Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction: Youth and Alcohol

EnglishLogoThe Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines (LRDGs) are based on research and were created to provide Canadians with recommendations for alcohol consumption that could limit their health and safety risks. Some might suggest that since people younger than 19 (or 18 in Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec) cannot legally buy alcohol, the only guideline for them should be, “Don’t drink.” The reality is that many youth do drink alcohol.

There is evidence that drinking alcohol can harm physical and mental development, particularly in adolescence and early adulthood, although certain patterns of use are riskier than others. For this reason, the LRDGs recommend that youth delay drinking alcohol for as long as possible, at least until the legal drinking age. If youth do decide to drink, they should follow the more specific drinking guidelines provided below.

What Are the Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines for Youth?

Canada’s LRDGs recommend that youth up to the legal drinking age:

• Speak to their parents about drinking;

• Never have more than one to two drinks per occasion; and

• Never drink more than one or two times per week.

Canada’s LRDGs recommend that from the legal drinking age to 24 years:

• Females never have more than two drinks a day and never more than 10 drinks a week • Males never have more than three drinks a day and never more than 15 drinks a week

The maximums for youth above the legal drinking age differ from the general LRDGs as these limits apply even on special occasions.

The Reason for Drinking Guidelines for Youth

Just like the body, the human brain is still developing throughout adolescence and early adulthood, until about 24 years of age. The frontal lobe is the last part of the brain to mature and is involved in planning, strategizing, organizing, impulse control, concentration and attention.

Drinking alcohol while these changes are occurring can have negative effects on the brain’s development. In addition to this risk, puberty causes neurochemical and hormonal changes that make adolescents more likely to engage in risky behaviour and seek thrilling experiences. Starting to drink at the time when strategy and planning skills are still underdeveloped and the desire for thrills is high can have harmful effects on a youth’s health and safety.

Click to download full Youth and Alcohol Guidelines: CCSA-Youth-and-Alcohol-Summary-2014-en

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