What is it?
Alcohol is a psychoactive (mind altering) substance made by fermenting or distilling different grains, fruits or vegetables. Alcoholic drinks include beer, wine and hard liquor (gin, rum, vodka, etc.) which all have different percentages of alcohol in them. Alcohol is a depressant or "downer". It slows down the parts of the brain that affects how we think, feel and behave. Small amounts of alcohol usually make people feel relaxed or sociable, but can also make people feel energized or anxious.
The effect alcohol can have on a person depends on:
- Individual factors (For example: age, past experience, genes)
- The context (For example: how much, how often, other substance use, when a person last ate)
- Note: The more often someone drinks alcohol, the more their body gets used to processing it (called tolerance). This means that their body feels less effects from drinking the same amount of alcohol.
- Why they are drinking (For example: to have fun, to relax, to feel better)
If a person drinks more alcohol than their body can process, then they begin to become intoxicated (drunk). Being drunk affects a persons balance, vision, coordination and decision-making. Drinking to the point of being drunk has more risks because a person is more likely to do something they wouldn’t do if they were sober (not drunk or affected by alcohol).
Drinking a lot of alcohol at once is called binge drinking, which is a more risky way to drink alcohol. Some of the increased risks include serious harm like blackouts, overdoses or accidents. Binge drinking is most commonly seen in youth and young adults. As a parent or caregiver, you may want to discuss the risks that come with binge drinking with your child when talking about safer ways to drink alcohol.
Youth’s introduction to alcohol
Drinking a moderate amount of alcohol is generally considered to be socially acceptable in Canada and is regulated in this way (who can buy, have, drink or provide alcohol). However, some people may have personal, cultural, religious, health or other reasons for not consuming alcohol. Alcohol is also the most common substance used by youth. While the legal drinking age in BC is 19 years old, many youth will have their first drink before that. One of their first exposures to alcohol is usually in their own or a friend’s home where they observe the drinking patterns of adult family members or friends. It is important to be mindful of your own alcohol use and model responsible drinking.
If you don’t drink alcohol but are raising youth in an environment where alcohol is socially acceptable, it is important to have an open conversation about why you don’t drink alcohol (For example: family history of problematic alcohol use, religious beliefs, health). Talking opening with your child can help them know they can still turn to you if they have questions or are in a situation where they drink alcohol and need help.
As youth get older, they experience a range of changes, learn about who they are and explore new things. Trying alcohol is often one of the things they explore, usually in a social setting. Just because a youth drinks alcohol doesn’t mean they have a drinking problem. However, all substance use carries some risk and the risks are greater for anyone under the age of 25 because their minds and bodies are still developing. One thing you can do to support your child during this time is to have open communication with them about substance use.
Talking with your child
It is important to talk openly about substance use, like drinking alcohol, with your child starting at an early age. These honest conversations can help to build and maintain positive relationships, trust and security. You can help your child develop the knowledge and skills they need to make informed decisions about drinking alcohol. Check out the Substance Use & Youth section for more information including tips on talking about substance use with your child.
If you think your child may be experimenting with alcohol, help them explore the context and reasons for their behaviour. Discuss with them what they think are the benefits and possible risks. Keep the discussion focused on their health and safety. Explore safer ways to drink alcohol at home or in social settings (For example: avoid binge drinking, have a designated driver to bring them home). Talk to your child about the importance of reading alcohol labels and understanding standard drink sizes so they better understand how much alcohol they are consuming.
Drinking alcohol can become problematic if it impacts daily life and mental health. You may notice signs and patterns if your child is drinking in a problematic way. This can be challenging to deal with and you may require extra support. If you are concerned, check out our Substance Use & Youth section for more information about problematic substance use. Below, you will also find options for support.
Where to from here?
As a parent or caregiver, you may be concerned that your child’s use of alcohol may be problematic. While you continue to offer love and support, you may also need to reach out to a health professional, like a doctor or adolescent substance use specialist. If your child is struggling, there are different types of treatment and resources available.
The kind of support a youth needs will depend on many different factors. A doctor or a youth clinic can refer them to services suited to their stage and situation.
- You can get information about treatment and resources in BC by calling the 24-hour BC Alcohol and Drug Information and Referral Service. This service can connect you with counselling for an individual, family, or small group. It is for people of all ages who are directly or indirectly affected by alcohol and other drug use.
- In the Lower Mainland, the number is: 604-660-9382, or toll-free anywhere in BC: 1-800-663-1441.
You may also search the HealthLinkBC Directory or contact your local health authority for mental health and substance use support in your area.
Looking for more information on this topic? Connect with a parent peer support worker at the Kelty Centre to discover additional resources, learn more about support and treatment options, or just to find a listening ear.