alcohol-1Alcohol use in US teens appeared to decline in 2011. But that isn’t much comfort if it’s your teen who’s abusing it. So let’s jump in.

  • Alcohol is the substance most abused by American teens.
  • Alcohol problems can stunt emotional maturation and the development of coping skills, preventing young people from achieving their potential as adults.
  • Delaying the onset of alcohol use reduces the chance of developing alcohol dependence at any time of life.
  • Many young people with serious alcohol problems also have mental health disorders that make their drinking and other drug use more problematic.
  • The vast majority are untreated.

Heavy drinking in teens is associated with numerous negative outcomes, some of them permanent and life-altering, including
academic failure • delinquent and violent behavior • being arrested • risky sex • driving under the influence • smoking and illicit drug use • health emergencies • suicide

Drinking alcohol is illegal for people under age 21. Nevertheless, one third of high school seniors say they have been drunk in the past month. Among teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 who say they drink heavily

  • Three-quarters had at least one serious problem related to drinking in the past year
  • Two-thirds said they had built up tolerance to the effects of alcohol
  • One in five reported psychological problems related to their drinking
  • 12% reported health problems related to their drinking

At college, drinking tends to accelerate: 40% of college students say they are binge drinkers. Two-thirds of people who are dependent on alcohol will still be dependent five years later.

When to seek help

“Most teens will try marijuana and drinking before they graduate high school. So it’s one thing if your daughter stays out past curfew and comes home appearing drunk once or twice yet has high grades and a generally good attitude, but quite another if she stays out later and later each week and her grades are plummeting,” says Maia Szalavitz, a science writer and expert on substance abuse at Time and The Fix.

B-CASA says: the first time your teen comes home drunk and full of regrets, handle it yourself. If it happens again, and again, seek help. To identify a serious alcohol problem, check out Signs of alcohol abuse in teens at the Adolescent Substance Abuse Knowledge Base.

This article is adapted from coverage and contains statistics provided by
What you should know about alcohol problems by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; from Ensuring Solutions


Prevent, intervene, get treatment, recover
The Partnership at
Nonprofit organization known for public education programs

How you can help your addicted teen
Focus Adolescent Services
Comprehensive resources

A family history of alcohol abuse & what it means
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Part of the National Institutes of Health, the largest funder of alcohol research in the world

The broadening definition of alcoholism
Time magazine
What it means for “problem drinkers”

Understanding addiction & recovery
Addiction Recovery Management Service
Resource for youth and families from the ARMS program at MGH

How to find the best treatment program
for your teen
Time magazine
Expertise and resources on navigating an unregulated industry

Various publications
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Government agency for prevention and recovery services