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Teen Drinking: The Realities of Substance Abuse, Alcoholism and Drug Use

Updated on February 23, 2020
stephhicks68 profile image

Stephanie has been raising four teenagers and has seen the consequences of teen drinking and substance abuse first hand

Teens and Partying

I sat in the pediatrician's office last summer with my boys, ages 14 and 12, and claimed that I probably didn't have to worry about drinking or drug use because they were so involved in sports. The doctor did not laugh at my naïve statement, but she did give me a "look."

Glancing at me over the top of her bifocals, the pediatrician cautioned that, while sports and other extracurricular activities may be some insurance for parents, the fact of the matter is that nearly all teens will be exposed to partying, and most will experiment before graduation.

For me, the teenage years seemed to appear out of nowhere. Just a few years ago, the boys were in elementary school. Now, my oldest is heading to high school and the younger one is in middle school. Recently, mothers sitting in the bleachers at basketball have started whispering about the rumors of drug sniffing dogs at the school, the suspicious smell of pot on someone else's kid's clothes, and - just like me - claiming that their son would never participate in such experimentation.

So, what is the truth about teens and partying? The reality, the risks and other statistics may be sobering. At least, we hope that they are.

Teen binge drinking
Teen binge drinking | Source

For Teens: Four Reasons Not to Drink

  • It can make you gain weight: alcohol has empty calories and when you drink it, you may make poor nutritional decisions when your inhibitions are lowered (pizza, nachos, chips, etc.)
  • It will negatively affect athletic performance: alcohol is a diuretic and causes dehydration, as well as affecting your electrolyte balance
  • You will have to work harder to maintain grades: memory is impacted by alcohol abuse, making it more difficult to recall what you have studied
  • You can maintain self-respect by saying no: staying sober gives you power over your drinking peers because you will know what you did and said the night before, and you are not risking suspension, arrest, pregnancy or worse by underage drinking

What Influences Affect Whether a Teen will Start Drinking?

Children are exposed to a wide variety of influences, starting at a very young age. By the time a child reaches the teen years, many factors will have already played a role in determining whether he or she starts drinking or experimenting with drugs.

These include:

  • Unstable home environment
  • Lack of a sense or belief of importance
  • Inconsistent discipline, boundaries and responsibility expectations
  • Parental alcohol and/or drug use
  • Sibling behavior issues
  • Lack of engaging, positive extracurricular activities
  • Activities of friends and peers
  • Lack of other role models
  • No sense of purpose or direction in life: difficulty in accepting "who they are"
  • Underlying medical issues, particularly untreated anxiety or depression
  • Genetic history of alcoholism or drug abuse in the family
  • Compulsive or impulsive personality traits

Just because some of these factors are present in a teen's life does not mean that they will start drinking. However, experts agree that these indicative traits may lead to a propensity to use or abuse drugs such as alcohol.

Be a smart parent or guardian and get ahead of the game! Talk to your teen about drinking, help them make smart choices and get involved if you think your child is using alcohol or other drugs.

Effects of Teen Drinking on a Developing Brain

Statistics on Teens and Alcohol

  • By the time they reach 18, more than 70% of teens have tried alcohol
  • Most teen drinking occurs in social settings: over 80% of people aged 12-20 who consumed alcohol in the past month were in groups of two or more
  • Teen use of alcohol dramatically rises with age: 10% of 12-year-olds have used alcohol at least once. By age 13, the percentage climbs to 20%. By age 15, about 50% of the kids in this age group have had at least one drink.
  • When teens drink alcohol, they tend to binge drink, consuming an average of 5 drinks in a single sitting
  • Teens cannot legally purchase alcohol when they are minors; some adult - whether a parent, friend or the store cashier - is willingly providing the substance to them

* Sources: Office of the Surgeon General. (2007). The Surgeon General's Call to Action To Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking: A Guide for Families, Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2008). Underage alcohol use: Findings from the 2002-2006 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health.

Risks of Teen Drinking

Alcohol abuse is dangerous for any individual, no matter their age. For teens, however, drinking any amount is risky.

This is because:

  1. Teenage brains are not mature - alcohol may prevent full growth and development, forever impeding cognitive functions
  2. Teens are less able to exercise good judgment - drinking intensifies this effect
  3. When inhibitions are lowered, teens may engage in unsafe sex, resulting in STDs or pregnancy; the risk of date rape may increase, as well
  4. Teen drinking may progress into the use of other dangerous drugs
  5. Teens tend to have smaller bodies than adults, which are more susceptible to intoxication and alcohol poisoning
  6. More teens die from alcohol-related accidents, diseases or suicides than from any other cause
  7. Teens that engage in binge drinking before the age of 24 are significantly more likely to develop alcohol addiction/alcoholism

Parents who believe that exposing their child to alcohol will prevent experimentation and substance abuse are sadly mistaken. Condoning unlawful consumption of alcoholic beverages is a crime. If the teen or any of his or her friends goes on to commit additional offenses after drinking at your home (ranging from drinking and driving to vehicular assault or vehicular homicide), you may be responsible to the same extent as if you were the one behind the wheel.

Set a good example. Respect the law. Discourage alcohol consumption until your child is of legal age.

Teen drinking can lead to a lifetime of addiction
Teen drinking can lead to a lifetime of addiction | Source

Sad Facts on Teen Alcohol Use

Drinking Alcohol is a Form of Drug Use

Alcohol is a drug.

There are no "ifs, ands or buts" about this fact. Do not kid yourself by justifying its use by teens on the basis that it is socially acceptable, or that its legal (albeit when you are 21 in the U.S.).

People that abuse alcohol and alcoholics do so primarily because drinking serves a need for them, which include a desire to feel relaxed, less uptight, and happier. In this regard, alcohol is indeed a drug - a self-administered medication for depression or anxiety.

Those that have alcoholism in the family could be suffering from a chemical imbalance (low dopamine) that drinking temporarily alleviates. Over time, however, the body desires the alcohol drug more often and in larger quantities so that the person continues to feel "better."

Yet, teens that have depression and alcoholism in their family are not necessarily destined to develop addiction issues themselves. Even if the genetics and brain chemistry are there, positive role models and a good network of friends are a solid foundation.

Teenagers experiencing anxiety, sadness or other conditions may get appropriate relief through counseling and/or carefully prescribed medication in consultation with a pediatric doctor.

Teens Tell Their Stories About Alcohol and Drug Use

What Can Parents Do if They Think Their Teen is Drinking?

Acknowledge the issue. Silence gives consent for the teen to continue the risky behavior.

Start a conversation with your child in a safe environment, from a loving, concerned standpoint. Offer to answer questions or concerns, but be firm that underage drinking is not acceptable. Set forth clear, manageable consequences for behavior.

Require your teen to earn trust when it comes to driving, staying out with friends, or being left alone over a weekend. If you have any question in your mind as to whether any of these privileges are appropriately bestowed on your teen, you should probably listen to your gut instinct.

Take a look at your own behavior. Do you consume alcohol to excess, either too frequently or in large quantities at a single sitting? Do you drink and drive? Are there other family members that abuse alcohol? What can you change to help a teen make the right decision to wait until they are of age before consuming alcohol?

If you are worried about broaching the subject of teen drinking with your child, consult a school or professional counselor, your child's pediatrician, a spiritual advisor, and/or an organization such as Al-Anon or Alateen.

In some circumstances, professional intervention is required to address teen drinking that has already gotten out of hand. Do not wait in the hope that your child will "grow out of it," or pass through the phase. Many parents have buried their teenager due to the unintended consequences of underage drinking.

Teen drinking: the night is all a blur
Teen drinking: the night is all a blur | Source

Do You Think Teen Drinking is a Problem?

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Stephanie Marshall


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    • Richawriter profile image

      Richard J ONeill 

      8 years ago from Bangkok, Thailand

      Interesting hub stephhicks68.

      I drank and experiemented as a teenager although, thankfully, not to a great extent. I have seen what prolonged use of drugs and alcohol can do to a person's mind and body. I see the damage it has done to my old friends from my teens and it is sad that so many of us turn to these things to escape reality.

      The answer, simply, is for parents to fill their teenager's lives with happiness and love. Fill their lives with enough of that and they don't feel the urge to drown out reality in a blur of alcohol and drugs. Obviously, you have done a good job with your sons. I have a 4 month-old son. His teens are a while away yet, but I'll keep this information in mind.

      Thanks for this awesome hub! :)


    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Marshall 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      ktrapp, you are absolutely right! I have been a cub scout leader for years and we had a segment on drugs and alcohol. I was amazed how many 4th and 5th graders thought that cold medicine was OK to take even if they didn't have a cold (not that any of them were abusing medication at the time). Also with RX, I said that just because its prescribed, if its not an RX for you, or if you are no longer required to take the medication for an existing condition, it is a drug you not be taking.

      When it comes to teens and other kids, parents need to lock up their own medications and properly dispose of prescriptions that are no longer needed.

      You are also 100% right that kids of all ages, from all different sectors of society are using and abusing drugs and alcohol. There is no insurance policy.

      I really appreciate your comment and helpful thoughts! All the best, Steph

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      Steph - Teens and drinking is definitely a very worrisome fact of life for parents. You are so right with teens of your own to be thinking about this topic.

      Might I just add from what I've seen now that my two children are almost both through with high school - there are numerous kids that have great grades, are actively involved in sports and still use not only alcohol but other drugs.

      Raising your kid "right" is no longer an insurance policy against poor decisions. The amount of drugs in well-to-do suburban high schools would blow your mind. And sadly, many parents think that experimenting with marijuana is OK, but little do they know that the potency of it is at least ten-twenty-fold what it was in their generation, and kids are getting addicted to it.

      Not only that, kids readily buy and sell prescription drugs. Parents should be aware that leftover painkillers prescribed for wisdom teeth removal, for example, are often stolen from the home and sold. Parents should monitor the administration of these types of drugs and dispose of them when they are no longer needed.

      I could go on and on, but I won't. Suffice it to say, alcohol is a real problem and the kids that are drinking nowadays are quite often also involved in other drug use. I have seen a number of kids from a number of good families without any real risk factors, other than substantial peer pressure, make these types of poor and consequence-laden decisions. It's so scary for parents and parents should always be very attune to the behavior of their children.

      Thanks for writing such an informative hub.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Marshall 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you so much! What a great compliment. I have written about alcohol use by teens because it's a subject close to my heart and with two teens of my own, its been on my mind quite a bit. I appreciate the read and the comment, Steph

    • princesswithapen profile image


      8 years ago

      This hub could very well be the face of an anti alcohol/substance abuse campaign aimed at teenagers and parents alike. Nicely done Steph.


    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Marshall 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you Melovy,

      You are right that we cannot be hypocritical as parents with our own behavior - whether drinking, or anything else. My husband and I do not drink at our home at all. While that in itself will not prevent our teens from drinking, I would like to think that it may help. Just as your encouraging discussions about emotions should do the same.

      Wishing you and your family the best! Steph

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Marshall 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi teaches, I really respect the work of MADD and also SADD (students against drunk driving) and agree that they make a difference in underage drinking and other illegal use of alcohol. Appreciate the comment and the vote - best, Steph

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 

      8 years ago from UK

      This is a very interesting and well balanced hub. I particularly think the section showing which teenagers are most at risk and your suggestions to parents could be very useful to parents in this situation. I love that your included the suggestion: "Take a look at your own behaviour.” This applies in any issue with our kids, not just drinking.

      I sincerely hope that since I encourage my kids to express their emotions and issues that they won’t feel the need to turn to alcohol when they are older, but, as you point out, we cannot ever assume this.

      I also feel fortunate that my kids have great role models in their older cousins, and in their choice of friends. I think this is important too - get to know the families of your teens’ friends or at least the friends themselves.

      Voted up, U,I & A

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      8 years ago

      I have been a member of MAD for almost fifteen years because it is one way I can help make a difference in the use of alcohol. I have seen the consequences of alcoholism firsthand and I applaud your efforts to educate parents on teen alcohol abuse. Great advice and referrals for assistance. Voted up!

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Marshall 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you kashmir and EuroCafeAuLait - glad you found the hub helpful!

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 

      8 years ago from Massachusetts

      Excellent hub a must read for parents with teen age kids .

      Useful and vote up !!!

    • EuroCafeAuLait profile image

      Anastasia Kingsley 

      8 years ago from Croatia, Europe

      You did a lot of research, Steph, and provided us parents with a great Hub resource. I will be reading this one again. Bookmarked and Voted up. Great job.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Marshall 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you kerlynb - I'm glad you enjoyed the images and videos. There are some very sobering (if you will) messages to be considered, and I hoped that the video clips in particular would convey the seriousness of the problems associated with teen drinking. Appreciate the comment and feedback. best to you, Steph

    • kerlynb profile image


      8 years ago from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^

      Very powerful images and excellent use of vids! Hope many teens stumble upon your useful hub. Voting this hub up and useful.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Marshall 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you very much! I hope the same thing - I have seen too many families destroyed by underage drinking. I appreciate the comment. Best, Steph

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Excellent post, stephhicks68, and I hope it will be highlighted many times over.


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