Alcohol, Young People and UK Law
Many people are unaware of the strict laws that control alcohol consumption by children in the UK, but few are ignorant of the effects of underage drinking, which is cited as the cause of many problems with young people.
At What Age Can Your Child Drink?
- Under Five - If you give any form of alcoholic drink to a child under five, you are breaking the law, unless the drink is given under medical supervision and in an emergency.
- Under Sixteen - Children under 16 are allowed to enter pubs and other licensed premises that do not have age restricted entertainment (either over 18s only or over 21s only are the usual restrictions) as long as they are being supervised by an adult – however they are not allowed to have any alcohol.
- Sixteen or Seventeen - Those aged 16 or 17 are allowed into licensed premises and can consume beer, wine or cider with a meal as long as two conditions are met: they must be accompanied by an adult and the alcohol must be purchased by an adult. However it is illegal for them to drink any form of spirits in pubs or nightclubs, even if they are eating a meal.
- Under Eighteen - Anybody under 18 is breaking the law if they buy or attempt to buy alcohol in a pub, off-licence or shop. It is also illegal for anyone to buy alcohol for someone else who is under 18 except when they purchase wine, beer or cider for consumption with a meal. This law extends to people under 18 drinking wine, beer or cider in a public place.
Regional Variations And By-laws16 and 17 year olds in Scotland are permitted to buy their own beer, wine or cider to drink with a meal as long as they drink their alcohol in an area of licensed premises set aside purely for consuming meals.
Many towns and cities now have local by-laws banning drinking alcohol in public – the area of such restriction is shown by posters and street signs indicating that it is a restricted drinking area or an alcohol free zone, and it is illegal for anybody, of any age, to be caught with open alcohol of any kind in such a zone.
The Truth About Underage Alcohol ConsumptionA 2008 study revealed that 48% of fifteen year old girls had been drunk in the previous month, compared to 36% of boys the same age. 35% of 11-15 year olds who drank alcohol said their main reason was to get drunk, not to look grown up or to impress friends. Over half of the 15-16 year-olds surveyed said they had ‘drunk heavily’ in the previous month, while 30% of them had ‘drunk heavily’ three or more times in the month. There is an increasing tendency to obtain alcohol at home for consumption with friends – around half the 11-15 year olds who’d drunk in the previous week said they’d actually been given the alcohol by their parents, while 42% said they’d taken the alcohol without their parents’ consent.
To deal with the findings about drinking underage, there has been a new offence created, which allows an underage person to be fined, bound over or given an ASBO and alcohol education, if they are found persistently to be in possession of alcohol.