Chapter 2 - Influences Subchapter: Alcohol & other drugs

Alcohol and the law

Key points

  • You need to be 18 years or older to drink alcohol.
  • We have laws that control alcohol.
  • You can’t be drunk in public.
  • Only licensed stores can sell alcohol.
  • You can’t drive or operate heavy machinery when drunk.
  • You can’t give consent when drunk.


We have laws in each state and territory

Because alcohol comes with a whole bunch of risks, we’ve developed laws to control it.

We don’t want to get too specific here, because the laws change from state to state, but we do want to look at some of the broad themes and how they relate to the relationship field model.


A relatively sober illustrated character cuddling a really wasted character, looking really nervous as a police officer observes the scene.


 What age you can drink

A baby in a nappy, with the caption, “Sorry, no”.


The legal drinking age in every state is 18. This is for a lot of reasons, including:

  • Alcohol does more damage to developing brains.
  • Self-control develops with age, so it can be safer to drink when you’re older.
  • Nobody wants drunk toddlers hanging around the mall.


How does this make sense from a Field Model point of view— shouldn’t you be free to do what you want?

Well, in our society we say you’re not a legal adult with full rights and responsibilities, and able to take complete care of yourself, until you’re 18 years old. Until then you’re meant to be the responsibility of a parent or guardian.

Since we recognise that alcohol can be dangerous, your freedom to drink is limited until you become a legal adult.

The law does typically make allowances for drinking at home, under adult supervision, assuming that adults are being responsible for themselves and others.


Where you can drink

A church faded out with the caption, "Probably not here".


There are different rules about when and where you can drink in public, but we all accept you can’t be drunk in public. This is less about you, and more about your impact on other people.

The issue here is everyone else’s freedom to go about their business in a public space, free of harassment. Because drunk people can be intrusive and disorderly, there are laws to keep this behaviour in check.

You don’t even have to be harassing anyone; stumbling, slurring and generally being obnoxious in a public place is enough for the police to step in.

In some states there are zones where it is explicitly illegal to drink in public (or at all). And there are sometimes other zones (like club and bar precincts) or occasions (like festivals or New Year’s Eve) where it is acceptable to drink in public, and the police will put additional officers on the street to keep everyone safe.


Who can sell alcohol

A faded out retro image of a kid at a lemonade stand, caption reads: "If this isn't lemonade, this kid is in trouble".


Because alcohol is controlled, you need a license to sell it. This way the government can control access and penalise sellers who don’t play by the rules.

Again, one person’s right to sell something is constrained in this case because what they are selling is especially dangerous to young people.


What you’re allowed to do when drinking so that you don’t endanger others

A faded image of an adult wearing aviation glasses driving a small 4-wheel scooter toy. Caption reads, "Not when drunk".


We have laws to say you can’t drive vehicles or operate heavy machinery while drunk. Again, the big issue here is balancing your freedom to do whatever you want, against everyone else’s freedom to be able to go about their lives without you crashing into them with your car.

But there are way more ways that drunk people can be a danger to others. How would you feel about a drunk surgeon? Or a drunk builder?

We have laws that mean workplaces need to make sure they are safe for workers and customers, and that typically means making sure people aren’t drinking, and taking action if they are.


What you can agree to while you’re drunk

Retro image of a man in a suit and glasses pointing at the fine print of a document. Caption reads, "Trickery".


Finally, because you can’t necessarily think straight or follow what’s being said to you when you’re drunk, there are laws that affect giving consent.

This area can be complicated, so the main thing to remember is that the law wants to protect someone who is drunk (or in any other way incapacitated) from being taken advantage of by someone who is not drunk.

So, if you’re with someone who you believe is drunk or incapacitated, don’t assume that if they agree to something, they are actually legally capable of agreeing.