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teens and alcohol abuse

Learning about teens and alcohol abuse

Most parents and guardians are aware of the potentially disastrous consequences of the combination of teens and alcohol. Two recent studies suggest that binge drinking and early drinking amongst teens can lead to more serious, long-term problems.

One study published in a science journal found that heavy teen drinking can cause brain damage that may affect thinking and memory skills. Another study published links heavy drinking in the teen years with bad decision-making in adulthood.

Overall, there has been a decline in teen           

drinking, but the numbers are still alarming.
According to the U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services, in 2008 about 26% of
teens between the ages of 12 and 20 reported
drinking alcohol in the past month, and more
than half were binge drinkers.

Given that the teen years are a critical time of brain development, it is important that parents and guardians be aware of the causes and risk factors of alcohol abuse, in addition to knowing how to prevent alcohol abuse and identify the signs that a young person is abusing.

Causes and risks of teen alcohol abuse

Studies indicate alcoholism and the tendency to abuse alcohol are caused by a number of individual, family, genetic and social factors.

Some of the most common are:

  • Low parent supervision or communication
  • Family history of alcohol or drug abuse
  • Beginning to drink prior to the age of 14
  • Thrill-seeking behaviors
  • Perceiving the risk of using alcohol to be low

Keys to prevention

  • Communication. Clearly communicating the negative effects of alcohol is a first step in preventing teens from abusing alcohol.
  • Activity. Teens are most likely to get into trouble between the hours of 3 and 6 pm; these are the hours immediately after school and prior to parents' arrival at home from work. Extracurricular activities and after-school programs, like those United Way of Miami Dade supports, can keep teens occupied during this time and can help boost self-esteem.
  • Supervision. Beyond being engaged in extracurricular activities, teens also need adequate supervision. If they are left home alone, a routine check-in with a parent or guardian is important, as is a plan for what they will do with their down-time.
  • Stress Management. Teens experience stress, too. To combat their temptation to use drugs or alcohol to cope, parents and guardians can educate young people about alternative stress-management strategies.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Many of the signs of alcohol abuse can be confused with, “teenagers being teenagers,” and can include making excuses, breaking curfew, changes in friends or staying in their rooms.

More serious signs include lying, becoming verbally or physically abusive toward others, mood swings, the smell of alcohol on clothing or on their breath, or other evidence of alcohol use.

Perhaps the most important sign that a young person might be abusing alcohol or another drug is a change in behavior. No matter how severe or slight the behavior shift is, if it is out of character for your teen, it is worth identifying the underlying cause of the change. 


If you think your teen might have a problem with alcohol abuse and you are looking for help, call Al-Anon/Alateen at 1-888-425-2666, or the American Council on Alcoholism’s treatment referral line at (800) 527-5344.