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Teen Drinking

Millions of American teenagers drink alcohol. Over half of high school seniors drink at least once a week. Alcohol is the most common drug used by teenagers.

Why do teens drink?

Teens drink for many reasons. Some grow up seeing their parents or other adults drinking. They also see drinking in movies and television or in magazine ads. Seeing alcohol use makes it more likely that teens will drink.

There is often pressure from friends or classmates to drink. A teen may drink to fit in with friends, or to appear more popular or mature. Teens may drink to feel less nervous or more confident.

A teen having problems with anxiety or depression may use alcohol to deal with these feelings. Other things that may cause a teen to drink are:

  • Family members with drinking problems
  • The divorce of parents or other kinds of stress
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • The death of a family member or close friend

How can I help my teen?

  • Build a strong and natural bond by showing an interest in his friends, school work, and activities. To help your teen avoid alcohol, it helps to build a loving, trusting relationship with him. Make it easy for your teen to talk honestly with you. Talk with your child about alcohol facts and reasons not to drink. For example:
    • Alcohol affects parts of the brain that control the ability to think, remember, reason, and plan. Alcohol can cause problems with the brain that can last a lifetime.
    • Teens who use alcohol are more likely to have sex at earlier ages, to have sex more often, and to have unprotected sex than are teens who do not drink.
    • Teens who drink are more likely than others to be victims of violent crime, including rape, assault, and robbery.
    • Alcohol can lead to other drug use.
    • Alcohol-related traffic crashes are a major cause of death among teens.
    • Alcohol use increases the risk of death by drowning, suicide, and homicide.
    • Drinking alcohol before adulthood makes it more likely that your teen will become dependent on alcohol.
    • Drinking alcohol can lead to arrests, fines, and possibly loss of a driver's license.
    • Alcohol use negatively affects athletic ability.
  • Try to keep the conversation positive and calm. Many parents find that talking “with” their child, rather than “to” their child helps kids learn to make healthy decisions on their own.
  • Encourage your teen to develop healthy friendships and fun alternatives to drinking. Get to know your child’s friends and their families. Talk with your child about what makes a good friend – someone who cares about him and will not pressure him to do things that might lead to problems. Keep tabs on your teen's activities, and make sure that parents of your teen’s friends have the same rules about teen alcohol use.
  • Encourage your teen to avoid situations where people are likely to use drugs or alcohol. Talk about how to handle things when alcohol is available. Make sure your teen knows he can call for a ride home at any time. Remind him to never ride with someone who has been drinking or has used drugs.
  • Talk with your child about your family’s values and develop family rules about teen drinking. Make sure that your teen knows what will happen if rules are broken.
  • Set a good example with your own alcohol use. Don’t drink and drive. Don't tell your kids stories about your own drinking in a way that sends the message that alcohol use is funny or exciting. Don't let your child think that alcohol is a good way to handle problems. For example, don't come home from work and say, "I had a rotten day. I need a drink." Instead, show your children healthy ways to cope with stress, such as exercise, listening to music, or talking things over with your spouse, partner, or friend.

What are signs of teen drinking?

Know the warning signs and get help for your teen right away. Changes in mood and behavior may mean that your teen has a serious drinking problem:

  • Avoiding family or friends
  • Staying out of school, cutting classes, or falling grades
  • Losing interest in activities or hobbies
  • Hanging out with a new, often older, crowd
  • Frequent hangovers, constant tiredness, confusion, depression, or not remembering where he was or what happened
  • Getting into fights or arguing constantly with parents or others

Other warning signs include:

  • Finding alcohol in your teen’s room or backpack
  • Smelling alcohol on your child’s breath
  • Problems with speech or coordination
  • Unexplained need for money

If you think that your teen is drinking alcohol, talk with your healthcare provider, school nurse, religious leader, or local treatment center. Alcoholics Anonymous works with teens who want to stop drinking.

To learn more, contact:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-11-04
Last reviewed: 2014-10-27
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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