Is there a “low-risk” drinking level for youth? Exploring the harms associated with adolescent drinking patterns

Substance use among youth continues to be a large public health concern, including alcohol consumption among underage youth. While much research has explored youth involvement in substance use and on the negative impacts of that use, there is a lack of consensus in the literature about how to approach the prevention and treatment of youth substance use. A focus on abstinence as the only acceptable outcome is a key controversy in prevention and treatment approaches. While Canada’s laws support abstinence as the desired stance for substance use, studies show that zero-tolerance approaches to drug and alcohol prevention are often ineffective. There is some evidence of the effectiveness of harm-reduction strategies, which focus on reducing youth’s levels of risk and experiences of harm from substance use. While there are low-risk drinking guidelines for adults in British Columbia, there are currently no accepted low-risk drinking guidelines for youth, nor a clear consensus on whether any alcohol consumption by youth below legal drinking age can be considered acceptable and low risk. Kara Murray is drawing on existing research literature and survey data to explore the issues of underage alcohol consumption and its health outcomes. She’s assessing the risk of harm at different levels of alcohol consumption, specifically at low frequency and low quantity of use as outlined in the Canadian low-risk drinking guidelines. She’s also identifying whether there are age or gender differences at different levels of alcohol consumption. Murray’s research will contribute to the advancement of knowledge by attempting to formulate a continuum of risk that identifies distinct levels of hazardous and non-hazardous alcohol use for youth. Ultimately, her work could inform changes to the current prevention and educational strategies that are used.