New Dimensions Day Treatment Centers

How To Address Underage Drinking With Your Teen

Feb 7, 2023 | Alcohol, Communication, Family Issues, Helping a Loved One

One of the most common concerns expressed by parents of teenagers is the fear of underage drinking. Frequently, teenagers experiment with drinking when it’s presented to them by peers. Especially during their high school years, teens are likely to be exposed to alcohol often, whether it be at a social gathering, at school, or possibly at a friend’s home. 

Having a discussion with your teen beforehand can help alleviate any anxiety you have, as well as provide them with the information they need to understand how harmful engaging in this behavior can be. By opening clear lines of communication, parents can feel comfortable knowing their teen understands the severity of underage drinking and will have the confidence to say no when alcohol is inevitably offered to them.

Dangers Of Underage Alcohol Use

The dangers teenagers face if they choose to drink alcohol underage are alarming. First and foremost, they risk getting a DUI or crashing their vehicle when driving. Secondly, the damage they may do to their developing brain and body can be irreversible. Because of their underdeveloped brain, teenagers often make impulsive decisions without considering the potential for repercussions. For this reason alone, it is vital to address underage drinking with them. 

Some of the other potential dangers of teen drinking are alcohol poisoning, increased risk of suicide, disruption of brain and physical development, gateway to drug use, unplanned sexual activity, and memory problems. The sensation of being drunk increases teens‘ risky behavior choices as well. Because their judgment is impaired, they may make decisions they would never make without alcohol in their systems. Depending on the severity of their impaired choices, this could lead to severe injury and lasting damage. 

One of the most serious problems teens face as a result of excessive drinking is increased sexual activity or unplanned pregnancy. The risk of teen pregnancy is significantly increased when alcohol is involved, as the usual precautions may not be taken. Additionally, this can lead to sexually transmitted diseases like HIV and AIDS. 

Another serious problem that arises from intoxication is a heightened emotional state. This can be incredibly dangerous for teens that suffer from mental health disorders. Alcohol can induce extreme feelings, which are most often negative. Aggression, anger, depression, and anxiety are all common emotions experienced by intoxicated people. Because alcohol is a depressant by nature, it can not only make teens depressed while intoxicated, but the effects can last for days to weeks following the drinking. Due to this, the risk of teen suicide is significantly increased in cases of underage drinking.

In many high schools, the program Every Fifteen Minutes demonstrates the implications of drinking and driving for teens. Statistics show that a teenager dies in an alcohol-related car crash every fifteen minutes. Even so, the number of teens that do choose to drink and get behind the wheel rarely lowers. This goes to show that this school-wide conversation is not enough. Suppose parents have personal testimonies of how alcohol has impacted them in a negative manner. In that case, it can be beneficial to share this anecdote as it can resonate more deeply with them. Ultimately, the dangers of underage alcohol use are widespread and have the potential to end in irreversible damage or death.

Implications For The Future

Beginning to drink alcohol at a young age has detrimental effects on the future. Regular alcohol use can impact their emotional and cognitive abilities, social skills, self-confidence, mental health, education, and personal relationships. As they grow up and mature, rarely are these issues left behind. In most cases, the alcohol abuse continues into adulthood, where it continues to make a negative impact on their lives. 

Additionally, teens that begin drinking underage have a significantly higher risk of developing Alcohol Use Disorder later in life. Specifically, any teen that begins drinking at the age of 15 or below is five times more likely to become an alcoholic. This is due to a few different factors, the first of which is the altering of their brain chemistry. 

Because the human brain does not fully develop until the age of 25, repeated exposure to alcohol can dramatically alter brain development. As a result, they are less resilient, more impulsive, and experience cognitive deficiencies. For example, one study showed that the brains of adolescents between the ages of 14 and 21 that abused alcohol early on had a 10% smaller hippocampus than those who did not. The hippocampus is responsible for learning and memory formation, making this a serious issue. In general, the brain continues to develop vital processes through adolescence, and partaking in brain-altering activities, such as drinking, is incredibly detrimental to their overall cognitive function.

Signs Your Teen May Be Drinking

Some of the factors that contribute to teen drinking are mental health issues, problems in the home, dysfunctional relationships, or abuse. These teens turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism to escape their internal pain. 

It is essential to monitor their activities in a manner that would allow the detection of underage drinking. Sleepovers, parties, and other social situations can present the opportunity for drinking to occur. There are a few notable signs to look out for that may indicate your teen is drinking. Some of the most common signs are frequent sleepovers, evasive answers to questions about alcohol, toting large bags with compartments in which alcohol could be hidden, or secretive conversations with friends. 

There are also some obvious signs that your teen has been drinking and is currently intoxicated. The most common of these symptoms are slow reaction time, slurred words, red eyes or face, reduced coordination, and grogginess. If you notice any of the above symptoms, it is more important than ever to have a sit-down conversation with them.

What To Say to a Teen About Drinking

Presenting the dangers of underage drinking is one of the most powerful ways to help teens understand what they are risking when or if they do choose to drink. It is important to remember to be factual and remove emotion from the conversation, if possible. Many teenagers naturally have a tendency to resist authority, so if the conversation sounds like it is strictly forbidden, they may even be inclined to rebel. Instead, instill in them the importance of making the right choice by being honest about how alcohol can affect them in the present as well as the future. 

Discussing aspects like false advertising in the media, inflated ideas of what being drunk is like, peer pressure, and curiosity can be incredibly impactful. Especially with the newer influence of social media, teens are constantly exposed to ads, peer posts, and influences promoting alcohol products. In many cases, these products are intentionally marketed to pique the interest of young adults and teens. Explaining to your teen why brands market in this way can help them understand the importance of ignoring ads or posts of this nature.

Although the conversation may be uncomfortable, it is so important to remember that this conversation could ultimately save your teen’s life. Marketing, peer testimony, and pressure can all result in a skewed view of alcohol and a lack of understanding surrounding the substance. As with any topic of concern, it is best to confront it immediately and intervene as soon as possible. 

Teens are at an impressionable age, and with the changes occurring in their bodies and brains, it can be easy to make poor decisions without sufficient knowledge of the consequences. Establishing an open-door policy can make your teen feel comfortable knowing they can come to you with any peer pressure or anxieties they experience. Providing a solid support system and sharing valuable knowledge can make all the difference in your teens‘ experience with alcohol.

New Dimensions Can Help!

If you have a teenager who is struggling with substance abuse, New Dimensions can help.  To learn more about treatment options, visit our website at or contact us at 800-685-9796.



  • ​​
  • Brown SA, McGue M, Maggs J, Schulenberg J, Hingson R, Swartzwelder S, Martin C, Chung T, Tapert SF, Sher K, Winters KC, Lowman C, Murphy S. Underage 
  • alcohol use: summary of developmental processes and mechanisms: ages 16-20. Alcohol Res Health. 2009;32(1):41-52. PMID: 23104446; PMCID: PMC3860496.
  • Ivaniushina V, Titkova V. Peer influence in adolescent drinking behavior: A meta-analysis of stochastic actor-based modeling studies. PLoS One. 2021 Apr 16;16(4):e0250169. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0250169. PMID: 33861781; PMCID: PMC8051820.