Issues and Risks of Underage Drinking

There’s good news and bad news about under age drinking in Britain. While the number of teenagers drinking has declined in recent years, those who do drink are consuming more alcohol, more often.

Among 35 European countries, the UK has the third-highest proportion of 15 year-olds who have been drunk 10 times or more in the past year.

Key Issues

Few teenagers nowadays wait until they reach the legal age of 18 to drink. At 15, nine out of 10 teenagers have tried alcohol. Half of 16 and 17 year olds drink at least once a week. And most will try and hide it from their parents.
How your teenager will cope with drinking will depend on their body size and shape and what stage of puberty they've reached. If they're not used to drinking, they're at risk of alcohol poisoning as well as getting into potentially dangerous situations.

So how do you keep your child safe and healthy? It can be difficult to know what to do for the best. Research from the US shows that the younger a person is when they start to drink, the greater their risk of alcohol-related problems later in life. On the other hand, there’s also evidence to suggest that when children do drink alcohol at a young age they’re less likely to binge drink later, provided they drink moderately and under parental supervision. 

You know your child and what motivates them, so you'll need to decide the best way to try and influence them to drink responsibly, when the time is right.


Deaths from liver disease have risen in the 25 to 34 age group over the last 10 years. This is thought to be a consequence of increased drinking starting at an earlier age. There is also evidence that those who start drinking before the age of 14 are more likely to develop a dependence on alcohol later in life.

But it's not just their health you need to worry about. There are strong links between drinking high levels of alcohol and youth offending, teenage pregnancy, truancy and exclusion from school.

Nearly half of all 10 to 17 year olds who drink once a week or more admit to some sort of criminal or disorderly behaviour. During or after drinking, around two-fifths get into an argument and about a fifth get into a fight.

Among 14 to 15 year olds, those who have drunk in the last month are more likely to engage in sexual activity. A recent survey revealed that 11% of 15 to 16 years-olds had had unprotected sex while drunk. Young people who drink are also far more likely to compromise their personal safety, walking home alone or trusting others too easily.

How your child performs in the classroom can also be affected by their relationship with alcohol. Drinking can lead to missed classes, failed exams and bad behaviour, sometimes resulting in exclusion.

Talking to Under-18's About Drinking

It is, of course, illegal for under 18s to buy alcohol or drink it in public. But we know this is simply not stopping young people from drinking. So how do you keep your children safe? These handy hints should help:

  • Talk to your children about alcohol. Be open with them, explaining the pros and cons of drinking, without lecturing. Let them ask any questions and tell them they can speak to you any time. Warn them especially about how easy it is for inexperienced drinkers to go over their limits, make a fool of themselves and compromise their safety. Maintaining an open, calm dialogue is essential if you’re going to positively influence your child’s drinking habits.
  • Don’t shout and lecture if your child does come home drunk. Sit them down and talk to them about it calmly. Getting angry could make them more deceptive the next time they drink, and it’s always better to know where your child is and what they’re doing.
  • Offer to pick your child up if you know they could be drinking, but round the corner out of sight of their friends to avoid any embarrassment.
  • Lead by example. If you often drink heavily in front of your children, they'll think it's okay to do the same.   

*Information & Statistics sourced from (Opens in a new window or downloads a file).