FAQs About Drugs & Alcohol

Underage drinking is a serious public health problem posing enormous health and safety risks to youth in the United States. Alcohol is the most widely used substance among American youth, contributing to more teen deaths than all other drugs combined.


At what age should I start talking with my kids about the risks and dangers of underage drinking?

Talk should begin earlier than you think. Kids absorb messages from parents, neighbors, and TV very early. When kids are younger, it’s advised to use teachable moments to make a point about alcohol in age appropriate ways. By the time they reach middle school, open discussions about alcohol and it’s risks should be occurring. Kids who hear these messages before they are faced with a decision are better equipped to say no. For help with these conversations, visit our Talking Tips page for an age-appropriate guide for talking with your children about drugs and alcohol.

Is it okay for my kids to drink alcohol in my home with my permission?

No, except under very specific religious ceremonies.

What are the legal ramifications of underage drinking?

The legal ramifications are significant.

The Illinois Social Host Law (Public Act 097-1049) went into effect January 1, 2013, and holds adults accountable for underage drinking that occurs in the home. There are several parts to this law.

• If you allow or host a party at your house and provide alcohol to people under age 21 (or if you know or should have known that they are drinking alcohol), you are guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. This will result in a fine. Note that you are held responsible regardless if you are the one who provides the alcohol AND regardless if you are home or not.

• If a minor who was drinking at your house injures or kills someone, you are guilty of a Class 4 felony. This could result in both a fine and/or jail time.

• You will not be guilty of violating the law if you request help from the police to help remove the underage drinkers and stop the gathering. This only holds if you make the first one to call—not if the police show up after a complaint from a neighbor and then you ask for help.In addition, depending on local community ordinances, you may also be held responsible for the costs of emergency services/law enforcement that respond to a call, attorney fees and other costs associated.

I drank when I was a teen, so why shouldn’t I let my teen drink?

Times are different and we know more about adolescent brain development today. Underage drinking permanently affects the way the adolescent brain develops, significantly increases the likelihood of becoming alcohol dependent later in life, and leads to other illegal drugs. Learn more about alcohol’s effect on teen health HERE and trends in underage drinking HERE.

What are the legal liabilities if an underage drinking party occurs at my house?

It is not illegal for parents to serve their children alcohol in the privacy of their own home in Illinois. It is against the law to serve anyone else’s child, even if their parents are present and give permission. Hosting an underage drinking party at your home opens your family up to significant criminal and civil liabilities. Learn more about the Illinois Social Hosting Law HERE.

If you are hosting tweens or teens in your home, check out our Tips for Hosting a Safe Party to help keep everyone – including you -safe.

My teen says that no one drinks and drives. Is that true?

Unfortunately, no. In the recent Illinois Youth Survey of Barrington High School students, many teens admitted that they had driven under the influence or ridden with someone else who was impaired. It is important that your teen understand the legal consequences of drinking and driving. You can learn more about underage drinking and driving laws in Illinois HERE.

What are the consequences of underage drinking for my teens?

Besides the substantial negative effects on their bodies and developing brains, consequences include: arrest and conviction of an ordinance or state law, fines, potential license restrictions, athletic and extra-curricular restrictions, and elimination from consideration for honor societies and scholarships or school admissions. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs results in the loss of their driver’s license.

If teens have one drink in an evening, are they still at risk for being charged with a DUI?Teens should never get behind the wheel of a car if they have been drinking. You and your teen need to develop a “Code Word”, phrase or image which they can say on the phone or put in a text message alerting you that they need help getting out of a difficult/dangerous situation. Work out this “Code Word”, phrase or image in advance and be ready and willing to help your teen if they ever use it.

How can I address alcohol problems if my teen is living away from home?

Parents play an important role, even if their children are living away. Listen closely for signs of distress or problems from alcohol, set reasonable expectations for academic performance if they are in college and let kids know the risks related to drinking. Encourage them to stand up for the right not to drink or binge.

Will talking to my teens and letting them know we would be disappointed if they drank alcohol, make any difference?

YES! Talking with teens about boundaries and expectations does make a difference. In recent surveys among Barrington High School students, those who said their parents have firm rules about alcohol use were half as likely to use. Teens report that the number one reason they don’t drink alcohol is “disappointing their parents”

Is it true that Europe has less of a teen drinking problem than the United States?

No. European countries have youth binge drinking levels higher than in the US. Early exposure to alcohol does not appear to prevent risky drinking among today’s youth.

How can I tell if my teen has been drinking?

First, be alert to alcohol smell on their breath. Ask for the “I’m home and safe kiss.” Be suspicious if your teen is chomping on mints or gum each time he/she comes home. Check for disorientation, vomiting, and telltale signs of hangovers. Monitor your home alcohol supply and check backpacks or stashes in bedrooms or basements if you suspect a problem.

How should I answer when my child asks, “How can I say no to alcohol? I’m afraid I won’t fit in.”

Tell them that it’s easier to refuse than you think. Teach them strategies for saying “no”. Try “No thanks”, “I don’t drink”, or “I’m not interested.” Remind them that the majority of teens don’t drink alcohol. They’re in good company when they are one of them. For more tips, visit our Ways to Say No page.

If saying “no” doesn’t work, make sure that your child knows that they can call or text you the code word, phrase or image and you will come to assist.

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