Alcohol and Drugs

The regulations as they affect teenagers in the United Kingdom...

Drugs and under-age or binge drinking are a big problem in the UK and the government, plus youth charities and the police, work together to tackle the issue.


All recreational drugs in the UK are illegal; the law covering them is called the Misuse of Drugs Act. Under the terms of the act, drugs are classified as class A (most dangerous), B or C.

  • Examples of class A drugs: heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and LSD
  • Examples of class B drugs: cannabis and speed
  • Examples of class C drugs: ketamine and gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB).

It is illegal to possess a controlled substance, which includes an illegal drug or prescription drug without a valid prescription, or to supply a controlled substance. If a person is found in possession of, or supplying drugs, the penalties are a fine or prison sentence.

  • For further information from the government on drugs and crime: Click here

Police in the UK have the power to stop and search a person if they believe they are carrying drugs. They can also test someone for drugs if they think they have taken a controlled substance. Failure to comply will result in a fine. People caught with cannabis may be arrested if it is their first offence, although it tends to depend on the age of the person.

Over 18's are likely to be given a warning for the first offence, a Penalty Notice for Disorder and fine for the second offence, and arrested on the third offence, which could lead to a conviction and criminal record.

Youngsters between 10 and 17 who are caught with cannabis for the first time could be referred to a Youth Offending Team (YOT), and their parents will be informed.

A number of resources are available for those concerned about their teenagers and drugs misuse. These include:


It is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to buy or drink alcohol in a public place. Government guidelines advise that no one under 15 should drink alcohol at all, but those between 15 and 17 should be in the company of a parent or carer if they do.

  • See the website Drinkaware for further information: Click here

Children are, however, allowed to enter most pubs at certain times of the day with their parents if they only drink soft drinks. Sixteen and 17 year olds are also allowed to drink with a meal in a bar or restaurant but are not allowed to buy the drinks.

Young people caught under-age drinking by the police can be fined immediately. Off-licences (shops licensed to sell alcohol) and other shops can also be fined if personnel are caught selling alcohol to someone under-age.

Alcohol and driving

Drink driving in the UK is considered a serious criminal offence and, if a motorist is found to be over the limit whilst driving, they can be sent to prison. The legal limit is 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, 35mg of alcohol to 100ml of breath or 107mg of alcohol per 100ml of urine. For an average sized man, this is about two pints of beer (or about 0.95 litres).

Police are allowed to stop motorists and ask them to take a breath test if they believe that a driver is over the limit.

The maximum penalty for driving above the limit is a six months prison sentence plus a £5,000 fine. In addition a motorist is banned from driving for 12 months.