Should my child drink alcohol?

The advice from the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) is that children shouldn’t drink alcohol (see the guidance below).

The law

The police can stop, fine or arrest a person under 18 who is drinking alcohol in public. If you’re under 18, it’s against the law:

  • for someone to sell you alcohol
  • to buy or try to buy alcohol
  • for an adult to buy or try to buy alcohol for you
  • to drink alcohol in licensed premises, such as a pub or restaurant

However, if you’re 16 or 17 and accompanied by an adult, you can drink (but not buy) beer, wine or cider with a meal.

If you’re 16 or under, you may be able to go to a pub or premises that’s primarily used to sell alcohol if you’re accompanied by an adult. However, this isn’t always the case and it can depend on the premises and the licensable activities taking place there.

It’s illegal to give alcohol to children under 5.

Government guidance

The CMO provides impartial health advice to the government and public. It provides the following guidance to help parents make decisions about their children and alcohol.

  • An alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option.
  • If children do drink alcohol, they shouldn't do so until they’re at least 15 years old.
  • Drinking alcohol can damage a child's health, even if they’re 15 or older.
  • If 15-17 year olds drink alcohol, it should be rarely and never more than once a week. They should always be supervised by a parent or carer.
  • If 15 to 17 year olds drink alcohol, they should never exceed the recommended adult daily limits (3-4 units of alcohol for men and 2-3 units for women). One unit of alcohol is about half a pint of lower strength beer or a single (25ml) measure of spirits. A small glass of wine equals 1.5 units of alcohol. Read more about alcohol units.
  • If your child intends to drink alcohol, using positive practices such as incentives, setting limits, agreeing on specific boundaries and offering advice can help.

What you can do

Talk to your child about the dangers of alcohol before they start drinking. You can use the points below as guidance.

  • Make it clear that you disapprove. Research suggests that children are less likely to drink alcohol when their parents show that they don’t agree with it.
  • Don't shout at your child because it will make them defensive and could make the situation worse. Stay calm and firm.
  • Make it clear that you’re there for them if they need you, and answer any questions they have.
  • Talk to your child about how alcohol affects judgement. Drinking too much could lead them to doing something they later regret, such as having unprotected sex, getting into fights or drink driving.
  • Warn your child about the dangers of drink spiking and how to avoid it.
  • If your child wants to drink alcohol advise them to eat something first, not drink too much and have a soft drink between alcoholic drinks.
  • Make sure your child tells you where they're going and has a plan for getting home safely. If they’re planning to drink, make sure they're with friends who can look after them.

You may also find the alcohol misuse topic and the section about drinking and alcohol useful.

The Drinkaware website also has more information and advice about talking to your child about alcohol.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 04/12/2013

Next review due: 03/12/2015