Teen Alcohol Use: The American Drug of Choice

Alcohol is the drug of choice for America. It is a psychoactive drug that four in five men and women over the age of twelve have tried at least once. The number of those who have tried alcohol is 2.5 times the number of those who have experimented with marijuana.


Sadly, there are approximately 18.3 million individuals who abuse alcohol in the United States. And according to the HealthyChildren.org, every year 3.4 million Americans age 12 and older undergo alcohol abuse treatment or have reported alcohol related problems.


Research indicates that alcohol use is a problem that stretches from coast to coast. In 2009, about 10.4 million teens reported having more than just a few sips of alcohol. Plus, although teens drink less often than adults, studies indicate that when teens do drink, they drink more. For instance, in a recent study done by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), researchers found that one in five high school females engage in binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as drinking four or more drinks during one event for females, and for male teens, binge drinking is consuming five or more drinks. Sadly, the rates of teens who are binge drinking remain alarmingly high.


Teens who are drinking obvious do so illegally. Underage drinking poses certain risks to adolescents, primarily because their brains are still in its development. When teens begin to drink, they rarely recognize the effects on their families, peers, and on their own lives. In fact, because of the damaging effects of underage drinking, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recognizes teen alcohol abuse as a “widespread public health problem”.


Frequently, drinking for teens begins with a beer or a wine cooler. Many young teens can drink wine coolers as though they are drinking soda. And often, they are not thinking about what they are drinking or even how much they’re drinking, but rather, whether they’re going to achieve an altered state. Many teens will drink until they feel a “buzz”, feel drunk, or even until they’re not feeling anything at all.


If teens are drinking to get drunk on a regular basis, the effects on his or her health can be significant. Alcohol abuse impedes nutrient breakdown and impairs a teen’s ability to assimilate those nutrients. Also, when an adolescent engages in alcohol abuse on a regular basis, 50 percent of their calorie intake is derived from the drinking. The damage to the body, not only because of the addiction but also because of poor eating habits that result from drinking has led many teen rehabilitative treatment centers to include nutritional counseling in their treatment plan. Binge drinking among teens and underage drinking in general can lead to:


Death: About 5,000 individuals under the age of 21 die each year from alcohol related car crashes, homicide, suicide, and alcohol poisoning.

Serious Injury: Over 190,000 individuals under the age of 21 have visited an emergency room for alcohol related injuries in 2008 alone.

Impaired Judgment: Drinking can lead to poor decision making, which leads to risky behavior, such as fast driving, sexual activity, and violence.

Increased Risk for Physical/Sexual Assault: Research indicates that teens who drink are more likely to be the victim or the perpetrator in a physical or sexual assault.


Signs that a teen may be drinking too much and too often include:

  • Academic/behavioral problems in school
  • Changing groups of friends
  • Less interested in activities and/or appearance.
  • Finding alcohol in a teen’s room or smelling it on his or her breath.
  • Slurred speech
  • Coordination problems.
  • Memory or concentration is impaired.


Because alcohol is such a widely socially accepted drug throughout the United States, it can present a significant danger to adolescents. For this reason, parents should be careful about how they model their own drinking behavior. Furthermore, parents should communicate to their teens the dangers of drinking, teen alcohol abuse, and the associated risky behaviors.