Skip to main content

What to do if you think your child is drinking

Don’t

  • Panic - If a child comes home drunk or you suspect they are drinking, try not to panic. Most young people who experiment with alcohol don’t go on to develop problem drinking.
  • Overreact - If you are worried, your instinct may be to ground your child or remove a lot of privileges. This may just make them rebel and reject you.
  • Ignore it - Parents’ instincts are normally good. If you feel there’s a problem, take some steps to stop things getting worse.

Do

  • Start the conversation - Explain why you are worried and talk about the risks. Try to find out what your child gets from drinking, and look for ways to support them in finding healthier ways to cope. Read more: Talking about alcohol 
  • Put protective boundaries in place - This doesn’t mean taking away privileges or stopping them going out, but have clear rules in place to protect them. See our Guide to setting rules around alcohol for some advice.
  • Deal with problem drinking - If you know your child is drinking in a harmful way – a way that is causing problems in their life – get professional advice. Talk to your GP or contact an advice or support service. See our section Where to get help for helpful contacts.

When there is a family history of alcohol problems

If there is a history of alcohol or drug dependence addiction to alcohol in your family, your child is more at risk of developing problems. It’s a good idea to be honest about this, and explain why they need to be extra careful, as they would with any other risk to their health.

If your child is affected by a parent’s harmful drinking, they may be tempted to use alcohol to deal with their feelings. It’s important to let them know that this is not a good way to cope. There are some tips on managing feelings in our section, . You might also like to read more about Alcohol and young people's mental health.

Read more about how to reduce the impact of problem drinking on your children.

What to do if your child comes home drunk?

  • Focus on their safety, rather than blame or punishment. If your teen comes home drunk or if they have got themselves into a tricky or dangerous situation because of drinking, focus on making sure they are safe.
  • Don’t try to talk to them about what has happened yet. You can talk about what led to the problem another time. Wait until the next day, when they are sober. Tips for talking to a teen about alcohol
  • Ask if they have taken any other drug. You may not notice other signs if they are very drunk
  • Don’t let them sleep it off. Encourage them to drink some water and keep an eye on them for a while. Blood alcohol can carry on rising for a time after they have stopped drinking, so things may get worse.
  • If they vomit, try to keep them sitting up. Being drunk means they are more likely to choke on their vomit. If they are lying down, put them on their side, in the recovery position.
  • If they lose consciousness, put them in the recovery position and get help. Stay with them until help arrives.
  • Watch out for the signs of alcohol poisoning.
  • Call 999 if you are worried and stay with them.

Signs of alcohol poisoning

  • They are breathing less than twelve times a minute or stop breathing for periods of ten seconds or more.
  • They’re asleep and you can’t wake them up.
  • Their skin is cold, clammy, pale and bluish in colour.
  • Call 999 if you are worried and stay with them.

References

(2013) NYCI. Support manual for dealing with substance use issues in an out of school setting. National Youth Council of Ireland, Dublin
http://www.publichealthagency.org/sites/default/files/you%20your%20child%20and%20alcohol%20leaflet.pdf
https://www.healthpromotion.ie/hp-files/docs/HPM00402.pdf
http://alcoholthinkagain.com.au/Parents-Young-People/Alcohol-and-Young-People
Brian Wall. Sharing Experiences And Suggestions Around Alcohol & Substance Abuse A Collaborative Guide For Parents, 2nd Edition, 2011. 

service finder

Where to get help

Find your nearest support group, by selecting your county below