The law on alcohol and under 18s
There are several laws relating to buying and consuming alcohol for under-18s.
Being clear on the law around alcohol is important - for both parents and children. The law isn’t simply about knowing right from wrong. It’s a reminder of the potential consequence of drinking alcohol underage.
The UK Chief Medical Officer (CMO) recommends that an alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option.
Alcohol consumption in the UK is governed by strict laws. For more information, please refer to gov.uk.
For more information visit our page on buying alcohol.
If the police suspect someone under 18 has alcohol in a public place, they have the power to confiscate it. If young people get caught with alcohol three times they could face a social contract, a fine or arrest. Getting a criminal record could affect future job prospects and make it more difficult to travel to countries like the USA.
The police can also confiscate alcohol from someone, no matter what their age, if they believe it has been, or will be drunk by someone under 18 in a public place.
The UK chief medical officers recommend that an alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option.
There’s lots of debate about whether it’s OK to let children have a small amount of alcohol to try – some people call this the continental approach. But there’s no scientific evidence to prove this gives children a responsible attitude to drinking in later life3.
It may be tempting to offer your child a sip of alcohol on special occasions so they don’t feel left out. This could send mixed messages about whether they are or aren’t allowed to drink.
Of course, children are naturally curious, so they’ll probably ask you questions if they see you drinking and want to try some. Rather than offering them a sip, use this as a chance to talk to them openly and honestly about the facts.
You might think that allowing your child to try alcohol will demystify any uncertainties they may have. Instead, as with issues like smoking and drugs, it’s better to let them know they can ask you anything, at any time, about alcohol. If you don’t know the answer, be honest and suggest you find out together.
If you’ve already given your child a drink, it’s best to be honest and explain that if they carry on drinking it could harm them. Reassure them that if they stop, any effects drinking has already on their body are likely to be reversible, but if you’re worried it’s best to talk to your GP.
 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