May 15, 2023

Providing alcohol to under 18s

young people party at festival

We know that it’s illegal for bar staff or bottle shops to serve or sell alcohol to people under 18, but what if they’re in a private home under adult supervision?

What is secondary supply?

‘Secondary supply’ is a legal term used to describe an adult providing alcohol to someone under 18.

In Australia, it’s illegal to serve alcohol in a private home to anyone under 18, unless you’re the young person’s parent or guardian or, in the case of most states and territories, you have permission from their parent/guardian.

Secondary supply is the most common way that young people obtain alcohol, with 43% of underage people getting alcohol from their parent.1

Alcohol-related harms in young people

Australia’s drinking guidelines recommend anyone under 18 should not drink to reduce the risk of health harms and injury. We know that drinking alcohol can affect how the brain develops in young people up until the age of 25.

This includes areas of the brain associated with attention, memory, and decision-making abilities.2,3

Drinking alcohol while the brain is still developing can increase the risk of:

  • memory problems
  • learning difficulties
  • mental health issues
  • dependence.2-4

Young people today are less likely to drink alcohol than previous generations. But they’re more likely to ’binge drink’ and take risks which can result in injuries and alcohol poisoning.5,6

Younger people are also more likely to be harmed by others’ drinking.7 In 2019, 34% of those aged 18-24 had been the victim of an alcohol-related incident in the past year, which was higher than for any other age group.6

Should I let my teenager have a drink?

Some parents might think letting their teen drink will help them learn how to drink safely, but there’s evidence that it can do the opposite.

In 2016-17, 28% of young people aged 16–17 were allowed to drink alcohol at home.

Of this group 77% had drunk alcohol in the past month, compared to 63% of those who didn’t have permission from their parents to drink.8

And the teens who were allowed to drink at home experienced more alcohol-related harm, compared to those without permission. Harms included injuries, violence or a hangover impacting their work or school.8

We also know that parental drinking, supply of alcohol, and favourable attitudes towards alcohol are all risk factors in teenage drinking.9

And the earlier a young person starts drinking, and the more frequently they drink, the more likely they are to develop an alcohol dependence later in life.9

Delaying drinking alcohol as long as possible can help reduce harms.

When it comes to preparing your young person for situations where they may be around alcohol or other drugs, talking about it – often – is key. It can reduce the chances they’ll drink, or experience related harms later in life.10

To help guide you in having these conversations, check out ADF’s Talk About It resource for parents and carers.

Current secondary supply laws in Australia

In Australia, it’s legal for a person under 18 to drink alcohol on private property. But in most states and territories, the person who gave them alcohol could be breaking the law – unless they’re the young person’s parent or guardian, or the parent or guardian has provided permission.

In all states and territories, it’s illegal to supply people under 18 with alcohol if responsible supervision is not provided.

Responsible supervision refers to:

  • if the adult supplying the alcohol is intoxicated
  • if the young person is intoxicated
  • the age of the young person
  • the type and amount of alcohol supplied and over what period of time
  • if the young person has eaten food with the alcohol
  • how the young person is supervised by the adult supplying the alcohol.11

State and territory laws

In the ACT, NSW, SA, TAS, VIC and WA alcohol can be provided to minors in a private home if:

  • provided by the parent/guardian or with permission of the parent/guardian
  • provided with responsible supervision.12-17

In the NT and QLD alcohol can be provided to minors in a private home if:

  • provided by the parent/guardian, step-parent or adult who has parental rights and responsibilities
  • provided with responsible supervision.11,18

More information on laws and penalties:

For more information about the supply of alcohol to people aged under 18 years, contact the Legal Aid Commission in your state or territory.

  1. Guerin N, White VM. ASSAD 2017 Statistics & Trends: Australian Secondary Students’ Use of Tobacco, Alcohol, Over-the-counter Drugs, and Illicit Substances: Cancer Council Victoria; 2020 [21.04.2023].
  2. Guerri C, Pascual M. Impact of neuroimmune activation induced by alcohol or drug abuse on adolescent brain development. International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience [Internet]. 2019 [26.10.2022]; 77:[89-98 pp.].
  3. Spear LP. Effects of adolescent alcohol consumption on the brain and behaviour. Nature reviews Neuroscience [Internet]. 2018 [13.10.2022]; 19(4):[197-214 pp.].
  4. Lima F, Sims S, O'Donnell M. Harmful drinking is associated with mental health conditions and other risk behaviours in Australian young people. Aust N Z J Public Health [Internet]. 2020 [21.04.2023]; 44(3):[201-7 pp.].
  5. National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol 2020 [21.04.2023].
  6. AIHW. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019. Canberra Australian Institute of Health and Welfare; 2020 [21.04.2023].
  7. Laslett A-M, Room R, Kuntsche S, Anderson-Luxford D, Willoughby B, Doran C, et al. Alcohol’s harm to others in 2021: who bears the burden? Addiction [Internet]. 2023 [21.04.2023]; n/a(n/a).
  8. Quinn B, Evans-Whipp T, Prattley J, Rioseco P, Rowland B. Do Australian adolescents with permission to drink at home engage in different alcohol use behaviours and experience more harms than those without such permission? Drug and Alcohol Review [Internet]. 2023 [21.04.2023].
  9. Yap MBH, Cheong TWK, Zaravinos-Tsakos F, Lubman DI, Jorm AF. Modifiable parenting factors associated with adolescent alcohol misuse: a systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Addiction (Abingdon, England) [Internet]. 2017 [21.04.2023]; 112(7):[1142-62 pp.].
  10. Positive Choices. Drug and Alcohol Education: Parent Booklet 2019 [21.04.2023].
  11. State of Queensland. Supplying alcohol to under 18s 2022 [21.04.2023].
  12. ACT Policing. Supply of alcohol to minors [21.04.2023].
  13. Government of New South Wales. Alcohol and Young People [21.04.2023].
  14. Attorney-General's Department. Information for parents of minors 2023 [21.04.2023].
  15. Department of Police Fire and Emergency Management. Youth and Alcohol 2022 [21.04.2023].
  16. State Government of Victoria. Minors and alcohol 2023 [21.04.2023].
  17. Alcohol Think Again. Alcohol laws for under 18s 2022 [21.04.2023].
  18. Northern Territory Government. Young people, alcohol and drugs 2016 [21.04.2023].

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