How to Talk to Your Teen About Alcohol

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) aims to increase awareness of alcohol-related issues. For 2018, the NCADD’s theme is:

Changing Attitudes: It’s Not a ‘Rite of Passage

Because far too many parents do regard underage drinking as a rite of passage, this theme provides an excellent opportunity to talk about alcohol and teens.

The Dangers of Teen Drinking

Teen drinking is directly associated with failure in school, alcohol overdose, violence, unsafe sex, suicide, drowning, and traffic fatalities. The teenage brain encourages teens to take risks, and alcohol can only make these risks even riskier. Alcohol can have unpredictable effects, and teens don’t have the necessary judgment and coping skills to handle it wisely. Too many parents just sit back and hope their teen will “get through it.” A better way is for you to take an active role in talking to your teen about the dangers of alcohol.

What Research Shows

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey of 2015 questioned high school students and found that during the prior 30 days:

    • 33% imbibed some amount of alcohol.
    • 18% indulged in binge drinking.
    • 8% drove a vehicle after drinking.
  • 20% were passengers in a car where the driver had been drinking.

Another survey found that more girls than boys in the 12-17 age group were drinking.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) believes that teens who have conversations with their parents about alcohol are more aware of its dangers and are less likely to start drinking.

Talking to Your Teen About Alcohol

You may find that your teen tries to dodge a conversation about drinking. It’s sound advice not to just jump in feet first. Before talking to your teen, think about what you want to discuss. Choose a time to have a conversation when both of you have some “down time” and are feeling relaxed. It’s not necessary to try to cover everything at once. And, most important, do your best to have a conversation, not give a lecture!

Find Out What Your Teen Thinks

A good way to begin is to ask your teen what they know about alcohol, teen drinking, and why teens drink. Listen without interrupting so that your teen feels heard and respected. This first step can serve as a natural “lead-in” to provide your teen with the following facts.

    • Alcohol is a potent drug. It slows reaction time, impairs coordination, and clouds clear thinking.
    • One drink takes 2-3 hours to leave the body. There’s no way to speed this up – not taking a cold shower, drinking coffee, nor “walking it off.”
    • Teens who drive after drinking are not in full control of their reactions.
  • Teens can develop serious alcohol problems.

Set Boundaries for Your Teen

Most teens see adults drinking around them and don’t perceive that these adults have any problems. Explain that alcohol has a greater effect on the still maturing teen brain than on a fully-developed adult brain, and emphasize the following:

    • You don’t want your teen to drink. Your values count, even though your teen may not always acknowledge it.
    • Drinking under age 21 is illegal. Emphasize that even if the police aren’t involved, the parents of a drinking teen’s friend may ban the friendship.
    • You want your teen to have self-respect. Tell your teen that they are too smart and have too much going for them to need the crutch of alcohol.
    • Tell your teen never to get into a car with a driver who has been drinking.
    • Explain that drinking can lead to sexual assault and unprotected sex.
    • If there is a family history of alcoholism, bring it into the open. Research shows that family history may play a part in alcohol dependency.
    • Point out that imbibing alcohol while the brain is still maturing may lead to loss of IQ and may increase the likelihood of adult alcohol dependence.
  • Talk about how to handle peer pressure. Offer to pick your teen up from a party where drinking has occurred and stress that you won’t scold.

If You Need Assistance

If you suspect that your teen has a drinking problem, consider getting advice from a professional counselor specializing in alcohol problems. Here at Doorways, our counselors are trained to deal with teen drinking issues. Set up a free consultation to find out how we can help your teen. Alcohol use is a risky business for teens, but parents can make a difference.


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