How Teens Manage to Get Their Hands on Alcohol

Alcohol & Other Drugs

How Teens Manage to Get Their Hands on Alcohol

Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research

Different families have different attitudes about teens and alcohol. Some parents prefer that their teen never use alcohol, even in adulthood.

Other parents allow their children to drink small amounts as part of family traditions or cultural customs. Still other parents fall somewhere in between. Many prefer that their children delay using alcohol as long as possible.

They may or may not discuss alcohol and ways to manage its use with their children.

Parents sometimes have the hard job of considering whether to allow their teen to have a party that includes alcohol, requiring them to weigh the risks and benefits. Those parents who choose to host a teen party involving alcohol can reduce the risks of harm by good planning, good supervision and fun activities that keep the focus off drinking. Here are some things to think about.


Talk with your teen

If your teen asks to have a party and wants to serve alcohol, you might want to use the opportunity to have a conversation about moderation and social responsibility.

Topics to explore together include the number and composition of guests, supervision,activities, transportation, and how these all relate to levels of risk.

Engage your teen in the process of risk assessment and management.

Alcohol and risk

All alcohol use carries some risk of harm. How much risk is involved and how much harm may result depends on several factors.

More alcohol equals more risk. Drinking more at a time or drinking more often increases risk substantially.

Younger age equals more risk. The human brain is not fully formed until well into adulthood and alcohol affects the development of young brains, especially if used regularly in large amounts.

Places, times and activities influence risk. Unsupervised teen drinking, for example, tends to be a particularly risky activity


Explore the alcohol question

There are several factors to consider before deciding whether to allow alcohol at a teen party.

On the one hand, there are legal issues and, on the other, there is the question of what you might be losing by saying “no” to a gathering you could participate in with your child and supervise.

If you agree to allow alcohol, discuss how saying “yes” to alcohol is not the same as saying “yes” to intoxication.

Alcohol and the law

A parent or guardian of a minor may provide alcohol only to their child in their home. This exception does not allow for alcohol to be provided to any other minors who may be in the home. Doing so could result in afine and legal responsibility for any damages or injury.

If alcohol is served at a party, a host could be accountable for any harm guests may experience after leaving the premises (even when the guests are of legal age to drink).


Consult with other parents

Contact other parents to introduce the party idea and let them know ifyou’re considering allowing supervised drinking. Involve them in the planning and try to reach common decisions. Be sure to discuss supervision, transportation and party size.


Ensure adult supervision

At least one sober adult should be present at all times during the party. If you’ve planned a large party, make sure other parents or adults are there to help out. You could assign each helper a different duty or station.


Control numbers

Develop a clear guest list rather than an open invitation. Using invitation cards can help keep a party to a manageable size. They can even double as entry tickets for a large gathering.


Provide entertainment

Helping your teen come up with fun activities or game ideas is a way to keep the focus away from alcohol. You could offer to put up a dart board, card table or ping-pong table. Or rent some movies, video games or a karaoke machine.


Offer food and soft drinks

Provide appropriate food throughout the party. Alcohol is absorbed more slowly when people have food in their stomachs. Be sure to provide water, soft drinks and juices. Stop serving alcohol about two hours before the designated end of the party.

According to Canada’s low-risk drinking guidelines

  • From late teens to age 24, youth should never have more than 2 drinks a day (for females) or 3 drinks a day (for males).
  • Teens should speak with their parents about drinking and never have more than 1 to 2 drinks at a time, and never more than 1 to 2 times per week.


Choose a chill out area

Think about having a place guests can go to step away from the music or loud voices. It could be a room or area with close adult supervision to ensure everyone feels secure and knows it’s okay to break away from the crowd


Prepare for crises

Before the party begins, it is a good idea to have a plan in place in the event something goes wrong or a guest who’s been drinking insists on driving home.


Get them home safe

Take guests home yourself, or arrange to have them picked up by their parents. If these options aren’t possible, use a taxi service or be prepared for overnight guests.

The Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, formerly CARBC, is a member of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Substance Use Information. The institute is dedicated to the study of substance use in support of community-wide efforts aimed at providing all people with access to healthier lives, whether using substances or not. For more, visit

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Teenage parties and tips for parents

How Teens Manage to Get Their Hands on Alcohol

This page is designed to assist parents/caregivers in planning and hosting responsible parties with teenagers under 18 years of age. It provides tips about communicating with teenagers and factors you might consider before allowing your teenager to host or attend a party.

Alcohol can increase the risk of injury, social and mental health problems, and cause permanent damage to young people’s developing brain. For these reasons, the National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol, states for people under 18 years of age not drinking alcohol is the safest option.

It is not the norm to provide alcohol to teens to attend parties. Very few (2.6%) parents reported that they had allowed their child to take alcohol to social events at 15 years or younger, and 65% still did not permit it when their child was 17-18 years of age 1.

Every party has the potential to get out-of-hand. It is important that you talk to your teenager about alcohol and take steps to plan a safe party. It is also necessary for you as a host to understand your legal responsibilities.

Tips for parents with teens attending parties

1. Know where your child is and who they're with Take them to where they're going and pick them up. Don't leave it to someone else.

2. Call the host parents Speak to them and find out about supervision and whether alcohol will be provided or tolerated – you can then make an informed decision.

3. Create rules around parties early Preferably before they start to get invited.

4. Make consequences of breaking rules clear and stick to them Ensure they know rules are made because you love them and want them to be safe.

5. If they don't the rules, they're most probably perfect! Reward good behaviour and modify rules as they get older – rules should be age appropriate 2.

Tips to help parents talk to teenagers about parties

Communication with your teenager is vital particularly because they can be exposed to alcohol through friends, peers and the media. Below are some tips to help you communicate with your teenager about alcohol before they attend, or you host, a party:

Be patient Some teenagers have difficulty expressing themselves and often say things they do not mean. Try not to take what they say personally and avoid engaging in conflict or arguments.

Listen Try and listen without interrupting. Help them to express themselves by showing a genuine interest.

Be a good role model Be aware of your behaviour and your own attitude towards alcohol as this can have an impact on the way teenagers address their own alcohol use.

Discussing drugs and alcohol It is important that you do not glorify your own behaviour and be careful of sounding hypocritical. Help your teenager develop strategies that will help them deal with situations where they will be offered alcohol and other drugs or put in difficult situations.

Work in collaboration Express the reasons why you came to a particular decision. Allow your teenager the opportunity to talk about the family’s rules and how they affect them 3

Tips for parents for hosting a party for teens

Teenage parties are typically organised to celebrate a birthday, end of exams, school balls or just as a gathering. Any party has the potential to get out-of-hand, but by planning ahead you can limit the chance of this happening.

Discuss with your teenager how they expect the party to run and aim to set some rules.

Rules should be set in relation to alcohol, supervision, number of guests, age and maturity of guests, starting and finishing times, transport, sleepovers and what should happen if things get out-of-hand.

Remember that whilst compromise may be needed, do not agree to anything you are not fully comfortable with. Talk it through with other parents to find out their own experiences with parties.

It is common for teenagers to become defensive and accuse you of wanting to stop the fun or feel that you don’t trust them. Be calm and try not to enter into the argument. Listen and remain firm that rules of the party must be established.

Seven key areas to plan

1. Selecting an appropriate venue:

  • Lock rooms you don’t want people to enter and put valuables away.
  • Provide parking options.
  • Make sure the venue is appropriate for the number of guests.

2. Adult supervision:

  • Adult supervision is necessary.
  • Tell your teenager you will be around but not “in their faces” so that you are available if needed.

3. Music and noise:

  • Agree with your teenager on a moderate level of noise that will reduce in volume after midnight (a good time to end the party).

4. Inform other parents:

  • Inform other parents by sending out formal invites.
  • Encourage parents to contact you.

5. Register the party:

  • Registering your party with police means that if trouble does arise, the police can respond quickly and effectively. You can obtain a party registration form from police stations or the WA Police website.

6. Get guests home safely:

  • Your responsibility as a host includes getting guests home safely.
  • Consider allowing guests to sleep over or providing a bus to drop guests home.
  • Avoid letting guests leave alone or without a responsible chaperone.

7. Food:

  • Make sure you provide food throughout the evening.

Secondary supply laws and teenage parties

On 20 November 2015, new Western Australia laws came into effect regarding the secondary supply of alcohol to people under the age of 18. 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 maximum penalty of $10,000.

Parents not wanting their children to drink alcohol are now able to stand firm in their decision not to provide young people with alcohol as secondary supply law means adults are legally not able to give alcohol to another person’s child, on a private premise, without parental permission.

Drunk and unwell guests because of alcohol

Despite a party having a no alcohol policy, there may be guests attending that have been drinking prior to attending. As a party host you have a duty-of-care for guest’s safety, and here are a few things you can put in place if guests do choose to drink alcohol prior to, and during, the party:

  • Offer plenty of non-alcoholic soft drinks and have water easily accesible.
  • Ensure that food is readily available for guests and is served throughout the night.

Drinking large amounts of alcohol can result in confusion, blurred vision, poor muscle control, nausea, vomiting, sleep, coma or even death 4. Sometimes heavy drinking results in alcohol poisoning, and this is a life-threatening emergency. Call 000 if you see these signs in someone who has been drinking:

  • confusion;
  • vomiting;
  • seizures;
  • slow breathing (less than eight breaths a minute) or irregular breathing (a gap of more than 10 seconds between breaths);
  • blue-tinged skin or pale skin;
  • low body temperature (hypothermia);
  • difficulty remaining conscious; and/or
  • passing out (unconsciousness) and can’t be woken up 4.


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