04:16pm Sunday 23 February 2020

End of term… exams over? Talk to your child about alcohol

End of term... exams over? Talk to your child about alcohol

With the end of term approaching and exams nearing completion, the Public Health Agency (PHA) is urging parents to talk to their child about the risks associated with drinking alcohol.

Thousands of students will complete their exams soon, so the PHA is advising parents to be aware of how their children plan to celebrate, stressing the dangers of underage drinking and the importance of sticking to the limits, for those who have reached the legal age to drink.

Owen O’Neill, PHA Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement Manager and Drugs and Alcohol Lead, said: “The end of term, exams and the freedom of the summer are generally reasons for celebration. We want parents to discuss with their child or young person the serious consequences of underage drinking, or, if the young person is of the legal drinking age, encourage them to take care if they choose to drink. Remind them it is possible to have a good time and if they drink, to do so in moderation. Excessive and underage drinking can increase the risk of accidents and antisocial behaviour, as well as sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies.

“Even if a young person is old enough to drink, staying within the safe drinking limits is important, as excessive drinking can have lasting effects on health, such as damage to the liver, heart, brain and stomach. Parents have a role to play, even with their young adults. They should make the first move and talk openly about the dangers of binge drinking.”


  • Make the first move and bring up the topic of alcohol. Don’t wait until there’s a problem before you decide to talk.
  • Take time to listen to what your child has to say.
  • Respect their views if you want the same in return.
  • Discuss the risks associated with drinking alcohol.
  • Discuss possible consequences of their actions and support them to make the right choices.


  • Assume your child doesn’t want to talk. Not talking to your child about alcohol could be interpreted as your approval of them drinking.
  • Assume they already know everything.
  • Interrupt or be judgmental, even if you don’t agree with their opinion.

Parents and young people should be aware that drinking, even at age 15 or older, can be hazardous to health and that not drinking is the healthiest option for young people. If 15 to 17 year olds do consume alcohol, they should do so infrequently and certainly on no more than one day a week. Young people aged 15 to 17 years should never exceed recommended adult daily limits and, on days when they drink, consumption should usually be below such levels*.

There are more handy tips on talking to your child about drinking in the booklet You, your child and alcohol, which is available from GP surgeries, pharmacies and in the Publications section of the PHA website: www.publichealthagency.org

For further information on sensible drinking and alcohol units, visit the PHA’s website: www.knowyourlimits.info. If you are worried about poor mental health, either your own or that of your child, or you are interested in maintaining good mental health, visit: www.mindingyourhead.info

If you or someone you know is in distress or despair, call Lifeline on 0808 808 8000. This is a confidential service, where trained counsellors will listen and help immediately on the phone and follow-up with other support if necessary. The helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also access the Lifeline website at www.lifelinehelpline.info 

Further information

Contact PHA Communications on 028 9055 3663

*GUIDANCE ON THE CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOL BY CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE a joint publication by the UK four Chief Medical Officers, December 2009: www.ias.org.uk/newsroom/uknews/2009/news171209/doh-report171209.pdf

Notes to the editor

  • The Public Health Agency takes the lead on the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety’s New Strategic Direction for Alcohol and Drugs, Phase 2, 2011-2016.
  • The booklet to help parents talk to their children about alcohol, You, Your Child and Alcohol, is available from GP surgeries, pharmacies, Post Offices and from the publications section on the PHA website.
  • Daily alcohol limits are recommended by government in order to avoid the health and social risks of excessive and binge drinking in any one session. These recommended limits are:
    • Men: It is recommended that men drink no more than three to four units of alcohol a day (ie two pints of standard beer) and no more than 21 units over the course of the week.
    • Women: It is recommended that women drink no more than two to three units of alcohol a day (ie a 175ml glass of wine) and no more than 14 units over the course of the week.
    • Remember, that for each unit you drink over the daily limit, the risk to your health increases. It’s important to spread the units throughout the week – you shouldn’t ‘save up’ your units for the weekend or a special occasion.
    • Pregnant women or women trying to conceive should avoid drinking alcohol. If they do choose to drink, to minimise the risk to the baby they should not drink more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week and should not get drunk.
  • Alcohol is usually measured in units. Many bottles of wine, beer and ready-mixed drinks have the units marked on the label:
    • Can of extra strong lager – 4 units
    • Bottle of lager – 1.5 units
    • Small pub bottle of wine – 2.25 units
    • Pub measure of spirits – 1.5 units
    • Pint of stout – 2.5 units
    • Pint of cider – 3 units
  •  Don’t
    • ever drink and drive;
    • drink on an empty stomach;
    • drink in rounds or play drinking games, as this may speed up the frequency of your drinking pattern;
    • leave your drinks unattended
  • Do:
    • take sips rather than gulps;
    • alternate each alcoholic drink with a non-alcoholic drink, eg water or a soft drink;
    • set yourself a limit and stick to it;
    • take frequent breaks from drinking to give your body time to recover;
    • tell friends and family where you are going and who you will be with.

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