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Learning About Alcohol Use in Teens

Why do teens drink alcohol?

You and other teens may drink alcohol for many reasons. You may want to:

  • Fit in with friends or certain groups. This could be because of peer pressure or because you want to feel like others accept you.
  • Feel good about yourself and have more self-confidence.
  • Try alcohol (experiment) because you’re curious about it.
  • Do what adults do or feel more grown-up. If you often see your parents, older siblings, or other adults drinking, you may think it’s a normal adult thing to do.
  • Rebel against parents or caregivers.
  • Escape your problems, such as:
    • mental health problems, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or anxiety, depression, or both
    • insecurities or low self-esteem
    • rejection
    • physical, emotional, or sexual abuse

What problems can alcohol cause?

Alcohol can change how well you make decisions, how well you think, and how quickly you can react. It can make it hard for you to control yourself. Alcohol use can:

  • Make car crashes more likely. If you drink and drive, you have a higher chance of being in an accident because alcohol lowers your judgment, vision, reaction time, and motor coordination. Don't drive if you have been drinking. And don't ride in any type of vehicle with someone who's been drinking. Instead, take a taxi, use a rideshare, or find another way to get home safely.
  • Make you more likely to have sex or sexual contact when you aren’t ready. This could include unprotected sex, sexual assault (you could be assaulted or you could assault someone else). It could also lead to pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV.
  • Cause you to do things you wouldn't usually do. You may say things that hurt your friends. Or you could do something illegal and have to pay a fine, lose your driver's licence, or have other legal problems.
  • Cause you to lose interest in school and your future. Using alcohol makes it harder for you to pay attention and remember things. Poor grades or trouble focusing may make it harder to do well in school and reach your dreams.

Alcohol use also can change how you feel about your life. It can lead to depression or other mental health issues.

How do you say no to alcohol?

If someone offers you a drink, here are some ways to say "no."

  • Look the person in the eye and say "No thanks." Sometimes that is all you need to do. Say it as many times as you need to. Also ask the person not to ask you again: "I'm cool with my decision, so please don't offer it again."
  • Say why you don't want to drink. Here are some examples: "I don't like how I act when I'm drinking," "I like to know what I'm doing," "If my parents find out, they'll take my car away," or "I have to practice with my band tomorrow."
  • Walk out. It's okay to leave a party or group where others are drinking.
  • Offer another idea. "I'd rather play video games" or "Let's listen to some music." By doing this, you might also stop your friend from drinking.
  • Ask for respect. Make it clear that you don't want to drink and that continuing to ask you is showing no respect for your opinions. "I would appreciate if you respected my decision not to drink."
  • Think ahead. If you think you might go someplace where people are drinking, don't go. But if you do go, think in advance about what you'll do if someone offers you a drink.

What are the signs of alcohol use disorder?

Maybe you've wondered about your alcohol use, or how to tell if your drinking is becoming a problem.

Your alcohol use may be a problem if you have two or more of the following signs:

  • You drink larger amounts of alcohol than you ever meant to. Or you've been drinking for a longer time than you ever meant to.
  • You can't cut down or control your use. Or you constantly wish you could cut down.
  • You spend a lot of time getting or drinking alcohol or recovering from the effects.
  • You have strong cravings for alcohol.
  • You can't keep up with everyday things at school, at work, or at home.
  • You keep drinking alcohol, even though your use hurts your relationships with others.
  • You have stopped doing important activities because of your alcohol use.
  • You drink alcohol in situations where doing so is dangerous.
  • You keep drinking alcohol even though you know it's causing health problems.
  • You need more and more alcohol to get the same effect, or you get less effect from the same amount over time. This is called tolerance.
  • You have uncomfortable symptoms when you stop drinking alcohol or use less. This is called withdrawal.

Problems with alcohol use can range from mild to severe. The more signs you have, the more severe the disorder may be. Moderate to severe alcohol use disorder is sometimes called addiction.

You might not realize that your drinking is a problem. You might not drink large amounts when you drink. Or you might go for days or weeks between drinking episodes. But even if you don't drink very often, your drinking could still be harmful and put you at risk.

If you think you need help:

  • Talk to your parents or caregivers. You may be afraid to, but remember they want what’s best for you. They want to help you.
  • Talk to an adult you’re comfortable with such as your family doctor, a school counselor, an adult relative, a minister or clergy member, or a friend's parents.
  • Call a teen hotline. Talking to someone about your feelings about alcohol may help.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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