Drugs and alcohol

Lots of parents are concerned about underage drinking, drug taking and challenging behaviour. Find out how you can keep your child safe and aware of the risks.

Some children and teenagers drink alcohol or take drugs. But whether this is at home with their family, or with friends at a party, it's a parent's responsibility to make sure they:

  • are safe
  • are aware of the risks
  • know when enough is enough.

Alcohol: what the law says

The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for England advises that children shouldn't drink at all until they're 15. Find out what's legal and what's against the law.

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It's against the law:

  • for under 18 year olds to buy alcohol or ask anyone else to buy them alcohol
  • to give a child alcohol if they are under 5 years old.
     

alcohol

It's legal:

  • for over 18s to buy 16 year olds beer, wine or cider if they're having a meal together in licensed premises, like a pub
  • for a child aged 5 to 17 to drink alcohol at home or other private premises.

How to talk to your child about drinking

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.

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.

0300 123 1110

Drugs: how to talk about them

Children are less likely to take drugs than try alcohol. But like with alcohol, it's better to talk with your child early.

It can be difficult to know how and when to start. Try having brief, open and relaxed conversations.

You could try using cues such as drug issues happening on TV, in the media or Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) projects at school to start a conversation.

Try to stay calm. It can be upsetting to find out your child is taking drugs, but getting angry and shouting may stop them from speaking to you in the future.

Talking to them calmly and when you're both relaxed will encourage them to be open about their actions and stop them from becoming secretive.

Encourage your child to be honest with you. Ask them what they're taking, how often and where they're getting the money to pay for it.

It's also important to find out why they're taking drugs. It could be due to stress, peer pressure or to boost their confidence. But there might be another reason. Listening to what they say and how they feel can give you an idea of how you can help.

Teaching your child about the effects of drugs can help them to make a decision for themselves and make sure they're aware of the risks.

Drugs can:

  • affect their physical and mental well-being
  • make them vulnerable to harm
  • expose them to exploitation

Read Frank's glossary of drugs which includes their slang names, effects, risk and the law.

If you don't feel confident talking about drugs, try familiarising yourself with them beforehand. Remember it's okay if they ask you something you don't know. You could even look on the Frank website together.

Worried about drugs?

If you're worried about your child's behaviour, you could speak to your GP. They'll be able to:

  • refer your child for local support and treatment services
  • refer them for counselling
  • talk to you about how you or other family members are coping.

Talk to Frank

Frank provide confidential advice on drugs to adults and young people and information on how and where to access local treatment and support groups.

Visit their website

Family Lives

Family Lives provide free advice and support on a number of issues children and young people face at different stages of development, including drug use.

Visit their website

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Keeping children safe away from home

Call the NSPCC helpline

If you're worried about a child, even if you're unsure, contact our professional counsellors 24/7 for help, advice and support.

Call us or email help@nspcc.org.uk.

0808 800 5000

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