Facts & Statistics

Any Amount of Alcohol is Risky for Kids

Giving children a “sip” of alcohol isn’t harmless.

The changes alcohol causes in the wiring of a young and developing brain can result in that child finding alcohol more rewarding as they grow older. Children who begin drinking at age 13 have a 45 percent chance of becoming alcohol dependent later in life. That’s a four times greater chance than children who do not.1

So when your child asks for a sip of your adult beverage, what do you say? Considering the potential harm alcohol can cause, the answer should be a simple and emphatic “no.”

Any amount of alcohol is risky for an underage child. Research shows that children who get sips of alcohol at a young age are likely to use other substances at higher rates when they become older.2

Still, some parents think it’s safer to let kids try alcohol at home where they can watch them. Others believe that letting kids sip alcohol makes it less mysterious and forbidden, so kids will be less likely to seek out alcohol on their own or with friends. Research found that two in five Pennsylvania parents would accept an underage child using alcohol on special occasions.3

But in all instances, alcohol use by children — even under your supervision — can be harmful, and it’s illegal.


1Grant, BF and DA Dawson, “Age at Onset of Drug use and its Association with DSM–IV Drug Abuse and Dependence: Results from the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey,” Journal of Substance Abuse 10, no. 2 (1998): 163–173.

2The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, “Adolescent Substance Abuse: America’s #1 Health Problem,” The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (2011): E25.

3PLCB Underage Drinking Survey, Summary of findings from statewide telephone research with Pennsylvanian parents of children under 21, Center for Opinion Research, February 2017.

Illustration of a dinner party with a kid holding a glass of wine.

2 in 5 PA parents find it acceptable for kids to drink alcohol on "special occasions"

About the same percentage of parents (37%) believe it’s natural for children to experiment with alcohol and trust their child to experiment responsibly.

Tip: To help your child avoid the risks associated with alcohol, it’s important to learn the facts. It’s illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to drink alcohol – regardless of the situation. And children who begin drinking at an early age can be four times more likely to have problems with alcohol later in life.

Dear Parent

Be patient and take small steps. The topic is complex and you don’t want to overwhelm your child.