- Teen Drinking Risk Factors and Consequences
- How Many Teens Drink?
- Family Influences onTeen Drinking Risk Factors
- How Important Is Peer Pressure?
- Teen Drinking and Mental Health
- Alcohol Availability and Advertising
- Delay Teen Drinking
- Teens and Alcohol
- Why do teens drink?
- Risks from youth alcohol use
- Signs of underage drinking
- Tips for parents to prevent underage drinking
- Suggested reading:
- Teen Alcohol Abuse Risk Factors
- Internal Risk Factors for Teen Alcohol Abuse
- Behavior Patterns
- ADHD & Anxiety Disorders
- Positive Perception of Alcohol
- External Risk Factors for Teen Alcohol Abuse
- Media Advertising
- Parents & Family Members
- Peer Pressure
- Preventing Teen Alcohol Abuse
- Underage Drinking: Alcohol Poisoning, Binge Drinking, Drinking Age
- How common is underage drinking?
- What is binge drinking?
- What are the effects of underage drinking?
- Does underage drinking lead to long-term health problems?
- Why do children and teenagers start drinking?
- Do adults affect underage drinking?
- How can I tell if my child is drinking?
- How can I talk to my child about underage drinking?
- What should I do if I suspect my child is drinking?
- Underage Drinking & Alcoholism Risks
- Why Do Young People Drink?
- Underage Drinking Statistics
- Risk Factors Contributing to Underage Drinking
- Childhood behavior
- Family background and lifestyle
- Psychiatric disorders
- Does College Life Contribute to Underage Drinking?
- 12 Signs Your Child is Drinking Alcohol
- What to do if you suspect your child is drinking
- Does Underage Drinking Lead to Long-Term Health Problems?
- Do Underage Drinkers Become Alcoholics?
- How to Reduce Underage Drinking
- What's Next?
Teen Drinking Risk Factors and Consequences
The shift towards a new generation has greatly decreased underage drinking, not only in the United States but across the developed world, especially in Europe where per capita alcohol consumption for teens and adults typically goes above and beyond US levels.
Experts cite changes in technology rather than policy, particularly the accountability and unintentional social oversight fostered by social media, as being key in the development of completely different attitudes towards alcohol and drunkenness. Kids are much more aware of the consequences of losing control and doing something reckless on the Internet.
Furthermore, today’s teens are much more ly to stay in and drink at home (even before the pandemic), in a safer environment. This doesn’t mean teen drinking has been eliminated.
Despite a reduction in binge drinking and associated deaths, underage drinking remains an issue all around the developed world, and over 4,300 teens still die in the US every year as a direct result of excessive underage drinking.
How Many Teens Drink?
Teenage drinking is measured not by lifetime drinks, but by drinking habits within the last thirty days. As such, an underage “non-drinker” is someone who has not imbibed in the last month. An estimated 30 percent of teens have consumed some level of alcohol in the last month, with 14 percent having binged at least once.
Binge drinking is defined as consuming more than a set amount of alcohol in a single drinking session. This is defined as having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.
08 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood (100ml), or about 5 drinks for males and 4 drinks for females in two hours.
A “drink” is equivalent to about one beer, a glass of wine, or a single shot of liquor (roughly 14 grams of alcohol).
Binge drinking is considered a youth risk behavior, and although it is not indicative of alcohol use disorder (alcohol addiction or alcohol dependence), teens who binge more often are at greater risk of developing alcoholism and associated physical and mental health issues. It’s worth noting binge drinking is certainly not unique to underage populations and is significantly more common in ages 18-34. However, teens may be disproportionately affected by the risks associated with excessive drinking.
Family Influences on Teen Drinking Risk Factors
The risk factors playing into teen drinking are complex and numerous. Some are external factors, and some are internal factors.
Internal factors typically refer to genetics and the effects of alcohol on the brain, which differ from person to person.
Some people are more naturally resistant to alcohol’s effects than others, and some people are genetically more ly to become physically dependent on alcohol or develop a substance use problem.
If alcoholism “runs in the family”, so to speak, a teen is at greater risk of developing similar issues if they begin to drink frequently versus peers who don’t have a family history of alcohol use issues.
Home environment also plays a role as an external factor in a teen’s drinking behavior.
A healthy home environment, especially one where child and parent are close, and the parent monitors their child’s substance use and talks them earnestly about drug use, can be greatly protective.
On the other hand, when a parent-child relationship is heavily strained, teens are more ly to engage in risk behavior including drug use, including drinking. Early childhood trauma, particularly in the form of abuse, also correlates with a higher rate of alcohol use disorder in adult women, but not necessarily in men. This link is still being researched.
How Important Is Peer Pressure?
Many parents cite they feel they may have less of an impact on their children’s behavior than their peers as they enter middle and late adolescence.
While the impact of peer pressure is important, it is equally important not to overstate the impact or focus entirely on reducing its effects without taking note of how other factors influence a teen’s lihood to use alcohol early or excessively.
Parents do remain a child’s strongest influence on attitudes towards drinking, an influence that persists all the way into emerging adulthood. Feeling comfortable and relaxed around alcohol or seeing many of their peers drink can increase their lihood of imbibing. This is called social modeling.
Furthermore, peer selection is also an important factor. Teens with a laxer attitude towards drinking and alcohol are more ly to choose friends who are similarly lax towards drinking, and are thus more ly to drink. The classic model of a teen feeling pressured to drink at a party is still an existing issue.
But the factors going into influencing a teen’s decision to start drinking early are far more complex than just the attitude of their friends, and their friends’ lihood to compel them to drink. Previous attitudes towards alcohol, home environment, parental influence, and even genetic factors remain important factors as well.
Teen Drinking and Mental Health
Teens with a history of mental health problems are more ly to try, and even regularly use, alcohol and other substances, such as (but not limited to):
- Anxiety disorders
- Forms of depression
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- And other conditions
Research has also established there is a significant unmet need for treatment that addresses both mental health and substance use disorder among teens.
Thus, existing numbers may be hiding an even greater co-occurring rate between mental health issues and drug use among teens, as researchers have generally only been able to test for both among the treatment-seeking population.
Current estimates note anywhere from 11 to 40 percent of teens who need mental health treatment services are currently receiving them.
Alcohol Availability and Advertising
The role of alcohol advertising and media in developing attitudes towards alcohol cannot be understated. While parents and peers ly play a majority role in developing a teen’s attitude towards alcohol use, television programs, movies, and both video and print ads all heavily contribute as well.
Many advertising companies and marketing departments know this, and target youth and teens via advertising appealing to adults and adolescents a, utilizing humor, animal characters, and depictions of immediate gratification or higher social status in association with the product and/or brand.
Delay Teen Drinking
The consequences of underage drinking are numerous, ranging from long-term memory issues and brain damage to increased risk of stroke, heart disease, and various forms of cancer, as well as a greater risk of alcohol-related injuries and death from car crashes, burns, falls, drowning, and poisoning. Teens who drink regularly are more ly to engage in risky sexual intercourse, experience unwanted or unplanned sex, and struggle more at school.
Research also shows prolonging a teen’s introduction to alcohol is their best bet of reducing harm in the long-term.
It’s unly to completely prevent alcohol use, due to alcohol’s ubiquitous nature and the current drinking rate among adults in the US.
However, delaying a teen’s first drink can reduce alcohol’s deleterious effects on a teen’s mental and emotional development, as well as reduce the risk of alcohol use disorder and associated consequences.
Teens and Alcohol
Although the minimum legal drinking age is 21, alcohol use and abuse continue to be major health problems amongst adolescents and young adults.
Alcohol use in children and adolescents can interfere with brain development. Underage drinking can also lead to other serious complications, including death and injuries.
According to the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance (YRBS), 32.8 percent of surveyed students had drunk alcohol within 30 days of the survey, 18 percent reported binge drinking (five or more drinks in a row), and 63.2 percent reported having had at least one drink of alcohol in their life. Most people who start drinking before age 21 start when they are 13-14 years of age.
Why do teens drink?
- Peers. One of the strongest predictors of substance use is having friends who use substances, including alcohol.
- Community. Access to easily attainable and inexpensive alcohol increases the risk of alcohol use.
- Families. Youth are at an increased risk of drug and alcohol abuse if parents and/or older siblings use drugs and/or alcohol or exhibit permissive attitudes towards drugs and/or alcohol.
- Genetics. Twin studies have been conducted in adults and consistently shown a correlation between genetics and alcohol use. Studies in adolescents show a greater risk of genetic influence than environmental influence on problem alcohol use.
- Media. Media often portray alcohol (and other substance) use in a positive and attractive light without displaying the consequences of use. Research has consistently shown that media exposure can make youth experimentation with alcohol more ly.
- Untreated mental illness. Several mental health disorders place individuals at an increased risk of alcohol use. Teens with behavior problems are at an increased risk of alcohol use. Other risk factors include: untreated ADHD, personality disorders, conduct disorder, untreated anxiety and depression.
Risks from youth alcohol use
- Brain damage. The adolescent brain is undergoing many changes that make it more susceptible to effects of alcohol. Research has shown impacts from alcohol to areas of the brain that control thought processes, memory functions, emotional regulation, planning and organizing, and inhibition.
- Motor vehicle accidents. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers and young adults in the US. Once the drinking age was increased to 21, there was a 16 percent median decline in motor vehicle crashes. According to the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance (YRBS), 20 percent of students nationwide had been in a vehicle with a driver who had been drinking alcohol. Additionally, 7.8 percent of youth drivers reported driving when they had consumed alcohol.
- Binge drinking. Underage drinking is more commonly related to episodic heavy drinking or binge drinking. According to the YRBS, 17.7 percent of students reported drinking five or more drinks in a row within 30 days of the survey and 4.3 percent reported drinking 10 or more drinks. Binge drinking increases the lihood of overdose and alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal.
- Future alcohol-related problems. Alcohol use disorder is the formal diagnosis to describe the diseases related to alcohol use. People who begin drinking at earlier ages are at an increased risk of lifetime alcohol dependence. Specifically, people who drinking before age 15 are four times more ly to meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder. Alcohol use disorder is associated with many other mental and physical disorders. Specifically, depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct disorders, and personality disorders are ly to co-occur with alcohol use disorder. Other health risks include, but are not limited to, liver disease, heart disease, sexually transmitted infections, gastrointestinal bleeds, sleep disorders, stroke, and several types of cancer.
- Sexual risk taking. Early alcohol use has been shown to correlate with increased sexual risk taking, including unprotected intercourse, multiple partners, substance use during intercourse, and teen pregnancy. Additionally, drinking during pregnancy can cause brain damage and other serious problems to the fetus.
- Injuries. In 2010, there were about 189,000 emergency department visits for people under 21 years of age for complaints related to alcohol.
- Other problems. Alcohol impairs judgment and can lead to poor decision-making. Other risks include, but are not limited to, bad grades, legal issues, and physical violence.
Signs of underage drinking
- Changes in mood
- Academic problems
- Behavior problems and/or changes
- Changing group of friends
- Little interest in activities
- Smelling alcohol on your teen’s clothes or breath
- Slurred speech
- Coordination problems
- Trouble concentrating and/or remembering
Tips for parents to prevent underage drinking
- Talk with your teens about alcohol. Saying nothing may imply to teens that teen drinking is acceptable. Make clear expectations with your teen. Discuss the minimum legal drinking age and the dangers of underage drinking.
- Be a positive role model. If you drink, drink responsibly. Don’t drink too much or too often and stay away from alcohol in high-risk situations.
- Seek help if you struggle with alcohol use. Talk to your children about how alcohol has impacted your family and family members.
- Be understanding. Let your teen know that curiosity is a normal part of growing up. Remain calm and provide a safe environment for your teen to talk.
- Get help for your child. Talk to your child’s pediatrician if you have concerns.
- Big Book Unplugged: A Young Person’s Guide to Alcoholics Anonymous by John R. Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing, 2003.
- Buzzed: The Straight Facts About the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy, 3rd ed., by Cynthia Kuhn, et al. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008.
- From Binge to Blackout: A Mother and Son Struggle with Teen Drinking by Chris Volkmann and Toren Volkmann. New York: New American Library, 2006.
- I’ve Got This Friend Who …: Advice for Teens and Their Friends on Alcohol, Drugs, Eating Disorders, Risky Behaviors, and More by Anna Radev and KidsPeace. Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing, 2007.
- On the Rocks: Teens and Alcohol by David Aretha. New York: Franklin Watts, 2007.
- Safe Road Home: Stop Your Teen from Drinking & Driving by Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon. New York: Sterling, 2005.
- Talking with College Students About Alcohol: Motivational Strategies for Reducing Abuse by Scott T. Walters and John S. Baer. New York: The Guilford Press, 2006.
- The Truth About Alcohol, 2nd ed., by Barry Youngerman, et al. New York: Facts on File, 2010.
- Young People & Alcohol: Impact, Policy, Prevention, Treatment by John B. Saunders and Joseph M. Rey. Chester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
Written by Katie Baughman, MD
Reviewed by Sara Laule, MD
Updated May 2018
Teen Alcohol Abuse Risk Factors
Teen alcohol abuse is a serious concern for both parents and those who interact with teenagers because alcohol is the most accessible and widely used substance of abuse among teenagers.
According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated nine percent of American adolescents aged 12 to 17 were current drinkers, meaning they had at least one drink in the past 30 days.
The major consequences of underage drinking include health and safety risks that can affect anyone regardless of age or drinking status. It is important to know that there are many reasons teens drink alcohol.
Understanding the risk factors associated with teen alcohol abuse is crucial to providing effective prevention and early intervention if necessary.
Internal Risk Factors for Teen Alcohol Abuse
The causes of teen drinking can be divided into two categories, internal risk factors that are specific to an individual and external risk factors that depend on a teenager’s environment. Internal risk factors tend to be more difficult to control; however, recognizing internal risk factors for teen alcohol abuse can be the most important step of effective prevention.
Research has continually shown that certain genetic factors may play a role in how vulnerable a person is to developing substance use disorders. The term is known as predisposition and it is related to a person’s natural tendency to struggle with certain problems.
The link between alcoholism and genetics is undeniable; however, research has shown that genes are responsible for about half of the risk for a person developing alcohol use disorder.
This means that even if a teenager is predisposed to struggling with teenage alcoholism due to their genetics, other factors can play a role in preventing their abuse of alcohol.
While genetics can play a role, there are also other important factors affecting the difference between abstinence or alcoholism.
Certain early childhood behaviors have been linked to predictors of alcohol use among teens. Impulsiveness, restlessness, aggressiveness and antisocial tendencies have been associated as behaviors signaling a teenager’s increased risk for alcohol use and alcohol use disorders.
The relationship between alcohol and impulse control is important because a person that has strong control of their impulses will be more ly to reject alcohol when offered or stop their use of alcohol. The study of adolescence and brain development with regard to alcohol use can be very helpful in preventing alcohol use disorder.
A trained psychologist or psychiatrist can provide appropriate professional judgment regarding specific behavior patterns and possible increased risk for teen alcohol abuse.
ADHD & Anxiety Disorders
Certain mental health disorders in teens have been associated with alcohol consumption and increased risk for alcohol use disorder. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), weak social relationship skills and conduct disorder have all been linked to higher rates of alcohol abuse and dependence.
Other psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety and depression, can lead to or can become consequences of alcohol abuse and dependence.
It is important to address any concerns regarding teen alcohol use with a trained psychiatric professional in order to best understand the relationship between alcohol abuse and any specific diagnoses that your child may have.
Traumatic events and child abuse are risk factors for alcohol abuse as an adolescent and as an adult.
The relationship between childhood trauma and alcoholism has resulted in higher rates of reported physical abuse, sexual abuse, violent victimization and witnessing of violence among adolescents in treatment for alcohol use disorder compared to other adolescents. Alcohol and trauma statistics show that about 13 percent of alcohol dependent adolescents have diagnosed posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Positive Perception of Alcohol
While there are a variety of reasons why a teenager may be at risk for alcohol abuse, the most universal risk factor is whether or not a teenager has a positive perception of alcohol.
When answering the question “why do teenagers drink alcohol”, the most common reason is because they think that the perceived benefit of drinking alcohol is greater than the possible consequences or risks.
This is possibly the only controllable internal risk factor for teen alcohol abuse because proactive education about the dangerous risks of alcohol abuse among teenagers can change a teenager’s perception of alcohol use.
It is critical for teenagers to get information about alcohol use and abuse from trusted sources such as parents, teachers, coaches and other strong role models. If teens do not receive strong and consistent messages about the dangers of adolescent alcohol use, they will not have any reason to turn down a drink when it is offered to them.
The practice of teens drinking with parents sends inconsistent messages to teenagers about alcohol use and should be avoided.
When a teenager is faced with instances that influence teen alcohol use, such as peer pressure from other teenagers who are making bad decisions, a clear perception of the dangers of alcohol use will guide them towards saying “no”.
The best prevention is proactive education that is clear and concise about the dangers of teen alcohol abuse. Arm your teen with the information and knowledge they need to help them make the right decision from the start.
External Risk Factors for Teen Alcohol Abuse
While internal risk factors are specific to an individual teen, external influences and causes of underage drinking depend greatly on a teenager’s environment. The adolescent years are important years for learning, understanding and forming a unique perspective of the world.
If a teenager’s environment is constantly highlighting reasons for underage drinking, they will be far more ly to partake and will be more at risk for teen alcohol abuse.
Knowing the possible external influences for teen alcohol abuse is very important to providing necessary prevention and intervention to change the message teenagers are receiving about alcohol use.
Research studies continually show that there is significant influence from alcohol advertising to youth and the decision to drink alcohol during the adolescent years.
With modern communication, the influence of underage drinking is not just from traditional forms of media, such as TV, movies or songs, but the influence of social media and advertising on social media can be very intense and constant.
The relationship between a teenager’s intention to drink and their preference for alcohol and media advertising is undeniable.
It is crucial for parents to monitor social media use and the possible influence of media on their teenager.
Advertising and social media do not have to be the enemy, research shows that alcohol warning advertisements and alcohol counter-advertising can reduce the urge to drink among young adults.
Make sure that the ideals you are trying to teach your teenager are being positively reinforced by the advertising that is constantly bombarding your teenager in the media and on social media.
Parents & Family Members
Parent’s drinking behavior and attitude towards alcohol plays a large role in a teen’s decision to start drinking. A teenager growing up with alcohol readily accessible and parents allowing minors to drink reinforces negative decision-making. When surveyed, 53% of current underage drinkers reported that family and friends provided alcohol.
Even though you may be setting a good example for your teenager, you need to make sure all family members and close friends are doing the same. Make sure you are providing clear signals about appropriate alcohol use. Adolescents who are warned about the dangers of alcohol by their parents are less ly to start drinking during their teenage years.
The teenage years are difficult to navigate socially and decision-making skills are still developing. This reality causes peer pressure to play a large role in the actions and decisions of many teenagers.
Research and statistics on peer pressure and alcohol use have continually connected peer pressure and alcohol abuse in finding that peer acceptance of drinking increases the lihood of a teenager partaking in underage drinking.
Teen drinking and peer pressure can lead to other risky decisions such as drunk driving, drug use, violence and sexual promiscuity. While negative peer pressure can result in risky decision-making, positive peer pressure can encourage good decision-making such as better academic performance.
As a parent, it is very important to be aware of the positive and negative influences your teenager is receiving from their peers.
Preventing Teen Alcohol Abuse
The risks of underage drinking include negative health and developmental effects as well as increased risk for risky behavior or becoming a victim of acts of violence. Preventing underage drinking is essential to preventing alcohol and drug dependence in adulthood.
Some tips to keep in mind for how to prevent teen drinking:
- Talk to your teen and maintain open and understanding communication
- Provide clear and consistent warnings about the risks of underage drinking
- Do not encourage the use of alcohol by allowing underage drinking or activities that promote underage drinking
- Monitor your teenager’s use of social media
- Encourage positive peer relationships and intervene when negative peer relationships are affecting your teenager’s actions
- Address any concerns regarding teen alcohol use with your child’s doctor or healthcare provider
It is important for parents to be vigilant and knowledgeable.
If you suspect your child is abusing alcohol, it is important to trust your instincts, closely monitor your child’s activities and understand that privacy does not become the priority over ensuring your child’s safety.
Advice from your child’s doctor, a guidance counselor, or one of the addiction specialists at The Recovery Village, can help you assess the situation and determine any next steps that should be taken.
Help is always available and if you think your teen needs help, call The Recovery Village to speak with a representative about a comprehensive and personalized teen alcohol treatment plan that best meets the needs of your child.
- SourcesCenters for Disease Control and Prevention. “Fact Sheets- Underage Drinking.” Reviewed August 2, 2018. Accessed August 24, 2019.Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Alcohol Advertising and Youth.” April 2007. Accessed August 24, 2019.KidsHealth.org. “Alcohol.” September 2016. Accessed August 24, 2019.National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Alert: Underage Drinking.” January 2006. Accessed August 24, 2019.National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Alert Youth Drinking: Risk Factors and Consequences.” July 1997. Accessed August 24, 2019.National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Genetics of Alcohol Use Disorder.” November 4, 2008. Accessed August 24, 2019.National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Underage Drinking.” Updated February 2017. Accessed August 24, 2019.Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. “Top 8 Reasons Why Teens Try Alcohol and Drugs.” February 13, 2017. Accessed August 24, 2019.Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. “Underage Drinking: What You Should Know.” July 11, 2016. Accessed August 24, 2019.Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “2018 NSDUH Annual National Report.” August 2019. Accessed August 24, 2019.VeryWellMing.com. “Underage Drinking Risk Factors and Consequences.” Updated July 7, 2019. Accessed August 24, 2019.
Share on Social Media:
Underage Drinking: Alcohol Poisoning, Binge Drinking, Drinking Age
Underage drinking is when someone under the legal drinking age consumes alcohol. Teenagers may drink because of peer pressure or stress or as a coping mechanism.
Underage drinking is linked with binge drinking and alcohol poisoning and can even lead to death. Talking with children about alcohol makes them less ly to drink.
Underage drinking occurs when someone under the legal drinking age consumes alcohol. In the United States, the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) is 21.
How common is underage drinking?
Underage drinking is a significant public health problem. In recent years, researchers found that among high school students:
- Nearly 1 in 3 drink alcohol.
- Almost 1 in 5 have ridden in a car with a driver who has been drinking alcohol.
- One in 20 have driven after drinking alcohol.
What is binge drinking?
Experts define binge drinking as:
- Five or more drinks in one sitting for men.
- Four or more drinks in one sitting for women.
Research has found that more than 1 in 10 high schoolers binge drink. Binge drinking can have long-term effects on your heart, kidneys, pancreas and lungs.
What are the effects of underage drinking?
Underage drinking can have severe effects. In the United States, more than 3,500 people under 21 die each year for reasons related to excessive drinking.
Young people may be more ly to drink and drive. They are also more ly to experience:
- Alcohol poisoning.
- Alcohol abuse and misuse of other substances, such as illegal drugs.
- Legal problems, including getting arrested for drunk driving or fighting while drunk.
- Physical and sexual violence.
- Problems at school, such as low grades or frequent absences.
- Social problems, such as social withdrawal or fighting.
- Unplanned or unprotected sexual activity.
Does underage drinking lead to long-term health problems?
Underage drinking can lead to long-term health problems. People who drink alcohol at young ages are more ly to experience:
- Changes in their brain development.
- Disruption in their sexual development.
- Alcohol use disorder as adults.
Why do children and teenagers start drinking?
As children grow into teenagers, they often experience challenging physical and emotional changes. Many young people start experimenting with alcohol during this time.
A combination of factors can affect a teenager’s decision to drink, including:
- Peer pressure, including from family members, peers and media.
- Stress, such as worrying about grades, puberty changes or popularity.
- Transitions, such as parents’ divorce, moving to another school or breaking up with a significant other or close friend.
Do adults affect underage drinking?
A teenager’s drinking habits may reflect the drinking habits of the adults around them. For example, adolescents are more ly to drink when their parents binge drink. A 5% increase in adult binge drinking leads to a 12% increase in the chances that the children or teenagers around them will drink.
How can I tell if my child is drinking?
Some potential signs of underage drinking — oversleeping, grumpiness or complaining of aches and pains — can be a normal part of growing up. Drinking is more ly to be the cause if teenagers show:
- Many warning signs at the same time.
- Behavioral changes that come on suddenly.
- Warning signs that are extreme.
Common signs that a child or teen may be drinking include:
- Friend changes, including a reluctance to introduce new friends to their parents.
- Mental changes, such as poor memory or concentration.
- Physical changes, such as bloodshot eyes or lack of coordination.
- Problems in school, such as low grades or poor attendance.
- Severe or sudden mood swings.
- Alcohol presence, including finding alcohol in their room or smelling it on their breath.
How can I talk to my child about underage drinking?
If you are a parent, it’s crucial to talk to your children about alcohol and other substances. And sooner is better than later — at age 12, only 1 in 10 children say they have tried alcohol, but by age 15, 1 in 2 have tried it.
When you start the conversation about alcohol, it’s important to show:
- Awareness: Young people are more ly to try drugs or drink alcohol if they think no one is paying attention. Communicate that you are watching for signs of risky behaviors.
- Disapproval of underage drinking: Over 80% of teenagers say their parents have a strong influence on their decision to drink or not drink. Be firm and clear that you don’t approve of underage drinking.
- Care for your child: Make sure your child knows you are on the same side. Express care for your child’s safety, well-being and health.
- Reliable sources of information: Teenagers often learn about alcohol from their friends, the media or other sources of misinformation. Use reliable sources and share the facts about alcohol risks with them.
- Trust: Young people need to know you trust them to make the right decisions. Come up with a plan together about avoiding alcohol. For example, you might choose a code word to text if your child needs a ride home from a party.
What should I do if I suspect my child is drinking?
If you suspect your child is drinking, stay calm. Have an honest, non-threatening conversation. Ask open-ended questions, such as why your child is interested in drinking. Often, this conversation can lead to a discussion about the risks and negative effects of alcohol. In particular, explain how drinking alcohol can affect decision-making, physical health and safety.
If needed, don’t hesitate to seek treatment for your child’s mental health or a substance abuse problem. Ask your healthcare provider for program or counseling recommendations. A professional counselor can offer the best services to help your child stop misusing alcohol.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Underage drinking is a significant public health problem. Teenagers who drink are more ly to suffer from alcohol poisoning, have social problems or engage in violence.
Children or teenagers start drinking for many reasons, such as stress or major life transitions. Parents’ drinking habits also affect whether a child starts drinking.
If you are a parent, talk with your children about the risks of alcohol consumption.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/28/2021.
Underage Drinking & Alcoholism Risks
The legal drinking age in the United States is 21. However, 11% of all alcohol consumption occurs in people 12-20 years old.
Underage drinking can be dangerous. It can lead to serious physical and mental health issues later in life.
Why Do Young People Drink?
Many college and high school students look at alcohol as a rite of passage. At this age, children are looking for ways to assert their independence. They seek new experiences and take risks.
For many, alcohol is the answer.
Common reasons teenagers may begin drinking include:
- Seeing parents or family members drinking
- Peer pressure
- Wanting to look «cool» and fit in
- As a coping mechanism for stress
Rehabilitation Services To Help You Overcome Your Alcohol Use Disorder. Alcohol Rehab Help Has Specialized Drug And Alcohol Rehab Facilities Across The U.S.
Call now (855) 772-9047
Underage Drinking Statistics
- By the age of 15, 33% of teens have had at least one drink. That number increases to 60 percent by the age of 18.
- Over 5 million young people reported binge drinking. Over one million reported five or more days of binge drinking per month.
- 22% of males 12-20 years of age reported binge drinking in the past month.
- 6% of females 12-20 years of age reported binge drinking in the past month.
- The most common age group below 21 that binge drinks are those between 18 and 20 years of age.
- 30% reported binge drinking at least once in the last 30 days.
- About 600,000 students sustain injuries while under the influence of alcohol.
Binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks for men.
For women, binge drinking is having four or more drinks.
Approximately 5,000 people under 21 die from alcohol-related injuries each year:
- 32 percent of the 5,000 deaths are caused by homicides
- 6 percent of the 5,000 deaths result from suicides
- 38 percent of the 5,000 deaths involve car accidents
Risk Factors Contributing to Underage Drinking
Some major risks associated with underage drinking include:
A child's behavior during their younger years increases underage drinking risk. Impulsive, restless, or aggressive children ages 3 to 10 are more ly to participate in underage drinking.
Family background and lifestyle
Parents with alcohol problems increase the risk of underage drinking. Lack of parental support and monitoring are also contributing factors.
ADHD, anxiety, and depression increase underage drinking probability.
Does College Life Contribute to Underage Drinking?
College is a time for new experiences and a new sense of independence. Unfortunately, this often means new opportunities for drinking.
Almost 55% of college students between 18 and 22 report regular drinking. In addition, almost 40 percent report binge drink regularly.
National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2018
12 Signs Your Child is Drinking Alcohol
Some common signs of underage drinking include:
- Adopting a «nothing matters» attitude
- Changing friend groups or hanging out with a riskier group of people
- Finding alcohol in your child's room, car, or backpack
- Having low energy and neglected self-care
- Lack of interest in activities
- Mental issues (memory lapses, difficulties concentrating, and slurred speech)
- Mood changes (defensiveness, anger, irritability, and a short temper)
- Physical problems lack of coordination and bloodshot eyes
- Problems in school low grades, skipping class, or getting in trouble often
- Rebelling against family rules
- Staying out later than usual, sneaking out, and appearing tired often
- Smelling alcohol on his or her breath
What to do if you suspect your child is drinking
Underage drinking is a significant problem. If you suspect your child is drinking, here are some things that you can do:
- Stay calm
- Initiate an open and honest conversation
- Ask open-ended questions in a non-threatening way
- Explain the physical and mental effects of alcohol
- Seek treatment if needed.
Does Underage Drinking Lead to Long-Term Health Problems?
Underage drinking contributes to thousands of deaths each year. It can lead to many other serious health problems, including:
- Alcohol use disorder
- Altered Bone Growth
- Being prone to injuries (falls, accidents, drowning, alcohol poisoning)
- Developmental delays (can delay puberty)
- Impaired cognitive functions
- Impaired decision-making
- Inability to create memories
- Increased risk for violence, sexual assault
- Learning difficulties
- Liver Disease
- Poor judgment skills
- Risky sexual behaviors (unsafe sex and unwanted pregnancy)
Do Underage Drinkers Become Alcoholics?
Not all underage drinkers will develop AUD later in life. However, those who drink before the age of 15 are four times more ly to develop alcohol dependence.
Although, there are different types of alcoholics, alcoholic personalities, and tolerances. The health effects are the same especially long term.
How to Reduce Underage Drinking
Substance use treatment and addiction rehab are effective for teens. Treatment options may include:
- Behavioral therapies
- Family intervention
- Group therapy
Most teen rehab programs last about 12 to 16 weeks.
Other ways to prevent underage drinking are:
- Talking to your child about the dangers of alcohol
- Having an open dialogue about the effects of drinking
- Encourage worthwhile activities and hobbies
- Support your child's interest in sports, acting, music, or volunteering
- Allow your kids to have fun while doing something they enjoy