A guide for parents and carers

Why is it important to talk about alcohol with children and young people?

Talking to children and young people about drugs and alcohol can be a daunting prospect. But in reality it is as straightforward as gathering the facts and correct information and being prepared to take time to listen and to give honest, accurate answers.

It is essential that we can give young people the facts on alcohol. In a world where they are inundated with representations of alcohol in the media, as well as seeing people drinking in everyday life and seeing how alcohol is advertised, it can be hard for them to unpick fact and to make sound decisions.

The truth is that young people are affected differently by alcohol and it is important that they are aware of the risks. Drinking alcohol during childhood and their adolescent years can have long term impacts on the rest of their lives. Your child’s mind and body are developing, and drinking can be hazardous to their health. An alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option.

The facts on alcohol - what you need to know

How much alcohol is safe for under 18’s?

There is no safe level of alcohol use for young people under the age of 18. The Chief Medical Officer recommends that children under the age of 15 should not drink alcohol at all due to the significant risk it places them at risk from harm to the developing brain, bones and hormones.

It is also recommended that young people over 15 do not drink any alcohol. However, if they do drink the current advice is that girls do not drink more than 1-2 units once a week, and boys should not drink more than 2-3 units once a week. (for information on what a unit is, take a look at our units page)

Young people are generally smaller and weigh less than adults, so alcohol is more concentrated in their bodies and they feel the effects of alcohol more quickly and for longer. Also, a young person is unlikely to have the experience needed to deal with the effects of alcohol on judgement and perception.

There is a significant link between drinking alcohol and developing depression

Alcohol can make your child more vulnerable to:

  • Being a victim of a violent assault or other crimes
  • injuries from accidents, for example falls and road accidents
  • using other drugs or solvents
  • unwanted sexual activity
  • unsafe and unplanned sexual activity, which can lead to sexually transmitted infections (STI) or unplanned pregnancy
  • problems at school, such as poorer school performance or truancy
  • having difficulties in relationships with family or friends.

What are the impacts of drinking alcohol at an early age?

Research shows that the earlier a child starts drinking, the higher his or her risk of serious alcohol-related problems later in life.

Among 10–15-year-olds, being drunk once a month or more in the last 12 months increases the likelihood of committing a criminal offence

Among 14–15-year-olds, those who have drunk in the last month are more likely to take part in sexual activity

What is the law surrounding alcohol and under 18’s?

  • It is illegal for a child under 5 to be given alcohol
  • It is illegal for someone under the age of 18 to buy or be sold alcohol in the UK.
  • Under 18s are not allowed to buy alcohol from a shop, supermarket or off licence, or from the bar area of a pub.
  • Adults are not allowed to buy alcohol on behalf of under 18s to drink in a bar.
  • Police have powers to confiscate alcohol from under 18s drinking in public spaces - in the street or in places such as parks.

Talking about alcohol: Top Tips

Be honest and open

It may feel strange at first being upfront and frank with young people when talking about alcohol, but they will thank you in the long term. Young people are bombarded with information and representations of alcohol and drinking from their friends, the media, and television and often this is wrong or misrepresented. By being honest with your children you will be able to help them to separate fact from fiction.

Start talking

Making alcohol a frequent topic of conversation will put your children at ease. Talking about it in day to day conversation, such as in the car, or during dinner is a good way to raise the subject. Make the first move and bring up the topic of alcohol, don’t wait until there is a problem. For example, you could use events, like a family member getting drunk at a party or a storyline on a soap, as a way to talk about alcohol and the impact that being drunk has on people around them.

Don’t forget to listen

There is a difference between listening to someone and hearing what they are saying. By showing that you are taking on board what your child saying you are showing them that they are important and what they say is worth listening to. You can also start by asking them what they know about a particular subject, this is a good tool to open a conversation and to start to tackle incorrect information or to challenge unhealthy beliefs. By respecting their beliefs they will be more inclined to respect yours. Make sure you have time to have a good conversation and make time to really hear what your child is telling you.

Get up to speed

In general, most young people under the age of 16 trust their parents and will respond well to the information you offer them. You might find that as young people enter their older teens that it is more difficult to communicate with your child about alcohol. By arming yourself with the most up to date information about drinking alcohol you will be in a more confident position to broach the subject. You may also find it useful to find out information about some other drugs. You can get more information on this website and by visiting the “where can I get more help” section.

Tell them the truth

Don’t be afraid to tell your children the risks associated with drinking alcohol. Having accurate knowledge of the negative effects of alcohol can help you explain and discuss the possible consequences of your children’s actions and support them to make the right choices. The difficulty with alcohol is that it is often reinforced as a positive action throughout the media, amongst friendship groups and even from your own attitudes to drinking. This is why it is important to examine your own attitudes to drinking alcohol in order to give your child the most useful and accurate advice. You can acknowledge that there are pleasurable and positive aspects to drinking alcohol, but balance them with the risks, which includes being drunk.

Agreeing alcohol rules and boundaries – make a plan together

Set realistic rules and boundaries and stick to them. Agree rules with your child, rules are more likely to be kept if they are negotiated, understood and agreed. Discuss and make sure your child understands why you need rules; this can help your child see that you care about their well being. Don’t impose rules that you haven’t discussed with your child.

Reach an agreement on consequences for breaking rules. Make sure it’s something fair and appropriate and something you are prepared to follow through on. Don’t forget to reward your child when they keep to the set boundaries.

Does your drinking influence your child?

Children and young people often copy what their parents say and do. It is important to consider attitudes to drinking alcohol, (even if you are not a heavy drinker) being drunk and how you use alcohol around your children. Think of your relationship with alcohol and the messages that you could be giving to your children.

Have a think about the following scenarios, and see if any apply to you:

Do you ever drink to relax or relieve stress?

After a hard day at work the first thing you do is open a bottle of wine or beer. Could your child see alcohol as an adult way to relieve stress or anxiety and think drinking would be a grown up way of coping with exam pressure or other difficulties in their life?

Do you drink to get drunk?

You tend to use alcohol to get drunk and don’t pay much attention to recommended daily guidelines Would your child think alcohol is for getting you drunk and that advice on recommended daily guidelines is meaningless and can just be ignored?

Do you joke about things you or others have done while drunk.

You enjoy having a joke about things you or others have done while drunk. Could your child think you approve of people getting drunk and doing silly things? Might they think, if you find it funny when people get drunk, you won’t mind too much if they do it?

Do you ignore your own advice?

You’ve advised your child about the risks associated with drinking too much, but when it comes to your own drinking you ignore this advice. Could your child think guidelines and boundaries around drinking aren’t important and don’t need to be kept to?

What to do if your child comes home drunk:

  • Stay calm
  • Seek medical advice if you are concerned for their immediate safety
  • Wait until the next morning to talk about what happened, there is no point discussing things while your child is under the influence of alcohol so choose a good time to talk
  • Don’t get drawn into arguments
  • Let them know that you are concerned about their welfare.

Where can I find out more?

If you are concerned about your child’s drinking, you can ask a member of the Bristol Youth Links team at BDP to talk to them: Tel: 0117 9876008

If you are concerned about your own drinking, you can ask contact the Bristol ROADS service at BDP: Tel: 0117 9876000

For information on talking to your children about alcohol, please visit:

www.drinkaware.co.uk/check-the-facts/alcohol-and-your-child

For information on other services, such as sexual health and other drugs, please see the “Further Help” section of this website.

Additional information