Latest Information on Teen Drinking

Alcohol is, by far, the most socially acceptable and easiest drug to obtain in our country. For that reason, it’s a popular choice among teens. Although it is illegal for teens to purchase alcohol, they can often get it through their parent’s liquor cabinets, unscrupulous store clerks, or older friends who purchase it for them. The median age at which teens begin to drink is thirteen. Almost 90% of high school seniors have used alcohol. These statistics are especially concerning since most alcoholics start drinking during their teen years. Studies show that the majority of drunk drivers are under age 25. Underage drinking is also linked to two-thirds of sexual assaults and date rapes of teens, and increases the likelihood of unsafe and unplanned sexual activity.

Since alcohol is an ongoing problem with adolescents, we wanted to highlight three recent reports for parents about underage drinking:

First, parents should be aware that some teens have suffered alcohol poisoning from drinking hand sanitizer. Liquid hand sanitizer is 62% ethyl alcohol and can be used to make a 120-proof liquid. Although this type of abuse is rare right now, drinking hand sanitizer could become a trend, since teens can easily and inexpensively purchase it, and they can find instructions online about how to distill it.

Second, a new study shows that binge drinking impairs the spatial working memory of teenagers, and the damage is long-lasting. Spatial working memory is the ability to perceive the space around you, remember, and work with this information to perform a task, such as using a map, playing sports, or driving a car. Even though adolescents might physically appear grown up, their brains are continuing to significantly develop and mature. Heavy alcohol use interrupts normal brain cell growth and lasts months after the teen drinks.

Finally, another study has found that underage drinking leads to increased social stress and poor grades in teens. Many people have thought that perhaps alcohol was a youth’s attempt to escape social stress or bad grades, but, apparently, teens who drink increase their feeling of loneliness and isolation and struggle academically.

Warning Signs

The smell of alcohol on the breath, slurred speech, and problems with coordination are tell-tale signs of alcohol use. Falling grades, skipping school, and behavioral problems are also more common in teen drinkers. You may also notice sudden changes in the friends with whom your child is spending time. Drinkers tend to be more prone to injuries, such as car accidents, falls, drowning, burns, and shootings.


The most effective methods of prevention we have are for parents to talk to their teens, model good behavior, expose youth to examples of positive things that other teens are doing, and teach youth the consequences of risky behavior. There are some great online guides for what to say, and we’ve included some resources at the end of this blog.

Five Tips for Parents from The Science Inside Alcohol Project:

Find Teachable Moments —If a celebrity your child admires admits to a drinking problem, or an instance of alcohol abuse occurs in your community, talk about it. Ask your middle school student if she knows anyone who drinks alcohol and whether it is at parties or has been brought into her school. Answer questions. Have this conversation often. Keep lines of communication open.

Talk to Your Kids When Everything is Fine — Middle school students are volatile, hormonal beings. They are sweet and wonderful one moment, and blow up the next. Pick a time when things are quiet and they’re a captive audience such as in the backseat of your car. Don’t take no for an answer.

Engage Your Kids in the Science of Alcohol — Adolescents are incredibly self-involved. Alcohol can cause memory loss, impair sports performance, incite embarrassing behavior and affect how they feel and look. Make them aware of these facts. If there is a history of alcoholism in your family, explain about genetic predispositions towards alcohol abuse.

Be Vigilant — There’s no alternative to monitoring your kids. Have an early curfew. Know where they are at all times. Even if you are not home on a weeknight, make sure you can reach your kids by phone. Get to know their friends and their parents, as well as their rules and level of engagement.

Learn to Trust Your Child — Now’s the time when all the work you’ve put into creating a value system for your child begins to pay off. Set limits and enforce rules, but remember to give your child room to make his or her decisions, within your comfort zone. Praise them when they do well. It’s worth a thousand words.


If you need more information about teen alcohol use or talking to your teen, here are some resources:

Online Guide for Talking to Kids About Alcohol

Alcoholics Anonymous
National Al-Anon/Alateen
8 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST, Monday to Friday

Alcohol Hotline

The National Alcohol and Substance Abuse Information Center
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week

National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service

800-662-HELP (4357)
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week

Alcohol Detox Guide by Lakeview Health:

Local New Jersey Resources:

New Jersey Drug Hotline

New Jersey Al-Anon/ Alateen Info

EmPoWER Somerset

Somerset Treatment Services

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