are drinking themselves or being affected by the drinking of a parent or other adult in their lives.

The current scientific evidence is that an alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option. Young people's bodies and brains are more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol because they are still growing and developing.

Drinking can cause short and long-term harm to health, as well as put young people in risky situations when drunk. Research shows that the earlier a young person starts drinking alcohol, the more likely they are to drink in ways that can be harmful later in life.

Young people are under a lot of pressure to start drinking at a young age. Alcohol today is cheap, readily available and heavily marketed. As a result, young people are growing up in a pro-alcohol society where drinking is seen as the norm.

Under-age drinking

The Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey (SALSUS) provides national level data on smoking, drinking, drug use and lifestyle issues amongst Scotland’s secondary school children.

SALSUS 2015 shows:

  • Two thirds (66%) of 15 year olds and a third (28%) of 13 year olds have ever had an alcoholic drink.
  • Less than half of 13 year olds (45%) and around two-thirds of 15 year olds (68%) who had ever had alcohol, had been drunk at least once.
  • Drinking in the last week has been decreasing since 2002. 15 year old girls were slightly more likely than 15 year old boys to have drunk alcohol in the last week: 19% of 15 year olds girls drank in the last week, compared with 16% of 15 year old boys. There was no difference between 13 year old boys and girls.
  • It has become much less common for 15 year olds to buy alcohol directly from a shop, they are more likely to source alcohol from home, friends or relatives.
  • The most common drinking location among 13 year olds was at their own home and among 15 year olds was at a party with friends.