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Teen Drinking

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KEY POINTS

  • Alcohol is the most common drug used by teens. Talk with your teen about alcohol facts and reasons not to drink.
  • Set a good example with your own alcohol use. Show your family healthy ways to cope with stress such as exercising, listening to music, or talking things over with your spouse, partner, or friend.
  • Know the warning signs of teen drinking. If you think that your teen is drinking alcohol, talk with your teen’s healthcare provider, school nurse, religious leader, or local treatment center.

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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. Teen drinking may result in aggressive behavior, property damage, injuries, violence, and even death.

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 your teen’s friends, school work, and activities. To help your teen avoid alcohol, it helps to build a loving, trusting relationship with your teen. Make it easy for your teen to talk honestly with you. Talk with your teen 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 teen, rather than “to” their teen helps kids learn to make healthy decisions on their own. Praise your teen’s courage to make up his or her own mind, no matter what other kids are doing.
  • Encourage your teen to develop healthy friendships and fun alternatives to drinking. Get to know your teen’s friends and their families. Talk with your teen about what makes a good friend – someone who cares about your teen and will not pressure him or her 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. Teen parties should be supervised by non-drinking adults and should not have alcohol available.
  • 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 to call you for a ride home at any time and your teen will not be blamed. Remind your teen to never ride with someone who has been drinking or has used drugs.
  • Talk with your teen 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. Teens whose parents have talked with them about not drinking are less likely to do so.
  • Set a good example with your own alcohol use. Don’t drink and drive. Don't tell your family stories about your own drinking in a way that sends the message that alcohol use is funny or exciting. Don't let your teen 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 family healthy ways to cope with stress such as exercising, 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 or she 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
  • Finding fake ID cards
  • Smelling alcohol on your teen’s breath
  • Physical signs such as problems with speech or coordination, nausea and vomiting, or confusion
  • Unexplained need for money

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

For more information, contact:

Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2019-07-18
Last reviewed: 2018-10-02
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.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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