Drinking alcohol and getting drunk affects the way you think and feel. It’s popular because it makes people feel relaxed. It can also be dangerous so it’s important to know the facts.

What you need to know about alcohol

Alcohol can affect you, even in small amounts. Decisions can be harder to make. And we think we can do more than if we're sober. It's one of the reasons so many serious accidents happen after people have been drinking lots of alcohol. It's important to know your limits.

Alcohol can:

  • slow down your body and make accidents more likely to happen
  • make you violent
  • make you feel invincible, which could lead to making bad decisions
  • make you less aware of things
  • make you vulnerable and someone could take advantage of you more easily
  • result in you passing out, choking on your own sick, overdosing and even dying
  • lead to alcoholism - which is when people are addicted to alcohol. People then feel they have to drink all the time to avoid feeling ill or to cope with things
  • damage your liver, heart, stomach and brain.

Things to remember about drinking alcohol:

  • alcohol affects you more quickly if you are smaller, weigh less or if you haven't eaten
  • the mood you are in when you start drinking is often heightened by alcohol
  • you lose control of your body and your judgements
  • it can affect your memory and make it easier to forget things
  • drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis can cause cancer, heart problems, stroke, liver disease and other health problems.

Alcohol and the law

The law can be complicated about alcohol so it's worth knowing what you can and can't do. The general laws are:

Under 5
It's illegal for a child under 5 to drink or be given alcohol

Age 14 
You can go to a pub which has a children's certificate, but you can't buy or drink alcohol

Age 16
You can drink wine, beer or cider with a meal at a restaurant

Age 18 
You can buy alcohol, but remember it's against the law to buy alcohol for anyone under the age of 18. You could also be asked to show your identification, also known as ID to prove you're 18 or over.

Feeling pressured to drink

It can be hard to say 'no' to your friends, especially if they're all joining in. If they are trying to get you to do something that you don't want to do, then this could make you feel scared and alone.

Becoming more assertive is a way you can say how you really feel without being mean or pushy. Read more about peer pressure and how you can stop it.

How to tell if you have a drinking problem

Alcohol affects everyone differently. If you feel like you can't cope without it, or you need alcohol to relax or face some situations, then you might have a drinking problem.

You might also:

  • worry about when you'll have alcohol next
  • find it hard to stop drinking once you've started
  • often regret or forget things you said or did while you were drunk
  • find it hard to remember how much you've had to drink in one day
  • think about alcohol a lot, for example, at school or at the cinema
  • plan your social life around alcohol by making sure you can drink where you're going, for example, a friend's house or a park.

Here's some advice on what to do if you:

Ways to cope when you want to drink:

  • find new hobbies or interests to distract you from drinking
  • avoid places, people or situations which make you want to drink
  • keep a diary or notes about when you drink - you can then see what makes you feel better or worse and find out more about what triggers you to drink
  • set a limit on how much you will drink
  • if you are with friends, tell them your limit so they will know not to encourage you to drink more
  • set goals to see how long you can go without drinking and reward yourself with something nice (not alcohol)
  • be honest with yourself about what's going on in your life - this can be a first step to getting help and figuring out what's making you want to drink
  • talk to someone who you trust or asking an adult for help.

What is binge drinking?

Binge drinking is when you drink a lot of alcohol in one go or in a short space of time to get drunk quickly. A lot of people binge drink to forget problems, to fit in with friends, for fun on a night out or to feel relaxed.

When you binge drink, you are more likely to be sick or vomit, lose control or pass out. In extreme situations you can choke on your vomit, stop breathing or die from alcohol poisoning.

If someone is drunk, they can't think clearly and are more at risk of making decisions they'll regret. For example, getting into a fight or doing sexual things they wouldn't usually feel comfortable with.

If you binge drink or are worried about someone else's drinking, you can contact a counsellor for confidential advice and support.

You should call 999 for urgent help if you or someone else chokes on vomit, can't breathe properly, turns blue or has a fit or seizure.

Helping someone with a drinking problem

If you're worried about how much a friend is drinking, you could let them know how you feel. It may be that they don't realise they have a drinking problem. If they don't want to talk to you, suggest they talk to someone else who they trust about what is happening.

If you're worried a friend has drunk a lot of alcohol, it's important to tell a trusted adult so they can make sure that they're safe. When people are drunk, they are less likely to think about their own safety and might do things they wouldn't do if they were sober. So it's important to not let them wander off on their own or drive a car.

If you're worried that your friend might be in danger or is at risk of harming others, dial 999 to alert a police officer to help keep them safe. Read more about helping a friend.

You could also phone Drinkline on 0300 123 1110 for advice if you're worried about someone else's drinking.