Underage drinking: Talking to your teen about alcohol

The time to start talking to your teen about underage drinking is now. Follow these tips to help prevent underage alcohol use.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

It's easy to underestimate how early underage drinking starts — sometimes even in the preteen years — as well as the amount of alcohol teens drink and the risks involved. Still, underage drinking isn't inevitable. You can encourage your teen to avoid alcohol by talking to him or her about the risks of underage drinking and the importance of making good decisions.

Why teens drink

Teens are particularly vulnerable to alcohol use. The physical changes of puberty might make your teen feel self-conscious and more likely to take risks — such as experiment with alcohol — to fit in or please others. Coping with stress and challenging transitions, such as going from middle school to high school, moving, or dealing with the effects of divorce, might also influence a teen to drink. Also, your teen might have trouble understanding that his or her actions can have harmful consequences.

Other risk factors include:

  • Family problems, such as conflict or parental alcohol abuse
  • A history of childhood abuse or other major trauma
  • Behavior, school or mental health problems
  • Close friendships with teens who drink or use other drugs

Consequences of underage drinking

Whatever causes a teen to drink, the consequences might be the same. For example, underage drinking can lead to:

  • Alcohol-related fatalities. Alcohol-related accidents are a leading cause of teen deaths. Teen drownings, suicides and murders also have been linked with alcohol use.
  • Sexual activity. Teens who drink tend to become sexually active earlier and have sex more often than do teens who don't drink. Teens who drink are also more likely to have unprotected sex than are teens who don't drink.
  • School problems. Teens who drink tend to have more academic and conduct problems than do teens who don't drink.
  • Alcoholism. People who begin drinking as young teens are more likely to develop alcohol dependence than are people who wait until they're adults to drink.
  • Violent crime. Teens who drink are more likely to be hurt in a violent crime, such as rape, assault or robbery.

Research also shows that alcohol use might permanently distort a teen's mental development.

Feb. 13, 2014 See more In-depth