Drugs and Alcohol

Alcohol and risks to self and others

The young people we spoke to were aware that drinking alcohol carries a number of risks, both in terms of what it can do to a person’s body and in terms of the risks associated with being drunk.

Alcohol and risks to the body
Over time, drinking heavily can result in high blood pressure, liver damage, heart disease and has been connected to stomach and breast cancer. In the short-term, drinking too much in a single session can result in alcoholic poisoning leading to a coma or death. Many of the young people we spoke to did not seem to be very concerned about the health consequences of drinking heavily but Harry did mention a few:
Being drunk and risks
Bekky commented that when people start drinking they do some rather strange and unpredictable things and don’t remember it the next day.
Alcohol can affect people in a number of ways that could put themselves or others at risk including becoming:
  • Less inhibited
  • More likely to take risks
  • Slower in terms of senses, reactions and thought processes
 
These effects can make people more likely to:
  • Have sex that they later regretted
  • To get injured (in road accidents for example)
  • To get into arguments or fights or to become more vulnerable to attacks
  • To take other personal risks (drug-taking for example) that they wouldn’t when sober.

Young people also talked about the importance of looking after one another when drinking.
 
Sex whilst drunk
Young women talked about the risks involved in having sex when they had been drinking alcohol. This could include having sex without a condom, having sex with a complete stranger and/or sex that they later regretted. Lauren’s friend got pregnant after having unprotected sex when she was drunk and ended up having an abortion. Jamie pointed out that young men are also at risk when they have sex with someone they don’t know.
Getting injured when drunk
Under the influence of alcohol or drugs, people can lose (or reduce) their balance, awareness and judgement.
Roads can be particularly dangerous for people who have been drinking, or are high. Bekky‘s friend got run over after going out drinking on their 18th birthday.
 
Ben knows people who drive when they’ve been drinking. He has cycled when he’s been drinking but wouldn’t drive because his father has always been very strict about drink driving. Raphael told us that he’s been drunk enough to fall over but would never drive when drunk because he is ‘not a risk taker with other people’s lives.’
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Getting attacked or fighting whilst drunk
Young people were concerned that being extremely drunk could make them likely to become the target of an attack or mugging. The danger of getting into a fight, or having to deal with other people’s aggressive behaviour was mentioned by several of the young people we talked to. Lauren felt ashamed to admit that she had got into a fight when she was drunk on vodka as a teenager. The police had given her a caution and told her parents. Lauren had concluded that vodka makes her violent and wine makes her sleepy, so she has decided to stick to lager which just makes her feel happy. Peter and Daniel, who had both realised they had a problem with alcohol, said that anything could have happened while they were drunk and out of control.
Women were particularly aware of the risk of being sexually assaulted when they were drunk. Some of the girls we talked to had been assaulted themselves. Young women were also concerned about their drinks being spiked in nightclubs. They took various precautions such as leaving someone to watch the drinks when they were dancing.
Other risks
One of the other consequences of drinking is that people can lose their judgement about how much alcohol and drugs they can handle. Hugh and Alex have only ever taken drugs when they’ve been drinking, they said that they would never take drugs when sober.
Looking after each other 
Young people sometimes said that they went out drinking with a group of friends who would all look out for each other. If someone got drunk another person in the group would make sure that they got home safely. Emily and Hugh both said that they go out with friends who they know they can trust. Alex went to a festival with some friends and started drinking at 8 in the morning. By the time the bands came on at 1pm he was completely out of it – he was sick, passed out, missed the whole thing and the day was ruined. He thinks he was lucky that he was with friends who looked after him otherwise he thinks he would have had his phone and money stolen.
See also Problem drinking and alcoholismReasons for cutting down on alcohol and Friends, drugs and alcohol.

Last updated: January 2015
Review date: January 2017

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