Understand why some young people drink alcohol
Understanding why your child may drink alcohol can help you influence them to enjoy an alcohol-free childhood
If your child has started drinking alcohol, or showing interest in it, understanding their motivations is a good first step towards helping them understand why an alcohol-free childhood is the best option.
Experimenting with alcohol becomes more common as children get older. For example, in England in 2018, 14% of 11-year-olds said they had tried alcohol compared to 70% of 15-year-olds.1
Risky behaviour is more common during puberty. The development of the rational ‘thinking brain’ is not fully completed until 16 or 17 years-old, with more ‘fine tuning’ right into the early twenties.2
It’s vitally important to understand that drinking alcohol affects children’s health differently to adults. That’s why - as well as advising that an alcohol-free childhood is the safest and best option - the UK Chief Medical Officers go on to say that if any teenagers do drink alcohol, it shouldn’t be at least until the age of 15, in a supervised environment, and no more than once a week.3
Your children might be drawn to alcohol, even if their first experience of it is unpleasant. It’s not uncommon for them to persist despite them not liking the taste or the way it makes them feel. If they know you’re a good person to talk to about it, they’re more likely to let you know what part (if any) alcohol plays in their life, and listen to advice about healthy choices.
Common reasons that young people (11-15-year-olds) give for why they think people their age drink alcohol include:4
Understanding why your child may drink alcohol can help you influence your child to enjoy an alcohol-free childhood
Although pushing boundaries and testing rules are part of growing up, young people feel safer if they have clear rules, with sanctions for breaking them. If an older sibling is the source of envy, ask them to set a good example – wanting to be admired could reinforce their own good behaviour too.
Younger children will ask questions but ultimately are likely to accept being told “you’re too young”. But for older children, acknowledging and respecting their growing maturity means they’re more likely to listen if you’re able to explain why avoiding alcohol is so important for their health.
If you get home and say “Oh, I could do with a drink!”, you may be setting the example that alcohol is somehow an essential part of life. Setting a good example can be the key to protecting them against early and unwise drinking.5,6
Drinking regularly, often looking hungover, drinking alone or during the daytime could be signs that a young person is ‘drinking to cope’. Three out of ten 13-17 year olds who say they have drunk alcohol say they did it to forget about their problems.7
 Department of Health, ‘Guidance on the consumption of alcohol by children and young people' Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer for England, December 2009. Available at: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130107105354/http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/documents/digitalasset/dh_110256.pdf
Last Reviewed: 6th April 2022
Next Review due: 4th April 2025