Parents, do not underestimate how dangerous alcohol is for teens. Alcohol use is very common in our society, and because it is sold and drank in so many places, we often forget how risky drinking can be for young people. Alcohol use in the adolescent years harms the developing brain and greatly increases their risk of addiction. Alcohol kills more teens than all other illegal drugs combined. 

What are the Risks to Youth?

There is no “responsible use” of alcohol by minors. Not only does allowing minors to consume alcohol send a message that some laws are meant to be broken, but adolescent drinking may bring about a host of dangers and lifelong ramifications, especially considering that young adults are the most likely to binge drink.

Underage Drinking Harms the Developing Brain

Because the adolescent brain doesn’t finish developing until about age 25, any alcohol use during this period of critical and vulnerable brain development can have damaging and permanent effects on impulsivity, memory and learning problems, and even mental health.

Young People are More Vulnerable to Addiction
90% of people with addictions started using substances in their teen years, so it’s important to take early and ongoing action to keep your child drug-free.

Because young people’s brains are still developing into their mid-20s, they build synapses faster than adult brains.  Addiction is a form of learning, so adolescents can get addicted more easily than adults. Research also shows that the earlier a person starts drinking, the more likely they are to struggle with serious problems with alcohol or develop an alcohol use disorder later in life. Adolescents who drink before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin drinking at age 21. This means they may unsuccessfully try to quit drinking, may want to drink alcohol despite negative consequences, or will voluntarily pass up events with family and friends to drink.  

Youth and Impaired Driving

Any amount of alcohol increases the risk of crashes among teens as compared with older drivers. Alcohol impairs reaction time, sense of spatial judgment, visual functions, and ability to concentrate on many things at once--all abilities needed to drive safely.  Couple this with inexperienced teen drivers, and the results are tragic. In fact, about one in four teen car crashes involves a driver who has been drinking.  

Alcohol’s Link to Other Risky Behaviors

According to SAMHSA, minors who drink are more likely to use marijuana and other drugs, have poorer academic performance, engage in risky sexual behaviors, make regretful decisions, and to be injured, assaulted, or die in an accident.

What Can Parents Do?

In order to protect your child from vaping, Parent Up encourages parents to CARE, CONNECT, COMMUNICATE and pay CAREFUL ATTENTION.  While this strategy is no guarantee, if implemented consistently and with intention, the likelihood of your child engaging in any substance use is much lower. 


Make a commitment that you will do everything you can to protect your child from early substance use.  Learn more about the impact of early alcohol use and teach this to your children.  Let your child know that you care about their health and safety and encourage them to do the same.  Remember that you have the greatest influence over your child’s engagement in substance use so don’t relinquish this power.  Use it to protect your child from a place of concern, love, and support.

Care Action Steps: 


Connection is key to prevention.  Kids that have stable, consistent, and healthy relationships with adults are more likely to make safer decisions and live healthier lives.  It’s important that parents, and other caring adults, take time to listen, pay attention, spend time, and follow up with the kids in their lives. When kids feel valued, they better understand their feelings and are more willing to listen to you.

Connect Action Steps:


Start early and let your child know you care about their health and safety, and that you are speaking from a place of concern, love, and support.  These can be tricky conversations to navigate with your kids, but a little work on the front end can protect your child’s health and safety for years to come.

Parents have a significant influence in their children’s decision to experiment with alcohol and other drugs. Although it may not seem like it, when parents talk about underage drinking and substance use, their children do hear them. Make it clear to your child that you don’t approve of them drinking under the age of (at least) 21, but be curious and open-minded about their experiences.  It’s easier to start a conversation about alcohol by asking what they think about it or if they’ve seen other kids drinking than to immediately interrogate them about if they’ve ever tried alcohol.  Ask them what they think about drinking under age 21.  Their answer may surprise you.  It’s more important – and effective– to listen and discuss rather than to lecture. 

Communicate Action Steps:

Careful Attention

As a general rule, know where your kids are at, who they are with, and be sure to check in when they get home.  Be on alert for changes in behaviors, friend groups, or attitudes.

Alcohol’s short term consequences become immediately apparent after use. Adolescents are even more susceptible to alcohol because their bodies are new to processing this drug and their body weight is generally smaller than an adult’s.  Adolescents who drink alcohol will quickly experience:

While an adult may experience brief relaxation in small doses, any quantity of alcohol will have both short-term and long-term damaging effects on a child’s brain and overall health.

Careful Attention Action Steps:

Worried your child may be drinking? The Partnership to End Addiction can help.

Helpful Resources


Dr. Yolanda Evans shares tips for when and how to talk to your child and drugs and alcohol.

An easy-to-follow video about the harmful effects of alcohol on the teenage brain.