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Teenage Drinking

Is teenage drinking a problem?
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. Alcohol has special risks for this age group:

  • Alcohol can lead to other drug use.
  • Alcohol-related traffic crashes are a major cause of death among teens. Alcohol use also increases the risk of death by drowning, suicide, and homicide.
  • Teens that 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.
  • Young people who drink are more likely than others to be victims of violent crime, including rape, assault, and robbery.
  • Teenagers who begin drinking before adulthood are much more likely to become dependent on alcohol.

Why do teens drink?
Teenagers 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. There is often pressure from friends or classmates to drink. A teenager may drink to fit in with friends, or to appear more popular or mature. Teens may drink to reduce anxiety or feel more confident. A teenager having problems with anxiety or depression may use alcohol to deal with these feelings. Other situations that can cause a teenager to drink are:

  • other family members with drinking problems
  • the divorce of his or her parents or other family stress
  • physical or sexual abuse
  • the death of a family member or close friend

What are signs of teenage drinking?
These signs may mean that a teenager has a serious drinking problem:

  • avoiding family or friends
  • staying out of school (sometimes several days at a time), cutting classes, or falling grade
  • losing interest in activities or hobbies
  • hanging out with a new, often older, crowd
  • frequent hangovers, constant tiredness, confusion, depression, or blackouts (not remembering where he or she was)
  • getting into fights or arguing constantly with parents
  • poor health

Alcoholics Anonymous suggests that if your teen answers yes to even 1 of these questions, he or she has a serious drinking problem:

  • Do you drink to relax?
  • Do you drink when you get mad at your friends or parents?
  • Do you prefer to drink alone, rather than with others?
  • Are your grades starting to slip? Are you goofing off on your job?
  • Did you ever try to stop drinking or try to drink less but just couldn't?
  • Have you begun to drink in the morning before school or work?
  • Do you gulp your drinks?
  • Do you ever have loss of memory due to your drinking?
  • Do you lie about your drinking?
  • Do you ever get into trouble when you are drinking?
  • Do you get drunk when you drink, even when you don't mean to?
  • Do you think it's cool to be able to hold your liquor?

How can I help my teen?

  • Establish a loving, trusting relationship with your child. Make it easy for your teen to talk honestly with you. Talk with your child about alcohol facts, reasons not to drink, and ways to avoid drinking in difficult situations.
  • Keep tabs on your teen's activities, and join with other parents in making common policies about teen alcohol use.
  • Develop family rules about teen drinking and establish consequences.
  • Set a good example regarding your own alcohol use. Encourage your child to develop healthy friendships and fun alternatives to drinking.
  • Know the warning signs of a teen drinking problem and get help for your child right away.

It may be hard to admit that a teenager you love is out of control with alcohol. Sometimes it helps to talk with the school counselor, your health care provider, or a member of the clergy. Other professionals who work with teenagers with drinking problems can be found at hospitals, mental health centers, alcoholism treatment centers, or in private offices. Alcoholics Anonymous works with teens who want to stop drinking. To learn more about teenage drinking, call your local Alcoholics Anonymous Chapter or the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence at 800-NCA-CALL.