Alcohol and Youth

Last revised: March 13, 2024

Alcohol is the most commonly used substance (drug) in Ottawa. Many Ottawa youth are either curious about alcohol or are already drinking under the legal age. Home is the number one location where youth get alcohol. Two out of three Ottawa youth reported it would be easy to get alcohol.

Is alcohol harmful to youth?
There are no proven health benefits to drinking. Alcohol is the most widely used substance among youth. Alcohol can affect normal brain development that happens during the teen years; the brain is not fully developed until at least 25 years of age. The earlier youth start drinking, the more problems they may have later in life, if possible delay the start of alcohol use.
How should I store alcohol in my house?

Depending upon the age of your children, you may put different measures in place when storing alcohol. Read more information on how to secure your medications at home. 

Can my 18-year-old drink at home?

In Ontario, the legal age to buy or drink in a public location is 19 years of age. As a parent you may offer your own teen alcohol in your home, remember there can be health effects from using alcohol, more so for youth because of their developing brains. 

Your youth may ask you to if they can have friends over to drink. There are many things to keep in mind when agreeing to host, one of them being liability. Parents could be held responsible, investigated and charged for allowing underaged drinking in their home. To learn more visit: Having a party | CAMH

My teen is already drinking, what should I do?

Be clear about your feelings and what you expect.

  • Talk openly with them and try to understand how much, where and when they are drinking.

Talk about safer use of alcohol.

Talk about drinking in a safer place under parental guidance and at lower levels (ie. 1-2 standard drinks just once or twice per week). See Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health 2022 for more information.

Talk about having an exit strategy if they are at a party and feel uncomfortable

For more tips on talking about substance use, check out: Have THAT talk About Substance Use Health

How can binge drinking affect a person?

Drinking a lot of alcohol in a short amount of time can make it hard for a person to think clearly and make decisions. It can cause a person to get angry and fight, or it can put someone at risk for alcohol overdose also known as alcohol poisoning, which can cause death. Overtime, binge drinking can lead to physical, emotional, mental, and social problems. 

Alcohol Overdose

Drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short time can lead to alcohol overdose. If you see a person showing these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately and put the person in the recovery position:

  • Blue/grey, cold, clammy skin.
  • Vomiting and not waking up.
  • Not moving, cannot be woken up.
  • Slowed breathing.
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control.
How do I talk to my youth about drinking?

Get informed first. Ask them what they know; talk about the effects of drinking or substance (drug) use, it is important to listen to their thoughts. Be clear about rules; tell them what you expect from them, even if you are not sure they will listen. Talk about family rules and what happens if those rules are broken.  

Check out these great resources: Tips for talking about Substance Use, Youth Resources in OttawaParty Safer, and Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.

  • Make them feel at ease.
    • Spend quality time together and find out where your teen is going and with whom.
  • Get to know their friends.
    •  Talk with their friends’ parents if they spend a lot of their time at their homes.
What can I do as a parent or caregiver?
  • Be a role model – Reflect on your own attitudes and behaviours related to substance use health, they can have an impact on your children.
  • Keep talking to them, don't wait! By grade 9, most students have opinions about alcohol.
  • Help your youth delay drinking until they are older.

                    Fact: Across Ontario youth are waiting longer before they try alcohol.

Where do I go for help?

If you are  questioning your relationship with alcohol or other substances, talk with your health care provider or visit  the Mental Health and Substance Use Resource List in Ottawa.

Learn more about building resiliency and how to have THAT talk about mental health and substance use health.

Do you have more questions about parenting?

  • Connect with a registered nurse from Health811 for free, secure, and confidential health advice. Service is available 24/7 in English and French, with translation support also offered in other languages. Call 8-1-1 or visit Health811.ontario.ca.
  • Connect with a Community Navigator from 2-1-1 for information about community programs and resources across Eastern Ontario. Helpline service is available 24/7 and in many different languages. Call 2-1-1 or visit 211ontario.ca.
  • Connect with a Public Health Nurse and other parents on the Parenting in Ottawa Facebook page.
  • There are a variety of services to make it easier for your child to grow up healthy in Ottawa.
  • You can update your child's immunization record using either the CANImmunize App or the Immunization Connect Ontario (ICON) Tool
  • If you have received a message from Ottawa Public Health such as a letter or a call regarding immunization, an infectious disease, or infection control lapse, please call 613-580-6744 and listen to the menu options carefully.

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