You, your child and alcohol

In Northern Ireland young people under 18 aren’t allowed to buy or drink alcohol in public. But this doesn’t stop some children getting and drinking alcohol. By talking to your child, you can help them understand the health risks of alcohol so they develop a healthy attitude to alcohol.

Promoting a responsible attitude to alcohol

Parents and carers have an important role in showing their children a responsible attitude to alcohol.

As children grow up, their attitude towards alcohol will be shaped by what they see, hear and experience at home. 

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What parents of younger children can do

The following tips might help your child develop a healthy attitude to alcohol as they grow up:

  • if your child is curious about alcohol, talk to them about it - tell them about both the negative and social sides of drinking
  • make sure young children don't drink alcohol by accident or without your permission - if you have alcohol at home, keep it out of reach
  • if you drink, set a good example and drink in moderation - it will help your child develop a sensible attitude to alcohol
  • respect the law  when it comes to young people and alcohol - don't give alcohol to your child if they are underage

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What parents of older children can do

It's difficult to know when to let teenagers drink as there is no 'right' age. Some parents may feel that giving their child a small amount of alcohol in their early teens will give them a responsible attitude to alcohol, but there is no scientific evidence to support this.

If a child starts drinking early, there is a higher risk of developing serious alcohol-related problems when they're older. If your child has started drinking, you should:

  • set clear boundaries for your child and be consistent about them
  • encourage your child to stick to lower-strength brands and not to drink too quickly
  • talk to your child about alcohol
  • try not to overreact if your child drinks against your wishes, or drinks too much
  • explain how you feel and encourage them to talk if they drink excessively
  • agree rules on alcohol at parties and be around if your child has a party at home
  • if your child is going to drink, give them starchy food (like bread or pasta) so they won't be drinking on an empty stomach
  • remove temptations at home like your own stock of drink (especially spirits)
  • make sure your child has a way of getting home safely at night

Giving your child alcohol

Some parents think that giving their child a small amount of alcohol in their early teens will give them a responsible attitude to alcohol, but there is no scientific evidence to support this. In fact, research shows that the earlier a child starts drinking the higher the risk of developing serious alcohol-related problems later in life.

Recommended weekly limits

Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol doesn't often cause any serious problems. However, drinking too much can be harmful. You may not realise if the amount you drink is more than the recommended limit, so it's important that you keep an eye on how much you're drinking.

The current medical guideline for both men and women are that:

  • to keep health risks from drinking alcohol to a low level, you should not regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week
  • if you do drink as much as 14 units per week, it is better to spread this evenly over three days or more because if you have one or two heavy drinking sessions, you increase your risks of death from long term illnesses and from accidents and injuries

Advice on single episodes of drinking

Medical guidelines advise men and women who wish to keep their short term health risks from a single drinking occasion to a low level that they can reduce these risks by:

  • limiting the total amount of alcohol you drink on any occasion
  • drinking alcohol more slowly
  • eating food while drinking alcohol
  • alternating alcoholic drinks with glasses of water
  • avoiding situations and activities which could endanger themselves and those around them
  • making sure you have people you know around you to make sure you can get home safely

Alcohol and pregnancy

Medical guidelines are that:

  • if you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all to keep risks to your baby to a minimum
  • drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby, with the more you drink the greater the risk

These guidelines are for adults. As young people take longer to process alcohol, it is a good idea for them to drink less, or not to drink at all.

As alcohol has risks for young people under 15, children under this age should not drink.


The alcoholic content of a drink is measured in units.  Alcoholic drinks vary in strength and also in volume, and these amounts are always shown on bottles and cans. The volume is marked in millilitres or ‘ml’. The strength is indicated as a percentage of alcohol – often abbreviated to ‘ABV’ or simply ‘vol.’

To work out  alcohol units in a drink, multiply the strength by the volume and divide by 1,000.

Getting involved in anti-social behaviour

One in ten young people who drink alcohol end up in trouble with the police. They can get involved in anti-social or criminal behaviour, such as:

What the law says

There are strict laws on drinking alcohol  in Northern Ireland. You should check that you aren't breaking the law by allowing your child to drink.

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