South African children are drinking from a young age. Statistics show that our young people are in fact, drinking from as young as 13 years of age (Reddy et al., 2013), which is illegal – a sobering fact. We have to start the conversation earlier to effectively address the problem of underage drinking.

As a society, many do not realise the extent or implications of underage drinking and the role of social norms.  In fact, many parents, adults, and caregivers inadvertently encourage underage drinking through the practices of sending children to buy alcohol or sending children to fetch alcohol from the fridge or liquor cabinet.  Alcohol, its advertising, sales, and integration into all facets of communication and its consumption have become normalised, there has been a desensitisation to its impact and effects and has even been elevated to a level of ‘glamour’ and status in society – which has left our children vulnerable.




 Underage Drinking in South Africa: What you need to know:

  • The sale and serving of alcohol to persons under the age of 18 years old, is illegal
  • It is illegal to buy and consume alcohol for persons under the age of 18 years old
  • 50% of teenagers in South Africa claim to have tried, or claim to drink alcohol
  • Studies also show that someone who starts drinking under the age of 18 – which is illegal – is four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than someone who starts consuming booze after the age of 20
  • South African data further indicate that at least 25% of school-going youth have engaged binge drinking (Reddy et al., 2013)
  • 12% of school-going youth have had their first drink before 13 years old (Reddy et al., 2013)
  • Substance use generally starts during the teenage years and can commence as early as 10-13 years of age (Bhana & Groenewald, 2019)
  • Up to one third of persons who are admitted to substance use treatment centres are under the age of 20 years old (within this group, between 1 – 14% identify alcohol as their primary substance of choice) (Dada et al., 2018)
  • The drivers of underage drinking are complex and require a multi-faceted, long term, solutions, including effective law enforcement, positive Community role-modelling and the provision of age-appropriate recreational facilities within communities.  In addition, we urgently need to address behavioural change in around what has become a social norm, and for the longer term, if we want to protect the most vulnerable in our Communities most effectively and for the longer-term.
  • Alcohol consumption has been associated with a range of negative impacts on underage drinkers and includes impaired cognitive functioning, physical health and psychosocial functioning. Consumption of alcohol by minors has been shown to impair their academic performance, including an increase in absenteeism from school. Longer-term, this has a knock-on effect in terms of their future success and job security. Alcohol use in underage people is also associated with an increase in risky behaviour, including risky sexual behaviour, pregnancies, and an increased likelihood of the use of other substances.
  • The factors contributing to underage drinking are complex and children need to navigate through the following:
    • Prevailing cultural norms/traditions associated with alcohol
    • Peer Pressure and peer alcohol use and attitudes towards alcohol: Drinking because their friends are drinking, underpinned by the desire to fit in
    • Boredom: Lack of access to recreational age-appropriate facilities in communities results in unsupervised free time
    • Stress: Many teenagers admit to drinking to forget about their problems.
    • Low-Self Esteem/Curiosity: Drinking makes it easier to speak to other people and gives a sense of confidence
    • Parental use and attitudes towards alcohol have a very strong impact on the way children view alcohol
    • Community Modelling and Access to Liquor play significant roles


The importance of a clear demonstration of visible and intentional commitment and compliance of the Industry and Trade Community (in both in-store and online environments), is of critical importance. This matter also has direct touch points for how the Industry communicates to the market as a whole, and for the Code of Commercial Communications. All signatories to the Code have agreed to bind themselves to its rules, procedures and governance.


There are key actions that are being taken by the industry and the extended alcohol value chain to visibly demonstrate commitment to alcohol harm reduction, with regard to addressing advertising, marketing and sales of alcohol products to underaged persons:


  • Not to sell or serve alcohol to underage persons
  • Raise standards of responsibility for advertising, marketing, and sales to combat alcohol-related harm and underage drinking (in trade, retail, on- and off-consumption environments; and online)
  • Improving and enhancing safeguards for online advertising, marketing, and sales to help prevent underage drinking


There are key actions that can be taken in trade, retail, on- and off-consumption environments to prevent underage drinking:




  • As per the law, the sale and serving of alcohol to persons under the age of 18 years old, is illegal
  • It is illegal for persons under the age of 18 years old to buy and consume alcohol
  • In trade, outlet, retail, on- and off-consumption environments, identification can and should be requested and checked in cases where the age of person purchasing alcohol is in question – and the sale of alcohol can be denied if valid and verifiable identification cannot be produced by the consumer or patron at point of purchase


Need help, support or more information?

The following organisations can assist and guide you:

  1. SANCA substance abuse toll-free hotline: 0800 121 314, or SMS 32312, or WhatsApp: 076 535 1701
  2. Department of Social Development Substance Abuse Line 24hr helpline: 0800 12 13 14, or SMS 32312
  3. NICRO National Head Office: 021 462 0017
  4. Lifeline National Counselling Line: 0861 322 322
  5. South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) Substance Abuse Hotline: 0800 11 8392, or on 011 234 4837 or 0800 20 50 26 and speak to a trained counsellor who can assist you. Their offices are open 7 days a week from 8am – 8pm. Their Substance Abuse line can also be reached on 0800 12 13 14 and is available 24hrs.