Smith A, Stewart D, Poon C, Peled M, Saewyc E, & McCreary Centre Society. (2015). How many is too many for BC youth? Alcohol use and associated harms. McCreary Centre Society

Among 12- to 19-year-olds who completed the 2013 BC Adolescent Health Survey (BC AHS), 45% of males and females had tried alcohol. With this percentage of BC students consuming alcohol it is important to establish the level at which use becomes harmful. Some people would argue that any use is risky, and some of the data in this report supports this. However, the data also clearly shows where harms noticeably increase, who is at greater risk of harmful use, and what protective factors can contribute to youth who drink staying within Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines.

Youth are generally making healthier choices than their peers five and 10 years ago, with youth less likely to have tried alcohol than in previous years, to have drunk alcohol in the past month, and to have engaged in heavy sessional drinking. They are also more likely to wait until they are at least 15 years old to drink.

Youth who started drinking at an earlier age reported poorer health than those who had not tried alcohol or waited longer to first try alcohol. For example, 16- to 18-year-olds who first drank at 12 or younger were more likely to have considered or attempted suicide, and used substances other than alcohol than those who had not used alcohol until they were at least 15.

Youth who had been drinking for more than a year (regardless of how old they were when they started) were more likely to drink regularly, drink heavily, and binge drink than those who were newer to using alcohol. They were also more likely to use alcohol to manage their emotions, as well as to experience negative consequences of their use and to report
needing help for their use.

Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines suggest that if youth do decide to drink, they should never have more than one to two drinks per occasion and never drink more than one or two times per week. Many findings offered support for these guidelines. However, even youth who drank on three or more occasions in the past month reported poorer mental health than those who did not drink or drank less often, although the poorest outcomes were seen among those who drank on 10 or more occasions.

Despite recommendations that females consume fewer alcoholic drinks than males, older females drank at a similar level to older males, and younger females were more likely than younger males to have been drinking on three or more days in the past month and to have engaged in heavy sessional drinking during that time. Females were more likely
than males to report using alcohol because they wanted to have fun, their friends were doing it, because of stress, or because they felt down or sad.

There were some concerning findings among youth who drank well above the recommended levels. For example, youth who engaged in heavy sessional drinking (meaning they had  consumed five or more drinks within a couple of hours) were less likely to report good or excellent
overall health, and were more likely to report being seriously injured or experiencing a concussion in the past year.

Drinking above the rate recommended by Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines on the Saturday before completing the survey
(males who had four or more drinks and females who had three or more drinks) was associated with a range of negative consequences and with lower ratings of overall health, mental health, and school connectedness.

Some youth were at greater risk of harmful alcohol use, including youth who identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual; youth who had been physically or sexually abused; youth who had experienced discrimination; and youth who were employed. Also the more hours youth worked, the more likely they were to have engaged in heavy sessional drinking.

There were some geographical differences in alcohol consumption, most notably that youth in rural parts of the province were more likely than their urban-based peers to have tried alcohol at an early age and to have drunk on three or more days in the past month (30% vs. 26%).

Among youth who had tried alcohol, those who felt connected to school, family, and community, and who had supportive adults in their lives were less likely to drink at harmful levels than those without these supports to rely on.

Relationships with peers were complex, as youth without any close friends and those with a wider circle of friends were more likely to engage in risky drinking than their peers with a smaller circle of friends. However, regardless of how many friends they had, if youth had friends with healthy attitudes towards alcohol use, they were less likely to drink at harmful levels.

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