PARENTS should have an important conversation with their children about the risks of alcohol and how it can affect mental health, campaigners have said.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, the director of the Balance organisation is urging families to discuss the dangers of alcohol abuse and how it can affect brain, liver, bone and hormone development in young people.

Many parents know drinking increases the risks of accidents, injuries, smoking and drug taking, but are less aware of the damage alcohol can do to development affecting their mood, their mental health and risking them falling behind at school.

If teenagers are moody and take risks it is often put down to their hormones. However, much of their behaviour is because their brains continue to develop and change until they are into their mid-20s.

If children drink alcohol before they reach adulthood, this can change or delay the development of the logical, thoughtful part of their brains.

The Chief Medical Officer (CMO)’s guidance recommends that an alcohol free childhood up to 18 is the healthiest and best option, and that if children do drink this should not be before age 15.

Colin Shevills, director of Balance, said: “Even though it may be a difficult conversation for parents to have with their children, young people need to be aware of the negative effects of alcohol including the impact it can have on their mental health.

“The Government also has a role to play to help parents know how to have those conversations about alcohol with their children.

"One in two parents in the North-East believe that providing small amounts of alcohol in a supervised environment will make their children less curious and less likely to drink outside the home and we know that’s not true.

"In fact, young people who are given alcohol at home are also more likely to drink outside the home.

“More and more young people are choosing not to drink – they don’t see it as part of their lives – so parents should feel confident in saying no to alcohol until the age of 18.

"According to the Chief Medical Officer’s guidance, it’s the safest and healthiest thing to do.”