Children and young people are advised not to drink alcohol before the age of 18.
Alcohol use during the teenage years is related to a wide range of health and social problems.
However, if children do drink alcohol underage, it shouldn't be until they are at least 15.
The Chief Medical Officer has provided guidance on the consumption of alcohol by children and young people (PDF, 1.5Mb). This can help parents make decisions about their children and their relationship with alcohol.
- Drinking alcohol can damage a child's health, even if they're 15 or older. It can affect the normal development of vital organs and functions, including the brain, liver, bones and hormones.
- Beginning to drink before age 14 is associated with increased health risks, including alcohol-related injuries, involvement in violence, and suicidal thoughts and attempts.
- Drinking at an early age is also associated with risky behaviour, such as violence, having more sexual partners, pregnancy, using drugs, employment problems and drink driving.
Advice for parents:
- If children do drink alcohol, they shouldn't do so until they're at least 15 years old.
- If 15 to 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 weekly limit (14 units of alcohol). 1 unit of alcohol is about half a pint of normal-strength beer or a single measure (25ml) 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.
Talking to your child
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.
Drinkaware also has information and advice about talking to your child about alcohol.
What the law says
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.
Page last reviewed: 18 September 2018
Next review due: 18 September 2021