Talking about underage drinking

It can be tough to talk to your teen about underage drinking. You might be unsure of what to say, and your teen might try to dodge the conversation. To increase your odds of having a meaningful discussion, choose a time when you and your teen are relaxed. Don't worry about covering everything at once. If you talk often, you might have a greater impact on your teen than if you have only a single discussion.

When you talk about underage drinking, you might:

  • Ask your teen's views. Find out what your teen knows and thinks about alcohol.
  • Share facts. Explain that alcohol is a powerful drug that slows the body and mind, and that anyone can develop an alcohol problem — even a teen without risk factors for alcohol abuse.
  • Debunk myths. Teens often think that drinking makes them popular or happy. Explain that alcohol can make you feel "high," but it's a depressant that also can cause sadness and anger.
  • Discuss reasons not to drink. Avoid scare tactics. Instead, explain the risks and appeal to your teen's self-respect. If you have a family history of alcoholism or drinking problems, be honest with your teen. Strongly discourage your teen from trying alcohol — even as an adult — since there's a considerable chance that your teen could develop an alcohol problem, too.
  • Plan ways to handle peer pressure. Brainstorm with your teen about how to respond to offers of alcohol. It might be as simple as saying, "No thanks" or "Do you have any soda?"
  • Be prepared to discuss your own drinking. Your teen might ask if you drank alcohol when you were underage. If you chose not to drink, explain why. If you chose to drink, you might share an example of a negative consequence of your drinking.

Other ways to prevent underage drinking

In addition to talking to your teen, consider other strategies to prevent underage drinking:

  • Develop a strong relationship with your teen. Your support will help your teen build the self-esteem he or she needs to stand up to peer pressure — and live up to your expectations.
  • Know your teen's activities. Pay attention to your teen's plans and whereabouts. Encourage participation in supervised after-school and weekend activities.
  • Establish rules and consequences. Rules might include no underage drinking, leaving parties where alcohol is served and not riding in a car with a driver who's been drinking. Agree on the consequences of breaking the rules ahead of time — and enforce them consistently.
  • Set an example. If you drink, do so only in moderation and explain to your teen why it's OK for adults to drink responsibly. Describe the rules you follow, such as not drinking and driving. Don't serve alcohol to anyone who's underage.
  • Encourage healthy friendships. If your teen's friends drink, your teen is more likely to drink, too. Get to know your teen's friends and their parents.

Seeking help for underage drinking

If you suspect that your teen has been drinking — you've noticed mood changes or behavior problems, for example, or your teen has red or glazed eyes or unusual health complaints — talk to him or her. Enforce the consequences you've established so that your teen understands that using alcohol will always result in a loss of privileges.

If you think your teen might have a drinking problem, contact your teen's doctor or a counselor or other health care provider who specializes in alcohol problems. Teens who have alcohol problems aren't likely to realize it — or seek help — on their own.

Remember, it's never too soon to start talking to your teen about underage alcohol use. By broaching the topic, you'll help give your teen the guidance and support necessary to make good choices.

Feb. 13, 2014 See more In-depth