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Drugs and alcohol

Alcohol advice
Drugs

Alcohol advice

Guidance from the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) advises parents and children that an alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option. If children drink alcohol, it should not be until they are at least 15 years old.

It’s illegal to:

  • give alcohol to children under five
  • buy alcohol on behalf of anyone under the age of 18

Government guidance

The CMO provides impartial health advice to the government and the public, and has provided the following guidance to help parents making decisions about their children and alcohol.

  • An alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option
  • If children do drink alcohol, they should not do so until they’re at least 15 years old
  • Drinking alcohol can damage a child's health, even if they’re 15 or older
  • If 15 to 17 year olds drink alcohol, it should be rarely and never more than once a week. They should always be supervised by a parent or carer.
  • If 15 to 17 year olds drink alcohol, they should never exceed the recommended adult weekly limits (14 units of alcohol for both men and women). One unit of alcohol is about half a pint of beer or ordinary lager or a single measure of spirits (25ml). 
  • If your child intends to drink alcohol, using positive practices such as incentives, setting limits, agreeing on specific boundaries and offering advice can help.

What you can do

Talk to your child about the dangers of alcohol before they start drinking. The Health A-Z section of NHS website has further information about drinking and alcohol misuse.

Almost half of young people who drink alcohol say they got it from their parents, either with or without permission. If your child is under 18 and drinking alcohol in your home or getting alcohol from your home, you’re responsible for making sure they’re safe.

If your child is drinking

If your child is drinking alcohol, or intends to, you should talk to them about it.

Make it clear that you disapprove. Research suggests that children are less likely to drink alcohol when their parents show that they don’t agree with it.

Don't shout at your child. This will make them defensive and could make the situation worse. Instead, stay calm and firm.

Make it clear that you’re there for them if they need you, and answer any questions they have.

Talk to your child about how alcohol affects judgement. Drinking too much could lead them to doing something they regret, such as having unprotected sex, getting into fights or drink driving.

Warn your child about the dangers of drink spiking and how to avoid it.

If your child does want to drink alcohol, advise them to eat something first, not drink too much and have a soft drink between alcoholic drinks.

Make sure your child has a plan for getting home safely and tells you where they’re going. If they’re planning to drink, make sure they're with friends who can look after them.

Source: NHS website

Helpful services:

Response - Tel: 0151 666 4123
Response is a free and confidential service for young people between the ages of 13 & 19. Referrals will be accepted from health and social care professionals, a family member, or the young person.

Talk to Frank - 0800 77 66 00
For friendly and confidential advice about drugs, you can call at any time of the day or night.

Parents Against Drug Abuse (PADA) - Tel: 08457 023867
This is a 24 hour help line offering support, advice and information for family members affected by someone's drug or alcohol misuse.

Family Lives - Tel: 0808 800 2222
Family Lives is a national charity that works for, and with, parents. Family Lives works to offer help and support through an innovative range of free, flexible, responsive services - shaped by parents for parents. 

Drug advice

Many parents worry about their child becoming involved with drugs. They feel that they don't know enough about drugs to prevent their child from coming to harm.

The truth is that you cannot prevent your child from coming into contact with drugs. However, your influence can mean they make the right choice if they do – by making sure you know just as much as they do about drugs and talking openly and honestly about the risks.

Although there are many stories in the media about drugs leading to addiction, crime and death, it is important to remember that:

  • for most young people illegal drug taking is not part of normal life
  • most people who try drugs do not continue using them

Why do young people use drugs?

Information provided by the Department of Health suggests parents don't understand why young people might want to try drugs, and think that young people only use drugs if they are having problems at home or at school, for example. This is not always true.

Young people may be attracted to drugs for similar reasons as they are to alcohol, perhaps because:

  • they enjoy the short term effects
  • their friends use them
  • they want the same kind of experience that they get from drinking a lot of alcohol
  • they are curious about the effects
  • the drugs are easily available as part of growing up
  • they may just want to 'break the rules'

Is your child using drugs?

Possible signs of drug use can include changes in appearance, friends, interests, eating and sleeping habits, moods and openness. But these signs are often a natural part of growing up. A young person who is not using drugs could show the same changes.

Finding out more

When you do talk to your child:

  • try to do it when you are calm
  • knowledge is power — find out information from Talk to Frank or call their drugs information helpline on 0800 77 66 00
  • get someone to help you — it helps to have someone else in the room who your child likes and respects
  • avoid asking 'why?' — it will put them on the defensive
  • don't get hung up on blame — the future is more important
  • it's better to know the truth — there's no evidence that talking about drugs leads to drug use
  • give the child space — focus the discussion on what they are going through
  • assumptions can be dangerous — let them explain in their own words what's going on for them, and treat what they say seriously
  • set clear limits — they need to know your feelings
  • they're never too young for a chat — don't discourage the conversation, and encourage them to tell you if they are ever offered drugs
  • older children: starting secondary schools is a difficult and vulnerable time take your time and be ready to listen — be patient, and make sure that you won't be interrupted
  • remember the three Rs: reassure, reassure, reassure.

If your child does have a drug problem it is important for them to know that you will be there for them, from answering simple questions to helping them through difficult times. It's worth telling them that you trust them, but at the same time feel free to show disappointment if this trust is broken.

Remember, most young people who try drugs do not go on to become problem users.

Helpful services:

Response - Tel: 0151 666 4123

Response is a free and confidential service for young people between the ages of 13 & 19. Referrals will be accepted from health and social care professionals, a family member or the young person.

Talk to Frank - 0800 77 66 00

For friendly and confidential advice about drugs, you can call at any time of the day or night. Their leaflet 'Drugs - does your child know more than you?', provides up-to-date information for parents and carers on the legal and health-related implications of drug abuse. The leaflet also includes an ABC of drugs and advice on how to approach the subject with your child.

Parents Against Drug Abuse (PADA) - Tel: 08457 023867

This is a 24 hour help line offering support, advice and information for family members affected by someone's drug or alcohol misuse.

Family Lives - Tel: 0808 800 2222

Family Lives is a national charity that works for, and with, parents. Family Lives works to offer help and support through an innovative range of free, flexible, responsive services - shaped by parents for parents.