How young adults can reduce risks related to alcohol use

Alcohol use is common among young adults (18 to 25). Some young adults engage in heavy drinking, which poses risks to their health and wellbeing. This page offers tips on how young adults can reduce their risks when drinking alcohol.

On this page:

If you don't want to drink

Many people don’t drink alcohol. Alcohol isn’t for everyone, and it's normal not to drink. For example, among postsecondary students:

If you would prefer not to drink, you could try:

Tips to reduce risks when drinking

If you plan on drinking alcohol, here are some ways you can reduce your risk of harms:

Know your limits

Before you drink, it’s important to know your limits and to decide on the maximum number of drinks you will have. Letting your friends know what your plans are and sticking to your limits will lower your risk of harms.

Plan to get home safely

When you start drinking, it’s harder to think clearly and make rational decisions. This means that you should make a plan to get home safely before you start drinking.

For a safe night out and a safe trip home:

Eat before you drink alcohol

Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach can make the effects of alcohol more intense. This is because it takes less time for alcohol to affect you when there is no food in your stomach. Before drinking, it is best to eat foods high in proteins and fats so that the effects of alcohol are more gradual.

Pay attention to how you're drinking

You should pace yourself when drinking alcohol. Drinking too quickly can have an immediate effect and can lead to drinking too much, which can result in alcohol poisoning.

Drink water between each drink

Alcohol dehydrates the body, so drinking water in between drinks will help to:

Be careful about mixing alcohol with other non-alcoholic drinks

Mixing alcohol with other non-alcoholic drinks can make it harder to know how much alcohol you're consuming and how alcohol is affecting you.

For example:

Don't leave your drink unattended

You should keep your drink close to you at all times, and be careful when accepting drinks from others. This will help make sure that you know what type of alcohol you're drinking and that no one has added any drugs to your drink.

Avoid mixing alcohol with other drugs

Alcohol can interact with other drugs in unpredictable, unintended, and harmful ways. For example:

To avoid the risks, it is safest to avoid mixing any substances with alcohol. If you're planning on using another drug, avoid trying it when you've been drinking.

Effects of alcohol

Drinking alcohol can have many short- and long-term effects on your health. If you want to learn more, visit the Health risks of alcohol page.

These risks can be reduced by being mindful of how you drink. Canada's low-risk alcohol drinking guidelines has helpful information about recommended limits.

If you are pregnant, or planning to become pregnant, it's safest to not drink alcohol at all. For more information, see the Prevention of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder page.

What to do in an alcohol emergency

Alcohol poisoning resulting from drinking too much can be dangerous. It can lead to respiratory arrest and death.

It can be hard to tell the difference between someone being very drunk or when the situation is more serious and someone has alcohol poisoning.

A helpful acronym for remembering common symptoms of alcohol poisoning is CUPS:

If anyone around you is experiencing any of these symptoms, they may need immediate medical attention.

What to do when someone has alcohol poisoning

If your friend or someone around you has alcohol poisoning, you should take these steps to help them:

  1. Check in with the person by talking to them or gently shaking them.
  2. If they do not respond, call for help (911). Remember that if you ask for help and have other drugs on you, you can be protected by the Good Samaritan Law.
  3. Sit them down, or if they are unable to sit up, lay them on their side in the recovery position (Figure 1) to prevent choking.
    Figure 1: Recovery position
    A person helping another person into recovery position (lying down on their left side with right knee bent, left arm extended, and right hand supporting their head).
    Figure 1 - Text version

    A person putting someone into the recovery position. The features of the recovery position include:

    •  lying down on left side
    •  airway is kept clear with head supported by right hand
    • right knee bent to prevent rolling onto stomach
     
  4. Do not leave them alone.
  5. Try to find out if they've taken other substances and how much.

Posters to share

These posters were created "for students by students," to support postsecondary students in making informed decisions about alcohol use and reducing potential harms. Developed by the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP), with support from the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Postsecondary Education Partnership - Alcohol Harms (PEP-AH) network, the posters are available to anyone looking for tools to help reduce the risks associated with alcohol use among students.

Drinking is up to you (poster)

Tips if you don’t want to drink and how to reduce risks when drinking

Drinking tonight? (poster)

Tips for reducing risks when drinking

Hey, are you ok? (poster)

What to do in an alcohol-related emergency

Graphics for social media with similar messaging are also available upon request. For more information, contact the Public Health Agency of Canada at phac.ppsu-aspc.pcps@canada.ca.

Footnotes

Footnote i

Canadian Postsecondary Education Alcohol and Drug Use Survey, 2019/20 https://health-infobase.canada.ca/alcohol/cpads/

Return to footnote i referrer

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