Alcohol, parties and the law

Beer bottle in hands

At a glance

  • Adolescents' brain development can be interrupted by drinking alcohol.
  • The legal age for drinking alcohol in NSW is 18 years. 
  • It is illegal to serve or supply alcohol to people under 18 years old, even in your own home* Fines and imprisonment can apply.
  • Teens of drinking age need to learn about standard drink sizes and how to reduce the risks of alcohol.
  • When hosting a party, make sure there is plenty of non-alcoholic drinks and food.
  • Have a plan how you will deal with underage drinkers at your party.
  • Remind your child often that they shouldn't drink and drive or be driven by anyone who has had alcohol.
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Whether your child is hosting or attending a teenage party, they'll need to know the laws around supply of alcohol and under-age drinking. 

As parents, we should urge our kids to delay drinking until they are legally and physically ready. 

(Read Alcohol and the adolescent brain for more information on how the brain can be harmed by underage drinking.)

By law, young people under the age of 18 are not permitted to be served or to drink alcohol. Read the fact sheet Alcohol, parties and the law (pdf 578 KB)

Although adolescents are strongly influenced by their peers, they still learn through watching their parents. We can begin educating our kids from an early age about reducing the effects of alcohol, by drinking moderately and with food.

Teaching your children about standard alcohol serves (pdf 634 KB) is also important, but you should also remind them that a teenager can become intoxicated on half as much alcohol as an adult.

Make it clear they should never drink and drive or accept a lift from anyone who has been drinking alcohol. Remind your son or daughter often that you'd rather receive a 2:00 am phone call asking for a ride home than have them in danger.

Hosting a party
In NSW, except in specific limited circumstances, it is illegal to sell or supply alcohol to people under the age of 18 - even in your own home.

If you're the host of a party where alcohol is supplied, you could be issued with an on-the-spot fine of $1,100 by the police for every minor that you serve. You may also be liable for a court penalty of $11,000 and/or 12 months imprisonment for each person under the age of 18 who is supplied with alcohol. 

An exception to this is where a parent or guardian supplies liquor to their child away from licensed premises. The law states you may also "have a defence to a prosecution if a parent or guardian has specifically authorised you to supply alcohol to their child", although you'd  need to be able to prove this in court.*

If some of the guests are of legal drinking age and alcohol is likely to be present at the party, you'll need to consider these things:

  • What you will do if people under the age of 18 bring alcohol to the party or others want to supply them alcohol? 
  • Will they be asked to leave? 
  • Will the alcohol be confiscated and given to their parents after the party?
  • Have a plan for how you will respond if guests arrive intoxicated or bring alcohol and other drugs.
  • Make sure there are plenty of non-alcoholic drinks, water and food available and encourage all guests to eat.
  • Organise non-alcohol related party activities to take the emphasis away from drinking. Drinking games are a bad idea at any time, but especially for teenagers whose brains are still developing and are vulnerable to short-term and long-term damage. Young people who drink quickly can reach dangerously high levels of intoxication (which is really a form of poisoning) without passing out. 
  • Make plans in case someone becomes intoxicated, sick or there is an emergency situation. (See Teenage drinking - Communicating with other parents and families (pdf 630 KB) for the recommended recovery position if someone has passed out from intoxication.)
  •  If guests are drinking during your party, how will they get home safely?  

Attending a party
If your child is under 18 and attending a party, you have the right to know who will be attending, if alcohol will be allowed and what safety measures (such as adult supervision, no drinking-games) will be enforced. Get the name and number of a responsible adult who will be at the party and call them if you have any concerns on the night.

Also consider:

  • Is there a limited number of written invitations, or is it an open party where friends can bring anyone they want?
  • How many people are attending? 
  • Is alcohol being allowed or supplied?
  • Will food be supplied or should you make sure your child eats a meal before attending? (Even if they don't intend to drink, this makes sense.)
  • Have you spoken to the parents holding the party and discussed your views on your child drinking alcohol?
  • What time will the party finish?
  • Is it possible for you to drop your child off and pick them up? If not, how are they getting home and what time do you expect them?
  • Talk to your child and their friends about making sure they tell someone when they decide to leave, not letting intoxicated friends drive or accept a ride with people they don't know, making sure they get safely home.
  • Warn your child about drink spiking. Teach them to always pour their own drinks and to keep them in hand or in full sight. Remind your child and their friends to watch out for each other and to get help if one of them suddenly seems to be intoxicated or disappears from the party.

Drinking on licensed premises
What about parents consenting to let their under 18's drink at a restaurant or pub? It's illegal for minors to drink alcohol on licensed premises even if they're accompanied by an adult or have parental consent.The minor can receive an on-the-spot fine of $220 or the court can impose a maximum penalty of $2,200.

Read also:

For more information about the NSW liquor laws and young people (pdf 587 KB) refer to the NSW Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing website.





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