Close this search box.

How to Handle Teenage Drinking

The legal drinking age across the United States is 21, however, underage drinking is still extremely common. Many people start drinking alcohol as teenagers. However, there is no safe amount to consume while still growing. Permanent damage, such as impaired brain development and an increased risk of alcohol-related issues in adulthood, can result from this activity.

Binge-drinking alcohol is common for teens due to social pressures and the fact they do not yet understand how to safely consume alcohol. Binge drinking is where people consume large amounts of alcohol over a short period of time and is often done by teens at social gatherings or parties. Binge drinking can be defined as the consumption of five or more consecutive drinks for men or four or more drinks for women.

Signs of Teen Alcohol Use

As a parent, you may have suspicions that your child is partaking in underage alcohol use. However, it can be tricky to spot due to your teen likely hiding their behavior and the general emotional turmoil of these developmental years. Here are some signs to look out for:

  • alcohol missing from the house
  • the odor of alcohol on their breath
  • red and glazed eyes
  • irritability
  • fatigue
  • repeated health complaints
  • sudden changes in mood
  • depression
  • social withdrawal from friends or family
  • gaining a new peer group that they refuse to introduce
  • loss of interest in activities they used to find enjoyable
  • irresponsible behavior, such as missing curfews or drunk driving
  • new problems at school, such as a drop in grades or getting in trouble

Side Effects of Teen Drinking

The side effects of drinking alcohol are hugely dependent on how much a person consumes. Firstly, alcohol can allow people to feel more energized and social. This positive period can encourage further heavy drinking, causing the teen side effects such as:

  • drowsiness
  • loss of balance and coordination
  • slurred speech
  • slower thinking
  • nausea and vomiting
  • increased risk of accidents, injuries, or involvement in violence
  • unconsciousness
  • abnormal breathing

Sometimes the consequences of drinking too much alcohol can be lethal. Alcohol poisoning is caused by binge drinking. As alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, it slows down a person’s breathing rate, heart rate, and reflexes. If these slow down too much, the result can be a coma or death.

If you are with someone who you suspect has alcohol poisoning, contact the emergency services immediately. Signs to look out for include:

  • vomiting
  • loss of coordination
  • severely slurred speech
  • confusion
  • irregular or slow breathing
  • pale or blue-tinged skin caused by low body temperature (hypothermia)
  • being conscious but unresponsive (stupor)
  • unconsciousness

Why Do Teens Drink Alcohol?

Peer Pressure

Kids drink alcohol for a number of reasons, but the most common is due to their social circle doing so. Adolescence is full of insecurity, causing many young people to want to be accepted by their peers. If a person’s friends drink, they are much more likely to do the same.


Alcohol is consumed in many cultures around the world, causing it to be normal for teens to be curious about what alcohol and other drugs are like.

Environmental Influences

Advertising generally spreads messages that drinking is cool and is largely associated with positive experiences. This is due to brands wanting to create desirability around their product, skipping over the parts about addiction and the damage to health it also causes. Social media, TV shows, and movies also spread a warped message about adolescent alcohol use.

Having an upbringing where people commonly binge drink and abuse alcohol influences how a teen approaches alcohol. The way their parents deal with alcohol (when they drink and how much) instills values about what alcohol is for.

Self-Medicate for a Mental Health Disorder

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around one in seven (14.3%) of ten-year-olds to 19-year-olds experience mental health issues globally. Due to the stigma attached to these conditions and the lack of available services, these problems largely go untreated. For this reason, many teens turn to alcohol to self-medicate their symptoms. Unfortunately, this will only provide immediate relief and exacerbate their problem long-term.

Cope With Interpersonal Issues

The teenage years are a minefield, with this transitionary period bringing a lot of new challenges and unknowns. This can include relationship issues, bullying, social media, and academic pressure. On top of this, to teens, the world feels as if it is changing more rapidly than ever due to changes in climate, technology, politics, economy, and culture.

Just reading this list of stressors is enough to raise someone’s blood pressure! In most cases, teens do not yet have the coping mechanisms built to deal with these challenges. This may make drinking alcohol more likely.

The Dangers of Underage Drinking

Although underage drinking is relatively common, health experts strongly recommend that individuals who are still developing should consume no alcohol at all. Alcohol is not child-safe due to the numerous health risks and is a lot more potent in young people than adults – enhancing its toxic effects.

Impaired Brain Development

There are a number of neurological health risks associated with drinking as a teen. Drinking during this vital period for brain development can result in long-lasting damage. A study has found that alcohol significantly impairs learning and causes memory loss in teens.

Increased Risk of Health Problems

Teen drinking can increase the chance of developing a number of alcohol-related health issues in life. These include:

  • delayed puberty
  • high blood pressure
  • liver disease
  • heart disease
  • mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts
  • certain kinds of cancer

Increased Risk-Taking Behavior

Alcohol causes individuals to partake in risky behavior as it impairs people’s ability to think quickly and make good judgments. These actions can result in physical, mental, and social harm for the young person long-term. Some risk-taking behaviors can include:

  • unprotected sex
  • getting involved in physical or verbal violence
  • breaking the law
  • behaving inappropriately
  • taking other drugs

Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol is a highly addictive drug that impacts the body and mind in a number of ways. Studies show that the earlier a person starts to drink, the higher their chances of developing an alcohol or drug addiction later in life.

How to Help

Be There for Them

Being a teenager is a confusing time for a number of reasons. Trying to navigate drinking and the social rules surrounding it can be extremely difficult and stressful for young people. Letting your teen know you are there to talk if they need to about this issue can go a long way, though it is important to find the delicate balance between not being too pushy and regularly checking in with them.

It may help them to open up by sharing stories about your own drinking experiences. You may share how you resisted temptation or suffered the consequences of drinking when you didn’t. Throughout the conversation, approach their side through a supportive and non-judgmental lens. Remember that anger will only likely deter your teen from listening.

Role-Modeling Safe Drinking Habits

Adults in the life of a teen have a huge influence over their behavior, including their outlook on life, values, and substance-taking habits. Being a role model for safe alcohol consumption can go a long way in protecting your teen’s health for the future.

Drinking alcohol occasionally, in moderation, and only in social settings can send extremely powerful messages about when it is appropriate to use the substance. Being cautious when talking about alcohol use is also important. It is vital to avoid saying things like I had a stressful day at work, I need a drink. If a child hears this, it teaches them to use alcohol as a coping mechanism. Instead, show them how to build healthier ones, like meditation, exercise, or learning a craft hobby.

Talk to Your Teen About Safe Alcohol Use

It can be awkward and difficult to talk to your teen about alcohol abuse, though it is extremely important that parents deal with the situation in this way. Talk is a great way to teach teens how to drink responsibly and prevent excessive adolescent alcohol intake. It is important during this time to be open to listening to what your teen says and remain calm. You may want to approach the conversation with open-ended questions, such as the following examples.

  • Do people at school talk about alcohol?
  • Do you feel pressured to drink alcohol?
  • What do you think our family’s household rules on drinking are?

Letting them know about the dangers of alcohol allows them to make more educated decisions when it comes to their intake. In the discussion, it is valuable to communicate the expectations and values your family has surrounding alcohol use. You can also explain the size of a standard drink, how the unit system works, and the legal implications of their behavior.

Teach Them How to Combat Peer Pressure

Peer pressure is a common reason that teen drinking occurs. Setting your teen up with a plan on how to respond to this pressure can give them the tools to respond and say no.

Take Action

As a parent, it is up to you to decide when further action needs to be taken to protect your child. For example, taking their keys away from them if they have been drunk driving or hiring professional help if they have an addiction.

Teenage Alcohol Addiction

Although underage alcohol consumption should be avoided at all costs, there is only so much that parents can do to protect their children from drinking. All you can do is communicate as openly as possible with them about the subject and trust they will make informed decisions.

However, more does need to be done when teen drinking becomes a full-blown drinking problem. Alcohol use disorder is classified as a pattern of uncontrollable alcohol consumption carried out despite its negative impact on an individual’s overall well-being. This powerful mental health disorder impacts the decision-making and reward centers of the brain and is driven by intense rushes of dopamine.

When an individual consumes alcohol over an extended period of time, their body adjusts to the presence of the substance and becomes dependent on it to function. When the dosage of alcohol is reduced or stopped, the individual can experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol include:

  • intense cravings
  • sweating
  • shaky hands
  • headache
  • nausea and vomiting
  • anxiety
  • insomnia
  • hallucinations
  • seizures
  • coma
  • delirium tremens

Treatment for Teenage Drinking

Addiction and dependency on alcohol is a medical condition caused by dysfunction of the brain; it requires psychological and medical treatments to control it

The first step in recovering from an addiction is to undergo a medical detox, which aims to cleanse the system of the substance as safely and comfortably as possible. Here, medical professionals can assist in managing withdrawal symptoms through medication and provide around-the-clock care for any extra support needed.

Medical detox is the first stage on the journey to recovery. An inpatient program is recommended next to help the young person learn to resist problematic alcohol or drug use. This provides a fresh space to focus solely on recovery and start fresh.

Psychotherapy is also necessary to address the root cause of the teen’s behavior. Addressing the reason that a teenager starts to drink can equip them with a better chance of overcoming their condition long-term. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common technique used in these circumstances, teaching individuals to recognize triggers and build coping mechanisms to deal with them.

Contact Us

As a parent, it can be difficult to know how to approach your teen’s binge drinking. Thankfully, there are addiction treatment programs that focus on teen well-being.

Here at Rivers Bend, we specialize in treating addiction and mental health conditions in teens. Our facilities are set amid beautiful natural surroundings. Our treatment programs make use of these surroundings, offering outdoor adventure activities to get the mind and body off alcohol and onto physical exercise and nature.

Our expert team creates a faith-based, therapeutic environment by approaching each one of our residents with patience, discretion, and non-judgment. We also see the value in healing holistically, only carrying out evidence-based practices that promote long-term successful recovery. As each individual’s journey through life has been so different, we understand the importance of crafting a personalized program for each person that walks through our door.

Dealing with an addiction can be overwhelming and all-consuming, whether you are the young person going through it or their loved one. However, you are not alone. Please contact Rivers Bend today to find out more about how we can help with the journey to sobriety.

Find the Solution with Clearfork Academy

Call for a Free Consultation

Popular Articles
Popular articles
It's Time to Make a Change
Ready to Begin the Path to Healing?