You think—or know—your child is drinking. Do you wonder how seriously you should take it, and what you should do?
Is underage drinking serious?
Yes, the risks of alcohol use among tweens and teens are serious. One scary fact is that individuals who start drinking as adolescents are more likely to experience alcohol and drug misuse disorders as adults.1
And, when kids drink, they tend to binge drink2—leading to accidents, injury, unplanned sexual activity, and impaired judgment that could result in them driving under the influence or getting in a car with a driver who’s been drinking.
Even if you could wrap your child in bubble wrap while they have a drink, you can’t shield them from the damage that you can’t see: alcohol impairs several parts of a teen’s developing brain. This includes the hippocampus, key for learning and memory; and the frontal lobes, which control emotions and impulses. This damage can affect your child for life.
So, yes, please take underage drinking seriously.
What should you do?
Talk to your t(w)een about the risks of alcohol and your expectations that they don’t drink. A lecture isn’t usually the best course of action; try some of these suggestions instead.
Create an agreement with your child to help them stay safe; clearly outline expectations and consequences, and both of your roles in upholding the agreement.3 For example, have your child sign a contract indicating they understand they’ll lose their car keys if they drive after drinking or ride with anyone who was drinking. For your part, you can promise to pick your child up from any social situation, no matter the time or place, no questions asked (until you can talk calmly later). A contract can work for curfew, making sure your child checks in when they’re supposed to, or is honest about where they’re going.
If you’re sure your child is drinking, you may find it helpful to speak with a counselor who specializes in substance use disorders before you discuss the issue with your child.
Help for underage drinking
Here are some options to get your questions answered about underage drinking and find help for a teen who is drinking.
- Confidential Helpline | Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.
This nonprofit organization’s helpline specialists will listen to your concerns and propose a personalized course of action. You can communicate via text, email, or phone, in English and Spanish. Help is free and confidential. This organization is not affiliated with any treatment center(s), but can direct you to vetted resources in your area.
- Treatment Options | Partnership for Drug-Free Kids
Understand the types of treatment programs and recovery support groups available for youth struggling with substance issues.
- Idaho 2-1-1 Care Line
Find immediate low-cost or free health services in your community. Call 2-1-1 or visit idahocareline.org.
- Substance Use Disorder Services Program | Idaho Health & Welfare
Receive a phone screening and referrals to approved Idaho treatment facilities. Financial aid may be available
- Your family physician or your child’s school guidance counselor can answer questions, determine treatment needs, and provide referrals to counselors or treatment programs.
- Your county’s juvenile probation office may offer substance abuse classes or recommend treatment programs.
If you’d like more tips on talking to your child about drinking, or more ideas to help keep your child from drinking, please follow Be the Parents on Facebook at facebook.com/BeTheParents.org.
1. Report to Congress on the Prevention and Reduction of Underage Drinking 2018, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
2. “Underage Drinking Fact Sheet,” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
3. “The Alcohol Talk: What to Say if Your Teen Is Already Drinking,” healthday.com