Teens and Alcohol: What Parents Need to Know

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Underage drinking is a serious problem. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that doctors screen all teenagers for potential alcohol use because so many teens are consuming alcohol.

Despite a variety of campaigns to educate teens about the dangers of drinking, the vast majority of teenagers are still choosing to experiment with alcohol. Frighteningly, many of those teens are binge drinking.

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Teen Alcohol Statistics

Alcohol is the most commonly used drug by teenagers. Approximately 11% of all alcohol in the United States is consumed by underage drinkers, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The 2011 Monitoring the Future Survey found that 33% of 8th graders and 70% of 12th graders had tried alcohol.

The 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey reported that during the past 30 days:

  • 39% of teens drank some form of alcohol
  • 22% binge drank
  • 8% drove after drinking alcohol
  • 24% rode with a driver who had consumed alcohol

There are several different reasons why teens choose to drink alcohol. Among them are:

Thrill-Seeking - One major reason teens experiment with alcohol is because they are looking for excitement. Breaking the law, the risk of getting caught, and the desire to engage in a potentially dangerous situation can actually attract some teens to try alcohol.


Curiosity - Teens may have unrealistic expectations about how alcohol will impact their lives. They may believe they’ll have more friends, feel happier, or be viewed as more popular if they experiment with alcohol.

Genetics - Biology certainly plays a role in the consumption of alcohol. Children of alcoholics are between 4 and 10 times more likely to become alcoholics, according to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics.

Teens with a family history of alcohol problems are more likely to start drinking alcohol earlier and are more likely to develop a problem with alcohol faster than their peers.

Environment – Exposure to alcohol in the home can increase the likelihood a teen will drink. Teens who are exposed to media that glamorize alcohol may view drinking as more desirable. TV advertisements, movies, magazine advertisements, and social media images can cause teens to assume that everyone is drinking or that alcohol makes people cool.

Personality and mental health – Some teens just have a personality that is more prone to risky behavior. Teens who have mental health issues or behavior problems are at greater risk of drinking.

Teen Mental Health: What Parents Need to Know

Consequences of Underage Drinking

Drinking can have serious social, legal, and educational consequences for teens. Consequences may include:

  • Increased risk of accident and injury – The majority of people under the age of 21 who are victims of drowning, burns, and falls test positive for alcohol.
  • Death from alcohol poisoning – Teens can get carried away with drinking too much too fast, and the consequences can be fatal.
  • Legal problems – Not only is underage drinking illegal, but teens who drink are more likely to engage in other illegal activity such as driving while intoxicated or engaging in physical fights.
  • Increased risk for suicide and homicide – Alcohol can lead to mood instability and irrational behavior that increases a teen’s risk of suicide and homicide.
  • Changes in brain development – The adolescent is still growing and developing. Alcohol can greatly impact the brain and interfere with normal development which could have long-lasting effects.
  • Increased risk of physical and sexual assault – When teens are under the influence of alcohol, they greatly increase their risk of being assaulted.
  • Greater risk of developing alcohol problems later in life – When teens begin experimenting with alcohol prior to the age of 15, they are  5 times more likely to develop a substance abuse problem later in life compared to people who don’t drink until after the age of 21, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Prevent Underage Drinking

Many teens choose not to drink. They’re able to make healthy choices for themselves and they can resist peer pressure they may experience about drinking. Parental involvement is one of the keys to preventing teens from drinking. Take steps to educate your teen about the dangers of drinking and conduct ongoing conversations about alcohol.

Read More: 

7 Ways Parents Can Prevent Underage Drinking

How to Talk to Teens About Difficult Subjects

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