At what age should one talk about alcohol?

Even young children know that alcohol is not a drink like others. You can explain very early to your child that alcohol is a drink reserved for adults. Your child grows up, and the conversations about alcohol consumption multiply during family gatherings, in movies, Youtube videos, etc. “What do you think about…?” “Do you think it’s normal that…? “

As soon as your child starts to go out, he/she must know the effects and risks of alcohol. You can talk about it and suggest to visit for example. Your child must know what you expect from him or her. Your son or daughter must know the rules regarding alcohol.

If your child just wants to experiment:

  • to young children, you should refuse and tell them that alcohol is not suitable for them;
  • starting around age 12, you can give them a sip of alcohol once from an adult’s glass, just for them to try. The more teenagers wait before drinking alcohol, the more their brain will be able to handle it.

What my teenager must know about alcohol.

Not all teenagers get drunk
At the age of 15, a minority of teenagers regularly abuse alcohol. And the media talk a lot about those rare cases. One can choose friends that know how to have fun without drinking alcohol. One can also drink only a little.

With alcohol, one becomes a different person
Alcohol is a psychotropic substance, just like other drugs. It alters people’s perceptions, emotions and behaviours. Alcohol can make us take risks and put us in danger. Under the effect of alcohol, one does things one wouldn’t do normally. Danger can come from oneself, but also from others!

Alcohol spreads into the blood stream
The blood alcohol is the amount of alcohol that circulates in the blood stream. The blood alcohol depends:

  • on the amount of alcohol that was absorbed;
  • on the age: alcohol has quicker effects on young and elderly people;
  • on gender: alcohol has quicker effects on women;
  • on whether one has eaten something: alcohol tends to have slower effects on full stomachs.

Effects can be more dangerous if one also takes narcotic or medicinal drugs in addition to alcohol…

Teenagers are more vulnerable to alcohol
Teenagers don’t react like adults to the effects of alcohol. Their blood alcohol rises quicker and they can get intoxicated rapidly (for further details, see teenagers and alcohol). This is why the law forbids alcohol consumption to people under the age of 16. People over the age of 16 should only drink alcohol occasionally and especially without getting inebriated.
Mixing alcohol with other substances (drugs, cannabis, etc.) can be dangerous.

Knowing one’s limits
During their first experiences with alcohol, teenagers don’t know their limits. Sometimes, they can drink too much, too fast and rapidly get intoxicated.

Alcohol can be dangerous for teenagers and adults

  • Drinking too much and too often is dangerous for the health.
  • Alcohol can create great dependency.
  • Drunkenness alters the state of consciousness, feelings and behaviour. One can lose control and do things one might regret later. When young people start drinking alcohol, both boys and girls don’t know their limits yet. They may drink too much, or too fast. Sometimes, young people get drunk very fast, and become unable to stop.
  • Alcohol disinhibits. One is no longer able to control one’s own behaviour. One continues to drink, that’s all. Encourage your teenager to be careful. Being careful means stopping or taking a break after a glass of alcohol.
  • Too much alcohol or getting drunk too fast can kill. Upon reaching adolescence, one should know how to react if someone is the victim of alcohol intoxication. If someone loses consciousness and can’t be awoken, or doesn’t react when being pinched, or vomits, has trouble breathing, etc., said person should be laid on the side, kept warm, prevented from vomiting and never be left alone – and one should immediately ask for help from an adult, or call an ambulance (Phone 144).
  • Alcohol increases the risk of accidents.
  • Any mixing (with cannabis, drugs or other substances) brings unpredictable risks.

To prevent alcohol problems

Do what you normally do as parents, meaning:

  • You are interested in knowing how your daughter is doing; you support your child and want her to feel as good as possible.
  • You show interest in what your son does; you know where he goes and with whom.
  • You set boundaries to protect them. And you give them freedom for them to grow up autonomously.

And regarding alcohol:

  • You give the example: you drink small quantities yourself.
  • You are very clear: alcohol is not a beverage for people under the age of 16.
  • You don’t make a big fuss if your child drinks a little alcohol. But you pay attention: when do you drink? where? with whom?
    Have you observed any changes? If you are unsure, if you are worried: do not hesitate, ask for professional help. The younger your child is, the more alcohol is at stake, the more you should react clearly.

How to react when a teenager starts drinking alcohol?

Your son or daughter under the age of 16 shouldn’t drink any alcohol. Young people want to experience new things, which is normal and healthy. But they also need to be careful and learn how to manage risks. No one knows your teenager better than you. You know if he/she likes to take risks or is more moderate. You also know that one can be influenced by a group and go too far.

Make sure your child is aware of the risks associated with alcohol. When teenagers go out, they must know what you expect from them – what you accept and what you don’t accept. And also when there is alcohol involved. The following points are important and should be decided according to age:

    • time to get home
    • consumption rules
    • transportation (foot, bike, night bus, call to a parent, etc.). No alcohol behind the wheel, for them or their driver!

Agreements are based on trust. It’s sometimes easier to write things down, to make some kind of “contract”. Sign the contract together.

Some things are negotiable, others are not (see rules and boundaries). For example: one must not think that people over 16 will renounce alcohol entirely. But in any case, drunkenness can’t be tolerated. Allowing too much or forbidding too much can often produce bad results. One can’t say being drunk is not a big deal. One can’t say you should never drink any alcohol.  

Tool: here is an outing contract that might help you. It is a contract between the teenager and both parents, or the legal representative. You write the maximum amount of alcohol they are allowed to drink, as well as the time to come home, and how to come home. The contract also states sanctions. One can talk of sanction or punishment. A sanction is what happens when the contract is not respected. Choose sanctions that you are able to carry out (outing or pocket money deprivation, etc.).

Warning signs

Start worrying in case of:

  • early regular consumption;
  • frequent consumption: alcohol plays an important role, alcohol is needed to relax, the teenager drinks alone;
  • alcohol has already caused problems: accident, conflict, violence, etc.;
  • problems at school or in the learning process;
  • isolation, aggressiveness, family or parental issues.

These signs are clearly dangerous.
Contact a professional (see useful addresses) or talk to your doctor. Young people or addiction specialized centres are here for you and your child.

What should I do when my child has an alcohol intoxication?

It’s a shock for parents when their child gets intoxicated. In a serious situation, medical assistance might be necessary.

The first time, it’s often an “accident”. The child may have sought the effect of alcohol, but lost control without meaning to. Generally speaking, the child won’t want to repeat this bad experience.

Once the intoxication is over, you should talk to your child: How did this intoxication occur?  Did you mean to drink that much? Did someone force you to drink? Was it a contest? Was it an “accident”? Was it a challenge? Or something else? What happened becomes clearer. What to do as well.

Your child needs your trust, especially in this case. Even if you were very scared. But trusting is not letting children do whatever they want.

Start with a test period.  During this period, your child must prove that he or she deserves your trust. Remind them of the signed agreement.

If other similar incidents occur, you must react even more clearly and set stricter rules. It is advised to seek the support of specialized structures.


Show your teenager Quebec’s posters against the dangers of binge-drinking. They can help you to talk about alcohol with your teenager.

If you drink alcohol yourself

In Switzerland, the majority of adults drink alcohol. Most of them drink in moderation and for pleasure.

There is no contradiction in drinking yourself and forbidding your child to drink alcohol before being 16. Some things are acceptable for adults, but not for children. Moderate alcohol consumption generally implies low risks for adults. Alcohol is riskier for teenagers. You must set boundaries to protect your child.

You are a role model for your child. Children observe you; they are being influenced. If you don’t drink or if you drink alcohol in moderation and for pleasure, your child will realize it.

In Switzerland, approximately 250 000 people are addicted to alcohol. Many more consume alcohol in a problematic way. In this case, it’s more difficult to set the example. Children whose parents are addicts have the risk to become addicts themselves. Parents can do a lot to help their children, to protect them from future problems. It is best to talk openly to the child about the problem. The support from specialized centres can be very useful (see addresses).