What is the legal drinking age in France?

Nadia Podrabinek Nadia Podrabinek

Written by Nadia Podrabinek

Legal drinking age in France

The minimum age to legally drink alcohol in France is 18, as in most European countries such as Spain, Italy, and Portugal

However, the drinking age laws are different even within Europe – young people in Belgium, Austria (in some regions), Denmark, and Germany can drink low-alcohol beverages from age 16 (the drinks with less than 1.2% of distilled alcohol).

Let’s admit that drinking is normalized in Western culture: people tend to feel concerned when you say you do not drink. For many, alcohol is a reason to gather with your friends, a way to relieve stress and have fun. That may be why many minors worldwide find ways to start drinking before reaching adulthood.

Why is alcohol prohibited for underages? 

Alcohol is addictive and can cause serious health issues regardless of age. However, underages are at particular risk for several reasons. 

Firstly, the human body is still growing throughout the teenage years and fully develops only at 25. As was scientifically proven, drinking causes brain cell damage, experiencing which is precisely dangerous during the period of brain formation. One starts suffering from memory loss, poor problem-solving, and other cognitive issues. Same with other organs, such as the liver and kidneys. 

Read also: Why is Paris expensive?

Secondly, youngsters are much worse at knowing their limits and controlling themselves when drunk, resulting in reckless behavior and wrong choices: drunk driving, sexual harassment, violence, suicide, etc. Even if committed unconsciously, all those actions have long-term negative consequences for all the participants involved. 

Thirdly, statistics show that people who start drinking regularly before 15 are most likely to become long-term alcoholics. An addiction, in turn, leads to overall frustration, such as alterations in family relationships, impaired school performance, and social life. It’s worth mentioning that minors who develop a drinking habit tend to experience lower self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and other mental deviations. 

atopia drink france
Atopia, an ultra-low alcohol botanical spirit brand

The drinking age law is not perfect

Legal restrictions do not always pass the reality check. According to studies, many young French people start drinking before they are 18.

Reports from 2017 show that 44% of 17-year-olds in France had experienced binge alcohol episodes within a month by the moment the survey was conducted.

In 2019, 53% of French 15-16-years-olds reported the consumption of alcoholic beverages in the last 30 days. In the same year, every third of underaged participants confessed to having had heavy episodic drinking (5 and more drinks) during the previous month. 

Did you know? French people are not the heaviest drinkers in the world (although, on average, they consume almost 12 liters of alcohol yearly). The top 3 countries are Belarus, Lithuania, and Czech Rebuplic (source).

How is it possible for minors to consume alcohol under conditions of the legal drinking age?

Finding liquor is not impossible for teenagers in France. Unscrupulous sellers, whose thirst for profit outweighs the principles and word of the law, secretly provide minors with drinks. Many underages ask adults to purchase alcoholic beverages, and from that moment, it becomes their responsibility.

In short, the governmental policy toward control over underage drinking in France could be improved. Still, the overall situation is hard to control.

Which beverages can minors drink in France?

Interestingly, there are non-alcoholic drinks that contain an insignificant amount of alcohol in them. For example, most alcohol-free beers could contain traces of alcohol (almost 0.5%, even though the label says 0%.) Here is the list of such non-alcoholic beverages you can find in French grocery stores:

  • Kombucha
  • Alcohol-free beer
  • Alcohol-free wine

If your tolerance for alcohol is low, you might start feeling a little woozy even with alcohol-free drinks. That happened to me when I drank two bottles of non-alcoholic beer. 

The same is the case with kombucha, a fermented drink. However, in grocery stores, kombucha can typically be found in the non-alcohol section. This drink is also allowed in the Muslim religion (which strictly prohibits alcohol) and is considered halal.

So, the question is whether we should tolerate minors consuming such non-alcoholic beverages that, in fact, contain alcohol. In my opinion, this cultivates a culture of drinking and, later on, might lead people to make a smooth transition to developing an addiction. 

The drinking age in France if you are with parents

In France, it is legal to consume alcohol while monitored by parents. Studies have proven that positive reinforcement is much more effective in upbringing your child than punishments. Teenagers raised under strict conditions are likelier to crave alcohol as a ”forbidden fruit.” 

So, giving your minor a taste of wine if they ask is a great way to build trust and prevent a child from uncontrolled drinking. And if you are young and curious to partake in adult behavior such as drinking, talk to your parents – communication is the key. This way, you might come up with a perfect way for you to try an alcoholic beverage in a safe environment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you drink alcohol at 16 in France?

No, you cannot. In France, it was legal to buy fermented drinks (wine, beer, cider) at 16 before 2009. However, the laws changed, and now young people cannot drink any alcohol before they reach the age limit of 18. 

What is the legal age to drink in Paris?

The legal drinking age in France is 18 and applies to all cities across the country.

Can I drink alcohol in public areas in France?

Public drinking is not prohibited in France. Nevertheless, there are specific areas where drinking alcohol is banned, such as the Champ de Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. 

Can you drink kombucha or non-alcoholic beverages before 18 in France?

Yes, you can, but be mindful and do not get used to drinking non-alcoholic beverages.

What is considered a low-alcohol beverage?

The definition of a low-alcohol beverage (low-ABV) may vary from country to country. In Europe, a beverage with less than 1.2% alcohol by volume is considered a low-alcohol drink. In other countries, 5-7% alcohol is also considered a low-ABV drink.

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