Commonly asked questions

Should I drink alcohol or not?

The earlier a person starts drinking alcohol the greater the risk of changing the development of the brain. This can lead to problems with memory and learning, and increases the risk of having alcohol-related problems later in life. 1

While you can legally consume and purchase alcohol at 18 years of age in Australia, you still have a choice to delay drinking while your brain continues to mature. Because the brain doesn’t fully mature until the early twenties, it is worth considering delaying the use of alcohol for as long as possible.


There are a number of things to consider when making the decision about whether to drink or not.

  • In Western Australia the number of young people aged 12 to 17 years choosing not to drink alcohol is increasing. In 1993, 1 in 10 young people had never consumed alcohol and in 2011 this number had increased significantly to 1 in 4 young people having never consumed alcohol. 2
  • Choosing to drink alcohol while the brain is still maturing can lead you to take risks that you might not choose to do at other times of your life. For example, getting into a car with someone driving who has been drinking or having unprotected sex.
  • Although the number of Western Australian young people in 2011 who are choosing not to drink has increased, those who do drink are drinking much more on a single occasion (binge drinking) than they have in previous years and they prefer drinks that have a higher percentage of alcohol.2

Why should I care when lots of people I know are drinking alcohol?

Just because people you know are drinking doesn’t mean you have to as well. You have a right to make your own decisions about your body and how you treat it. Young people often overestimate how much, and how many of their friends are drinking.

The result of drinking has led to 2,484 Western Australians aged 12 to 17 years being admitted to hospital between 2007 and 2011 and 25 alcohol-related deaths in the same period. 3

Young people who regularly drink alcohol through their teenage years and into their early twenties are at risk of damaging their brain. This can lead to problems with:

  • Forming and retrieving memories which can affect learning.
  • Experiencing blackouts where you are unable to remember what you have done.
  • A decrease in problem solving abilities and difficulty maintaining attention.
  • Alcohol dependence later in life.

These negative effects of alcohol use may affect your school grades and can impact on your career path options. 1

To increase your ability to learn, the best option is to delay drinking alcohol as long as possible.

1 Monti P, Miranda R, Nixon K, Sher K, Swartzwelder H, Tapert S, White A, Crews F. Adolescence: Booze, Brains, and Behavior. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 2010; 29(2):207–220.

2 Bridle, R, Goggin, L, Christou, A. (2012). Alcohol Trends in Western Australia: ASSAD Survey 2011. Brief communications no. 6. Perth: Drug and Alcohol Office.

3 Bridle, R, Miller. J, King, T, Christou, A. (2012). Australian School Student Alcohol and Drug Survey: Alcohol Report 2011 – Western Australian results. Drug and Alcohol Office Surveillance Report: Number 8. Perth: Drug and Alcohol Office

4 Nagel BJ, Schweinsburg AL. Phan V. Tapert SF. 2005. Reduced hippocampal volume among adolescents with alcohol use disorders without psychiatric comorbidity. Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine, Department of Psychology, University of California, San Diego, School of Arts and Sciences; Veterans Medical Research Foundation, San Diego, California; and the VA San Diego Healthcare System.

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