4. Drinking Laws & Punishments

We’ve already tackled the type of penalties that’ll be handed out to you if you’re driving illegally after drinking. Let’s now explore a few more topics and see what the law states for them.

Underage Drinking

We grow up as children watching our parents drink and, oddly, somewhat glorify it. As such, it’s probably not much of a shock so many young people are drinking under 18 – as we realised with the 39% of 11-16-year-olds who have already tasted their first drop of alcohol.

There’s a lot of stuff that’s illegal when it comes to children drinking alcoholic beverages – but, surprisingly, there’s also some times when it’s allowed.

It is against the law:

  • To sell alcohol to someone under 18 anywhere.
  • For an adult to buy or attempt to buy alcohol on behalf of someone under 18. (Retailers can reserve the right to refuse the sale of alcohol to an adult if they’re accompanied by a child and think the alcohol is being bought for the child.)
  • For someone under 18 to buy alcohol, attempt to buy alcohol or to be sold alcohol.
  • For someone under 18 to drink alcohol in licensed premises, except where the child is 16 or 17 years old and accompanied by an adult. In this case it is legal for them to drink, but not buy, beer, wine and cider with a table meal.
  • For an adult to buy alcohol for someone under 18 for consumption on licensed premises, except as above.
  • To give children alcohol if they are under five.

It is not illegal:

  • For someone over 18 to buy a child over 16 beer, wine or cider if they are eating a table meal together in licensed premises.
  • For a child aged five to 16 to drink alcohol at home or on other private premises.

The consequences of underage drinking will see the minor stripped of the alcohol they possess. If the same child is caught with alcohol three times, they face a potential arrest.

If you’re an adult who’s found to be purchasing alcohol for minors, you’re liable to face a fine. Recently a man in Shropshire was fined £80 for buying drinks for three children.

While there is no guarantee you’ll be arrested for such an act, it is within the remit of the police to do so – you are, after all, breaking the law if you purchase alcohol on behalf of a minor.

Public Drinking

Generally speaking, drinking in public is in and of itself not an offence in the eyes of the law. If you’re aged over 18 and want to knock back a pint or two on the street, it’s perfectly acceptable – to a point.

You’re allowed to drink alcohol on the streets in the UK if:

  • You’re aged 18 or above
  • You’re not acting in an anti-social manner
  • You’re not in a PSPO (Public Space Protection Order) zone

These PSPO sanctions were introduced by the government in 2014 as a follow-up to ASBOs (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders) and specify certain areas of a town or city as illegal to publically drink in.

If you fall into any of these categories, there’s the potential for the police to confiscate your alcohol and potentially even arrest you.

In the case of anti-social behaviour, it will naturally be discretion on the part of the officers involved which decides if you’re breaching the law or not.

When it comes to public transport things are a little different. Right now there is a significant divide between drinking on transport in London and the rest of the country:

  • TFL (transport for London) have implemented a policy which has seen them ban the drinking of alcohol on trains and buses
  • They’ve also made it illegal to carry an open can or bottle of alcohol onto one of their vehicles

This is contrasted to the rest of the nation, where:

  • It’s perfectly legal to carry open cans and bottles, as well as drink alcohol on National Rail services
  • The only time people are prevented from drinking are on ‘dry trains’ – which are specially run to sporting events. In these instances, people will be given prior warning.

When it comes to public drinking it’s always recommended you maintain some sort of control over how much you’re taking in. You are, after all, surrounded by members of the general public at all times.

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is for all intents and purposes the drinking of alcohol during a short period of time with the intention to get drunk as quickly as possible.

Generally speaking, a ‘binge drinking session’ consists of roughly six units being consumed by a woman and eight by a man in one session of drinking.

Unsurprisingly, taking on that much alcohol at one time can have a hugely detrimental effect on your body:

  • Accidents and injuries are far more common as you’re going to be disorientated and lose balance
  • You run a higher risk of overdosing on alcohol – something which can stop your heart or cause major difficulties breathing
  • Your mood and memory will be seriously damaged in both the short and long-term

The occasional binge drinking session isn’t going to cause you too much harm – but, much like with everything we’ve covered, it’s the amount of drinking and the regularity with which you do it that’ll decide whether it’s a problem going forwards or not.

To tackle binge drinking, you can:

  • Watch how much you’re drinking on any one occasion
  • Don’t power through your drinks. Take your time and maybe even split them up with glasses of water
  • Try to avoid places that might be dangerous when drunk

Remember, your body can process one unit of alcohol per hour, so if you’re pumping more than that into your system you might start to find your blood becoming overrun with ethanol (a toxicity which usually results in vomiting).