Why Do Teens Drink? [Advice Column]

Hi Vanessa,

You seem to be the ‘teen whisperer’ talking to and hearing things teens really do.  I was wondering why teens drink alcohol and if they really realize and of the consequences of drinking?  Could you enlighten me on this topic, my teen was recently caught drinking after school and I want to know what he was thinking!”

-Sarah L

This description actually made me laugh out loud.  I do not know if I am a ‘teen whisperer’ but I do think this issue is interesting. I have posted about the difference between pot and alcohol before and a war was raged on my YouTube comments about which was more popular for teens.

I do think that this depends on where you are from.  In cities, pot is more easily accessible and in small suburbs it is harder to find a ‘dealer’ so alcohol from parents cabinets is more readily accessible.  But as to the question: why do teens drink?  I decided to use some statistics.

I was sent a research assignment by Karen Matley and Tanya Feinstein, KRC Research who conducted a telephone survey among a national sample of 500 teens comprising 250 males and 250 females 12 to 17 years of age, living in private households in the continental United States from February 21-24, 2008.

They found (quoted):

•    Getting in trouble with the law is teens’ top fear.  Four in ten teens (39%) worry about getting in trouble with the law.  Getting suspended or expelled from school (14%), the adults in their lives finding out (11%), or not being able to participate in school sports or clubs (10%) are secondary concerns.

o    Not being able to participate in school sports or clubs was a greater concern for teen boys than teen girls (15% vs. 4%).  Girls appear more concerned about not being able to attend prom or walk the stage at graduation (11% vs. 8% of boys).

•    Teens admit they make bad decisions while drinking alcohol.  Two-thirds of teens (66%) say they or someone they know has made bad decisions while drinking alcohol.  Most commonly, nearly five in ten (45%) say they or their friends have said something they regretted while four in ten (40%) have gotten into a fight.

o    Older teens ages 15-17 are more likely than younger teens ages 12-14 to say they or someone they know has made at least one of the bad decisions listed while drinking alcohol—nearly three-quarters (72%) vs. three in five (60%).

•    At least two in five teens admit that they or someone they know has made the bad decision to mix drinking and driving.  One in four teens say they or someone they know has ridden in a car with a driver who’d been drinking (26%) while one in five has driven under the influence (21%).

o    Not surprisingly, older teens ages 15-17 are more likely than younger teens ages 12-14 to admit they have done either—one-third have either ridden in a car with a driver who’d been drinking (34%) or driven under the influence (32%) compared to fewer than two in ten teens ages 12-14 (18% and 8%, respectively).

Teens recognize that the consequences of drinking alcohol aren’t worth the risk.

•    The vast majority of teens do not think drinking is worth the consequences:

o    Nine in ten (90%) don’t think drinking is worth the consequences it can cause, in general.  Older teen girls ages 15-17 are more likely than younger teen girls ages 12-14 to agree (97% vs. 89%).

o    Nine in ten (90%) think drinking at or after prom or a school function is NOT worth the risk of ruining the occasion.

•    Teens agree that teen girls have more to lose than teen boys when under the influence of drinking alcohol.  Seven in ten (71%) agree.

o    However, some teens are more likely to agree than others:

•    Teen girls are more likely than teen boys to agree (76% vs. 67%).
•    Older teens ages 15-17 are more likely than younger teens ages 12-14 to agree (77% vs.65%).

When asked to compare drinking habits, most teens say they drink as often as or less often than their friends.

•    Half of teens surveyed (49%) said they drink less often while an additional 5% said they drink about as often as.  Only 2% said more often.

•    Notably, more than four in ten teens (44%) voluntarily responded that they and their friends don’t drink alcohol.

o    Younger teens ages 12-14 are more likely than older teens ages 15-17 to say they don’t drink (54% vs. 34%).

I wanted to post these findings for you because I totally agree with the conclusions they found.  I want to thank Erin Skinner of Powell and Tate for sending me this extremely interesting report!

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9 Responses to “Why Do Teens Drink? [Advice Column]”

  1. Tricia
    April 20, 2008 at 1:11 pm #

    Great Article. Thank you so much for your advice and thanks for sharing.

  2. Vanessa
    April 20, 2008 at 8:35 pm #

    of course Tricia, thank you for always reading and being a great commenter!


  3. Tom Bradford
    April 25, 2008 at 7:28 am #

    That was a real eye opener Vanessa, thank you! The statistics from that study are frightening – way too many children are putting themselves in harms way as a result of alcohol and drugs.

    After reading your article I decided to do some research into preventative programs that I could introduce to my teenagers to keep them safe. I came across the THINK underage drinking prevention program sponsored by MADD and Nationwide Insurance. THINK is designed to engage teens to pledge to remain alcohol-free, a great idea in my opinion. You can find out more information about the initiative from the link in my signature, hopefully you can help spread the word about THINK to your readers. Thanks again!

  4. Vanessa
    April 25, 2008 at 10:22 am #


    this is great, THINK is such a good idea and was thinking of taking an alcohol free pledge with some of my teens even though I am 22 to show them how important it is to me, maybe I can talk to think? thanks!


  5. Kim
    September 29, 2008 at 7:08 am #

    There is a useful website created by Diageo, the leading spirits company, called DrinkIQ that has a lot of helpful information bout how to talk to your teenage child about drinking and making responsible choices, and gives suggestions as to what you as a parent can do to help them. It also provides a lot of relevant facts about alcohol, and links to other external resources and expert nets that are very useful for parents in discussing drinking with their child and learning how to deal with this issue. It is a great central source and has resources from everywhere and covers the entire spectrum of alcohol issues so is really a great go-to site. Go to http://www.drinkiq.com/en-US/Pages/parents-resources.aspx and check out the parent resources center, it’s great!


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