Underage drinking

How to talk to children and teens about alcohol and make sure they know the risks.

Some children and teenagers drink alcohol. But whether this is at home with family, or at a party with friends, it's a parent's responsibility to make sure they're safe and know the risks.

Underage drinking: what's the law?

  • for anyone to buy alcohol if they're under 18 years old
  • for under 18 year olds to ask anyone else to buy alcohol for them
  • to give a child alcohol if they are under 5 years old.
  • for over 18s to buy beer, wine or cider for 16 and 17 year olds if they're having a meal together in licensed premises, like a pub
  • for 5 to 17 year olds to drink alcohol at home or other private premises.

How to talk to your child about alcohol

Children are inquisitive, so it's likely they'll ask you lots of questions. But talking about alcohol early can prevent your child binge drinking in their late teens.

It's better to have a few, brief conversations over time. Try not to lecture your child. Just saying it's bad and not for children won't stop them taking risks.

Speak openly and honestly together. If you're not sure how to start, take a look at our advice on talking about difficult topics.

Ask them what they know about alcohol. Make sure they:

  • understand what the effects are
  • know how much is too much
  • know the law around drinking.

It's important to try to be a good role model in front of your children. If they see you drinking heavily, they could be encouraged to take risks.

It's inevitable that your child will be offered alcohol at some point. But there are things you can do to prepare them:

  • ask them what they'd do in this situation
  • tell them there's a link between alcohol, anti-social behaviour and sexual activity - and how they can keep themselves safe by drinking in moderation
  • make them aware of the risk of drinks being spiked and how to keep themselves and friends safe
  • see more guidance from Drink Aware and Family Lives.

If your teenager is going out with friends and you think they may be drinking:

  • set a curfew for when they should be back
  • discuss how they'll be getting home
  • keep in contact, making sure you both have enough phone battery, credit and reception
  • if possible make sure they eat something substantial before they go
  • make sure your child knows what to do if they or a friend become unwell or put themselves in danger.

If you're worried about a child's drinking

Although it's fairly common for teenagers to try alcohol before they are 18 years old, it's not normal for them to:

  • get drunk regularly
  • drink in excess while they're alone
  • be dependent on alcohol.

A doctor may be able to refer your child on to treatment services and offer support to you or other family members. Or you can get help using Drinkline.

Drinkline

A confidential helpline for anyone concerned about drinking. Call them free Monday to Friday from 9am to 11pm on 0300 123 1110.

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