Alcohol use is not just an adult problem. About one-third of high school seniors in the United States have had an alcoholic drink within the past month.
The best time to begin talking with your teen about drugs and alcohol is now. Children as young as 9 years old may become curious about drinking and they may try alcohol.
Teens and Alcohol use
When a child begins drinking before age 15, they are much more likely to become a long-term drinker, or problem drinker. Problem drinking in teens means that they:
- Get drunk
- Have accidents related to drinking
- Get into trouble with the law, their families, friends, schools, or people they date because of their drinking
By Saying Nothing, You are Saying Something
Saying nothing to your children about drinking may give them the message that teen drinking is OK. Most children choose not to drink because their parents talk with them about it.
The best way for your children to be comfortable talking with you about drinking is to be honest and direct. You may want to prepare and think about what you will say ahead of time.
Tell your child how you feel about them possibly using alcohol. Once you have started talking with your teenager, continue to bring it up at times when you are talking about related issues.
Free and Curious
Puberty and the teenage years are a time of change. Your child may have just started high school or may have just gotten a driver's license. Your children may have a sense of freedom they never had before.
Teenagers are curious. They want to explore and do things their own way. But pressure to fit in might make it hard to resist alcohol if it seems like everyone else is trying it.
When talking with your teen:
- Encourage your teen to talk to you about drinking. Remain calm when listening and try not to judge or criticize. Make it comfortable for your teen to talk honestly.
- Let your child know you understand that taking chances is a normal part of growing up.
- Remind your teen that drinking comes with serious risks.
- Emphasize that your teen should never drink and drive or ride with a driver who has been drinking.
How Problems at Home Might Influence Children to Drink
Risky drinking or alcohol use in the home can lead to the same habits in children. At an early age, children become aware of the drinking patterns of their parents.
Children are more likely to drink if:
- Conflict is present between parents or caregivers
- Parents are having money problems or are stressed from work
- Abuse is occurring at home or the home does not feel safe in other ways
If alcohol use runs in the family, it is very important to talk with your child. Do not keep secrets. Your child should know what the risks of drinking are. Talk honestly about how drinking has affected family members and talk about the effects of alcohol on your own life.
Set a good example by drinking responsibly. If you have a problem with alcohol use, get help quitting.
Get Help for Your Child
If you think your child is drinking but will not talk with you about it, get help. Your child's health care provider may be a good place to start. Other resources include:
- Local hospitals
- Public or private mental health agencies
- Counselors at your child's school
- Student health centers
- Programs such as Alateen, part of the Al-Anon program -- al-anon.org/for-members/group-resources/alateen
Alcohol use - teenager; Alcohol abuse - teenager; Problem drinking - teenager; Alcoholism - teenager; Underage drinking - teenager
American Psychiatric Association. Substance-related and addictive disorders. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing; 2013:481-590.
Bo A, Hai AH, Jaccard J. Parent-based interventions on adolescent alcohol use outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2018;191:98-109. PMID: 30096640 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30096440/.
Gilligan C, Wolfenden L, Foxcroft DR, et al. Family-based prevention programmes for alcohol use in young people. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2019;3(3):CD012287. PMID: 30888061 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30888061/.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. Alcohol screening and brief intervention for youth: a practitioner's guide. pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Practitioner/YouthGuide/YouthGuide.pdf. Updated February 2019. Accessed April 9, 2020.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. Underage drinking. www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/underage-drinking. Updated January 2020. Accessed June 8, 2020.
Review Date 4/9/2020
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.