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Learning About Alcohol Use in Teens

Why do teens use alcohol or drugs?

Teens may use alcohol or drugs for many reasons. They may do it because they:

  • Want to fit in with (or may be pressured by) certain friends or groups.
  • Like the way it makes them feel.
  • Believe it makes them more grown up.
  • Want to escape from their problems. For example, some teens may use drugs to try to:
    • Avoid the symptoms of mental health conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or depression.
    • Ease feelings of insecurity.
    • Forget about past trauma or abuse.

What problems can alcohol or drug use cause?

Using drugs or alcohol can change how well you think and make decisions and how quickly you can react. It can make it hard to control your actions. Alcohol or drug use also can change how you feel about your life. It can increase the risk of anxiety, depression, and suicide. Alcohol can negatively impact the way your brain develops, which continues until the age of 25. If you choose to drink, try to delay using alcohol as long as possible to lower your risk of harm.

Alcohol or drug use can:

  • Make car crashes more likely. If you drink and drive, you can easily crash and hurt yourself or others.
  • Lead to unprotected sex. This can lead to unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
  • Cause you to do things you wouldn't usually do. You may say things that hurt others or do something illegal that could result in a large fine, loss of your driver's license, or other legal problems.
  • Cause you to lose interest in school and your future. Poor grades or lack of focus may make it harder to set goals and achieve your dreams.

Do not drive if you have been drinking or using drugs. And do not ride in a car (or any type of vehicle) with someone who is impaired.

How do you say no to alcohol or drugs?

If someone offers you drugs or alcohol, here are some ways you can respond.

  • 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 tell the person not to ask you again: "I'm cool with my decision, so don't bother me again."
  • Say why you don't want to drink or use drugs. Here are some examples: "I don't like how I act when I drink or use drugs," "I like to know what I'm doing," "If my parents find out, they won't let me drive," or "I have to practice with my band tomorrow."
  • Walk out. It's okay to leave a party or group where others are drinking or using drugs.
  • Offer another idea. For example, say "I'd rather play video games" or "Let's listen to some music." By doing this, you might also prevent your friend from using drugs or alcohol.
  • Ask for respect. Make it clear that you don't want to drink or use drugs and that continuing to ask you is showing no respect for your opinions: "I don't give you a hard time, so why are you giving me a hard time?"
  • Think ahead. If you think you might go someplace where people are using drugs or alcohol, don't go. But if you do go, think in advance about what you will do if someone offers you alcohol or drugs.

Do you have alcohol use disorder?

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

Here are some of the symptoms of alcohol use disorder. You may have it if you have two or more of the following symptoms:

  • 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 no longer do your main jobs at school, at work, or at home.
  • You keep drinking alcohol, even though your use hurts your relationships.
  • 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.

Alcohol use disorder can range from mild to severe. The more symptoms you have, the more severe the disorder may be.

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, or an adult you trust.
  • Talk to your family doctor, a school counsellor, an adult relative, a minister or clergy member, or a friend's parents.
  • Visit Wellness Together Canada online at to learn about treatment programs in your area. Talking to someone about your feelings about alcohol may help.
  • Addiction Helpline: 1-866-332-2322
  • Mental Health Helpline: 1-877-303-2642
Both helplines are free, confidential and available 24 hours a day.

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