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Frequently Asked Questions – Alcohol Guidelines

What are the Guidelines for young people regarding alcohol?

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommend the following guidelines to reduce alcohol-related health harms: for children and young people under 18 years of age:

  • For children and young people under 18 years of age, not drinking alcohol is the safest option.
  • Parents/guardians should be advised that children under 15 years of age are at the greatest risk of harm from drinking and that for this age group, not drinking alcohol is especially important.
  • For young people aged 15 to 17 years, the safest option is to delay the initiation of drinking for as long as possible.

Why have these alcohol Guidelines for young people been introduced?

The Guidelines provide guidance for parents, as well as for young people themselves, about the safest option to prevent alcohol-related harm for children and young people up to 18 years of age.

The Guidelines are based on an assessment of the potential harms of alcohol for this age group, as well as the evidence that alcohol may adversely affect brain development and be linked to alcohol-related problems later in life.

It is also based on evidence showing that:

  • The risk of accidents, injuries, violence and self-harm are high among drinkers aged under 18 years.
  • Drinkers under 15 years of age are much more likely than older drinkers to experience risky or anti-social behaviour.

Early initiation of drinking is associated with a higher frequency and quantity of alcohol consumption. This contributes to the development of alcohol-related harms in adolescence and adulthood.

Frequently Asked Questions Alcohol Laws – Licensed Premises/Private Settings

What are the laws in Western Australia about alcohol and young people?

The laws are different in each State or Territory regarding alcohol use by people under the age of 18. In Western Australia:

  • It is an offence for anyone under the age of 18 years to enter or remain on licensed premises without a legal guardian or responsible adult except under specific circumstances outlined in the Liquor Control Act 1988.
  • It is against the law to sell or supply alcohol to anyone under the age of 18 years on licensed premises or regulated premises (such as a community hall holding an 18th birthday).
  • It is an offence for anyone under the age of 18 years to consume alcohol or be in the possession of alcohol on licensed or regulated premises and it is an offence to allow that to occur.
  • It is an offence for anyone under the age of 18 to purchase or obtain, or attempt to purchase or obtain alcohol from any other person on licensed or regulated premises.
  • It is an offence for persons of any age to drink in public, such as on the street, park or beach. Opened liquor can be confiscated and destroyed by the Police.
  • It is an offence for anyone under the age of 18 to be in possession of alcohol (open or un-open) in a public place. Police have powers to seize and dispose of the liquor under those circumstances.

Are there laws about young people drinking at home?

On 20 November 2015, new laws came into effect regarding the secondary supply of alcohol. Under this law, it is an offence for anyone to supply under 18s with alcohol in a private setting without parental or guardian permission. This offence carries a penalty of up to $10,000.

Alcohol causes harm to young people. It can increase their risk of injury, mental health problems, and cause permanent damage to their developing brain. For these reasons the national health guideline for children and young people under 18 years of age, states that not drinking alcohol is the safest option.

Parents not wanting their children to drink alcohol are now able to stand firm in their decision to not provide young people with alcohol, as it is now illegal for other adults to provide alcohol to their children, at a private setting, without their permission.

Do other adults need verbal permission from me to give my child alcohol or do they need to have my permission in writing?

Permission can be in any format; however, it is preferable to be in writing.

When deciding whether or not to give someone permission to provide alcohol to your child alcohol, you may find it helpful to consider the harm alcohol causes to young people. It can increase their risk of injury, mental health problems and permanent damage their developing brain. For these reasons, the national health guideline for children and young people under 18 years of age recommend no alcohol is the safest choice and that is why no one should supply alcohol to under 18s.

I am having a party at home for my son’s 18th birthday and some of the people attending will be under 18 years of age. Is it okay for me to give them alcohol if they have a note from one of their parent’s giving permission?

Yes, provided you are satisfied that the note has been written by the juvenile’s parent or guardian and not another person (for example a sibling).

Also the law now requires that if you are supplying alcohol to an under 18 year old in your home you must observe responsible supervision practices at all times. This includes making sure these young people don’t get drunk (or you do not get drunk yourself) and that you are able to supervise their consumption of alcohol at all times.

Be aware that alcohol causes harm to young people. It can increase their risk of injury, mental health problems and permanent damage their developing brain. For these reasons, the national health guideline for children and young people under 18 years of age recommend no alcohol is the safest choice and that is why no one should supply alcohol to under 18s.

I am having a small gathering at my home for my daughter’s 18th birthday. A few of her friends haven’t turned 18 yet; is it okay for me to serve them alcohol if one of their parents ring me and gives their permission over the phone or provides permission by text?

Yes, provided you are satisfied that the person you have spoken to is the juvenile’s parent or guardian and that they are not drunk when they give their consent.

The law now requires that if you are supplying alcohol to an under 18 year old in your home you must observe responsible supervision practices at all times. This includes making sure these young people don’t get drunk (or you do not get drunk yourself) and that you are able to supervise their consumption of alcohol at all times.

Be aware that alcohol causes harm to young people. It can increase their risk of injury, mental health problems and permanent damage their developing brain. For these reasons, the national health guideline for children and young people under 18 years of age recommend no alcohol is the safest choice and that is why no one should supply alcohol to under 18s.

My son, who is 17, was given alcohol by his 17 year old friend while visiting his house. Doesn’t his friend need to get my permission before he can do that?

Yes. It is an offence for a person to supply alcohol to a juvenile irrespective of the age of the person supplying it. Juveniles who breach the secondary supply laws will be subject to the provisions of the Young Offenders Act 1994, and may be dealt with through alternative measures such as a caution or referred to a juvenile justice team.

My daughter is having her 18th birthday party at home. One of her 17 year old friends told me that her mother had given her permission to drink alcohol. Is it okay for me to give her a drink in my house?

No. You must obtain the permission from her parent or guardian, preferably in writing. Without their permission, you are liable for a penalty of up to $10,000.

The law now requires that if you are supplying alcohol to an under 18 year old in your home you must observe responsible supervision practices at all times. This includes making sure these young people don’t get drunk (or you do not get drunk yourself) and that you are able to supervise their consumption of alcohol at all times.

Be aware that alcohol causes harm to young people. It can increase their risk of injury, mental health problems and permanent damage their developing brain. For these reasons, the national health guideline for children and young people under 18 years of age recommend no alcohol is the safest choice and that is why no one should supply alcohol to under 18s.

If a young person who is not yet 18 years of age brings their own alcohol to my house, is this an offence under the new secondary supply of alcohol law?

The new law centres around supplying alcohol to juveniles. Should a parent lodge a complaint with the police (irrespective of who supplied the alcohol) it will be a matter for them or the courts to determine the issue of supply.
Nevertheless, as a parent faced with this particular situation, you may wish to call the child’s parents to check the circumstances and make a record of it. Otherwise, it is preferable that you do not permit the juvenile to bring the alcohol onto your property.

I am taking my daughter and a few of her friends out to dinner for her 18th birthday. One girl is not 18 yet. If she has, her parents’ permission is it okay for me to give her alcohol at the restaurant?

No, if the restaurant is a licensed premise it is an offence. In addition, if the restaurant is unlicensed but allows BYO, then it is considered a regulated premise and therefore it is an offence for a juvenile to be provided or consume alcohol.

Is it okay for other family members to give my child sips of alcohol at a family gathering, without my permission, if it’s in a private home?

No, it is an offence for anyone to supply your child with alcohol, even a sip, if they are under 18 years of age, without your permission. This offence carries a penalty of up to $10,000.

Research shows that children of parents, who give permission to drink alcohol at home and provide alcohol, are associated with greater levels of adolescent alcohol use, heavy use, drunkenness, and intentions to drink. Children who have had sips of alcohol by age 10 (compared to those who have not sipped) are clearly associated with later alcohol use. Children who had sipped and then asked parents for a sip of their alcohol showed elevated alcohol use.

Alcohol causes harm to young people. It can increase their risk of injury, mental health problems, and cause permanent damage to their developing brain. For these reasons the national health guideline for children and young people under 18 years of age, states not drinking alcohol is the safest option.

My 17 year old daughter is going out with an 18 year old and I don’t want her to drink. How do I make this clear to her boyfriend?

Explain to your daughter’s boyfriend that you do not want your daughter to drink alcohol, there is a new law about secondary supply of alcohol to under 18’s, and it is against the law for him to give alcohol to your daughter in a private setting such as a home without your permission. Let him know that there is a penalty of up to $10,000 for breaking this law.

Parents not wanting their children to drink alcohol are now able to stand firm in their decision to not provide young people with alcohol, as it is now illegal for other adults to provide alcohol to their children, at a private setting, without their permission.

My 18 year old son is having some friends over to our house for a few drinks while we are not at home. Some of my son’s friends are not 18 yet. Is it okay for him to give them alcohol?

No, unless your son has been given permission by his friends’ parents or guardians. Without their consent, he is liable for a penalty of up to $10,000. The law now requires that if your son has permission to supply alcohol to his under 18 year old friends, in your home, he must observe responsible supervision practices at all times. This includes making sure his friends who are under 18 years of age don’t get drunk (or he does not get drunk himself) and that he is able to supervise their consumption of alcohol at all times.

Frequently Asked Questions – Alcohol Harms

What are the short and long-term harms of alcohol for young people?

There are a range of social, economic and legal problems that can result from alcohol consumption by young people.

Short-term harms

In general, younger people are less tolerant to alcohol, and have less experience of drinking and its effects. The immediate harms can include:

  • Reduced inhibitions and poor judgement.
  • Poor coordination.
  • Mood changes.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Losing consciousness.

These effects along with behaviours driven by the still developing brain can lead to short term harms such as:

  • Increased risk-taking (may make decisions without thinking about consequences).
  • Unprotected or unwanted sexual encounters.
  • Antisocial behaviour, violence, fights, abuse and associated crime.
  • Injuries such as road crashes, pedestrian accidents, drowning, alcohol poisoning, suicide and homicide.
  • Death due to suffocation from inhaling vomit.

Long-term harms

  • Damage to the developing brain (decreased memory ability, lack of problem solving skills and decreased visual and spatial skills).
  • Health problems later in life (cancer, liver disease, heart disease, stroke, dependence and mental health problems).

What harmful behaviours can occur when young people drink alcohol?

Harmful behaviours can include:

  • Increased risk of accidental and violent injury. The occurrence of risk-taking behaviours increases in adolescence and the possibility of injury increases even more when alcohol is also involved.
  • Alcohol consumption in young adults is associated with risky sexual behaviour, adverse behavioural patterns and academic failure.
  • Adolescents are also more likely to be involved in a fight when they drink alcohol; compared to if they were sober.

Mental health problems including depression, self-harm and suicide.

  • Alcohol use increases the risk for a range of mental
  • health and social problems in young adults.
  • Alcohol use may also contribute to poor mental health.
  • Young people with poor mental health are more likely to initiate alcohol use in adolescence, and report drinking frequently. They are also more likely to drink with the intent to get drunk.
  • Surveys show that heavier alcohol use among teens is associated with an increased probability of a suicide attempt.

What are the impacts of alcohol on the developing brain?

There is growing evidence that drinking alcohol is harmful to the developing brain in young people. Two areas of the brain that may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol consumption during the teenage years are:

  1. The hippocampus – responsible for memory and learning.
  2. Prefrontal lobe – important for planning, judgement, decision-making, impulse control and language.

Damage to these parts of the brain during its development can result in irreversible brain changes that can impact decision- making, personality, memory and learning.

While research tells us alcohol can damage the developing brain, it is not clear how much alcohol it takes to do this. For these reasons, it is recommended that for under 18s no alcohol is the safest choice and initiation to drinking is delayed as long as possible.

Frequently Asked Questions – Questions Commonly Asked By Parents

I’m concerned about sending my child to parties where alcohol may be available. What can I do?

While many parents strive to help young people make decisions to avoid drinking, the evidence shows that limiting access to alcohol can be a key factor in whether young people drink or not, how much they drink, and the related harm.

If you do choose to let your child go to a party there are some important things you can do to help keep your child safe.

  • Contact the parents of the child holding the party to make sure there is going to be adult supervision and to make them aware that you do not want your child to be served alcohol.
  • Explain to your child that you expect them not to drink alcohol, the reasons why and the consequences for them if they do choose to drink.
  • Don’t give your child alcohol to take with them.
  • If you are unable to drop them off and pick them up, be aware of how they are getting to the party and who they are going with.
  • Make an agreement about what time they need to be home and let them know they can contact you at any time if they get into difficulties or are feeling uncomfortable.

Don’t most parents give their children alcohol? I want to help my teenager fit in, so I don’t want them to be the only one at the party who is not drinking.

Many parents do not give alcohol to their children.

  • Research conducted in Western Australia in 2011 with school students aged 12 to 17 who drank alcohol in the last week found that only 28% of parents supplied them their last alcoholic drink.
  • Sometimes parents feel pressure from their children or other parents to provide alcohol to their child. If you decide to delay your child’s alcohol use, you will not be alone, as many other parents have made the same decision.
  • Talking openly with other parents about the importance of delaying young people’s alcohol use will help to raise awareness and stimulate important discussions. You may be surprised how many other parents feel the same way!
  • Ongoing discussion with your child about alcohol is how you communicate your beliefs about alcohol and helps ensure they understand your expectations of their behaviour in relation to alcohol.

I drank alcohol when I was young and I’m okay. So why is it different for young people now?

We know a lot more about the harms associated with alcohol use than ever before, such as its impact on the developing brain and that alcohol is carcinogenic (causes cancer). It is important for parents to be aware of these risks so that they can discuss these with their children as they grow up.

We now know:

  • The developing brain is particularly vulnerable to alcohol and can affect a young person’s ability to learn, remember, think rationally, and regulate their emotions.
  • Alcohol is classified as a Group 1 Carcinogen, the same as Asbestos and Tobacco.
  • In the past two decades, alcohol has become more readily available. It comes in an increasing variety of forms, with some products tasting remarkably like soft drinks.
  • Alcohol is cheaper and more affordable and with the arrival of social media is more prolifically promoted than in the past.
  • Young people living in Australia now live in a culture in which many people have very relaxed views towards alcohol. Alcohol plays a part in many aspects of the Australian lifestyle such as socialising, celebrating, relaxing and commiserating. Alcohol is so much part of everyday life it is often not viewed as harmful, and this can encourage young people to drink at an earlier age to be part of the general drinking culture they see around them.

How can parents influence the behaviour and choices that their children make about alcohol? – Avoid providing alcohol.

Avoid providing alcohol to your children at home or to take to parties

  • Children who are supplied alcohol by their parents for use without parental supervision are four times more likely to drink in a harmful way.
  • If you are feeling pressured by your child or other parents, the NHMRC alcohol guidelines provide a clear message that for under 18s, no alcohol is the safest choice.

How can parents influence the behaviour and choices that their children make about alcohol? – Discuss alcohol with your children.

Discuss alcohol with your children from an early age and explain your expectations about alcohol.

  • If possible, start conversations about alcohol early in your child’s life. This sets you up for easier discussions during teenage years and means they should already be aware of what your attitudes and expectations are about alcohol.
  • Talk about the way alcohol is portrayed in the media and advertisements. Point out alcohol advertising and ask your child who they think the ad is targeting and why. Ask them what parts of the ad made them think it was aimed at the group they identified.
  • Help them to think about the context the product (alcohol) is being portrayed in, and how this might make it appealing or desirable to them, or a particular age group.
  • Explain the evidence about the harmful effects of alcohol on the body, particularly the effects on the developing brain.
  • Discuss how other people’s drinking might affect them and help them to develop responses, such as how to cope with pressure to drink, how to defuse aggression and how to avoid getting in a car with someone who has been drinking.

How can parents influence the behaviour and choices that their children make about alcohol? – Exposure to people drinking alcohol.

Be aware of places and situations where your children may be exposed to people drinking alcohol.

  • Research shows that children who are poorly monitored tend to drink more. Young people, who take up drinking at an earlier age, tend to drink more and are likely to develop harmful drinking patterns.
  • Be sure that your child understands that they need to keep in touch with you about where they are, and to seek your permission to be there. Also, reach an agreement on what time they need to come home and what will happen if they break the rules.
  • Talk to other parents and let them know that you do not want them to provide alcohol to your child under any circumstances. This is especially relevant when teenagers are going to friends’ houses for parties.

My children are going to start drinking sooner or later. Isn’t it better to let them drink at home while I supervise them?

There is no evidence to support parents introducing young people to alcohol in the home as a method of teaching responsible drinking.

  • In fact, starting drinking at an early age has been shown to increase the likelihood of alcohol-related problems later in life, as well as more regular consumption of alcohol and in greater quantities.
  • Research shows that children of parents, who give permission to drink alcohol at home and provide alcohol, are associated with greater levels of adolescent alcohol use, heavy use, drunkenness, and intentions to drink. Children who have had sips of alcohol by age 11 (compared to those who have not sipped) are clearly associated with later alcohol use. Those who had sipped and then asked parents for a sip of their alcohol showed elevated alcohol use.
  • The good news is that the number of young people who don’t drink has increased. However, those who do drink are drinking at more harmful levels.
  • There is strong evidence to support parents in delaying their child’s alcohol use for as long as possible.
  • The longer young people delay drinking, the less likely they are to develop problems with alcohol later on in life.

Page last updated: 20 July 2020

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