Teen Drinking and Behavior Problems

Teens Who Drink Get Into More Trouble, Study Finds

teen girls drinking alcohol
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Teen drinking leads to behavior problems and issues with behavioral control.

Adolescents age 12 to 17 who use alcohol are more likely to report behavioral issues, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Especially behavior that is:

  • aggressive
  • delinquent
  • criminal

There is a strong relationship, based on adolescent self-reporting, between alcohol use and emotional and behavioral problems, including:

  • fighting
  • stealing
  • driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs
  • skipping school
  • feeling depressed

Drinking Teens and Illegal Drug Use

Adolescent alcohol users, regardless of whether they are heavy, binge, or light drinkers, report they are more likely to use illicit drugs than non-drinkers. The SAMHSA reports current heavy drinkers were 16 times more likely than nondrinkers to have used an illicit drug in the past month. Light drinkers were 8 times more likely to have used an illicit drug in the past month than non-drinking adolescents.

"Underage drinking, even so-called light drinking, is dangerous and illegal," said SAMHSA Administrator Nelba Chavez, Ph.D., "The effects of underage alcohol use extend far beyond just drinking and driving."

Drinking as a Cry for Help

Parents need to know that alcohol use can also be a warning sign or a cry for help that something is seriously wrong in a child's life.

"If parents, counselors, teachers, and other caring adults reach children early enough, they can intervene before troubling behaviors lead to serious emotional disturbances, including:

Sobering Statistics About Teen Crime, Violence and Suicide

Here are some sobering statistics about crime, violence and suicide based on self-reporting from teens who claimed they were heavy drinkers.

In this comparison with adolescent non-drinkers these teens were:

  • four times more likely to steal something outside the home

  • three times more likely to report deliberately trying to hurt or kill themselves 

  • three times more likely to report having gotten into a physical fight

  • six times as likely to report skipping school

  • three times as likely to report engaging in destruction of property belonging to others

  • five times more likely run away from home

  • more than seven times more likely to have been arrested and charged with breaking the law

  • five times more likely to say that they had driven under the influence of alcohol in the past year

  • four times more likely to report that they had gotten behind the wheel under the influence of drugs

The Difference Between Light, Binge and Heavy Drinkers

Throughout this article, we've referred to teen drinking in terms of it being light, binge and heavy drinkers. Non-drinkers were also mentioned.

The information from SAMSHA defined heavy drinkers as those who consumed five or more drinks per occasion on five or more days in the previous 30 days; binge drinkers consumed five or more drinks on at least one occasion, but no more than four occasions during the previous 30 days; light drinkers consumed at least one, but fewer than five drinks on any occasion during the previous 30 days; and non-drinkers did not drink alcohol in the previous 30 days.

Source: SAMSHA Press Release.

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