Adolescents and underage individuals should not drink any alcohol. Young people are at particular risk of harm from excessive alcohol consumption because it interferes with their brain development, growth and nutritional status.
It is well recognised that consuming alcoholic beverages increases the probability of an accident while participating in sporting and recreational activities and it diminishes physical, sexual and communicative capacity. The (negative) effects of alcohol misuse are, however, much more pronounced in young people. This is both due to their physical immaturity and psychological factors.
Since adolescents are still in a phase of physical development, they typically have not fully developed the same capacity to tolerate alcohol as adults. It has also been observed that alcohol dependence is more likely to develop, if alcohol use commences prior to adulthood. Researchers found that the earlier that drinking regularly began, the higher the risk of alcohol dependence later in life.
Furthermore, alcohol affects the brain development, even up to age 25 years. Consequently, regular harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption, and particularly binge-drinking, at any time before the brain development is complete, may adversely affect later brain function.
Young people are greater risk takers than adults but still have poorly developed decision-making skills, factors that are reflected in higher levels of injuries during adolescence. The young brain is sensitive to injury from alcohol and is less able to listen to body signs to stop drinking.
The high expectations many young people attribute to alcohol as a social lubricant in removing inhibitions can also expose them to risks of death and disability.
In addition, the constant process of change and transformation experienced by young people affecting both personality and physiology, can rapidly facilitate a psychological and physical dependence on alcohol.
Recent Australian and British research suggests that adolescents who sip/taste small amounts of alcoholic beverages at home with their families are less likely to binge drink compared with those who source alcohol from friends or siblings.
Parental supervision of alcohol consumption in a family environment may also provide a tool for establishing child-parent dialogues on alcohol. Parents, however, should ensure that they only promote responsible drinking behaviours to their children, and must set an example in establishing habits that are appropriate and socially acceptable.
Support for respecting underage sales ban enforcement
The laws of each EU member state reflect regional and cultural differences. Legal restrictions on the age at which individuals may purchase alcohol vary between countries and typically range from 16 to 21 years of age. Because all EU countries legally restrict sales to young people, the wine sector supports that consumers of all ages should be well informed about the minimum age established for purchasing and drinking alcohol in each member state.
Legal restrictions covering the minimum purchasing age can, however, only be effective, if the respective laws are enforced. Enforcement is important because studies indicate that underage individuals can still purchase alcoholic beverages regardless of legal limitations. This is probably the result of insufficient and/or inconsistent enforcement, reflective of particularly of community and enforcement attitudes. The European wine sector will contribute to raising awareness and encouraging societal respect for the laws governing the minimum alcohol purchasing age.
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