The Truth Is – Positive Community Norms

This universal strategy is used to correct misperceptions and promote positive social norms so that the positive choices teens make become a positive influence on others. For example, most teens think it’s common for their peers to use alcohol, but surveys show most youth never or rarely drink.

Underage Drinking

Underage drinking is a serious public health problem in the United States. Alcohol is the most widely used substance of abuse among America’s youth, and drinking by young people poses enormous health and safety risks.

Underage Drinking Statistics

  • By age 15, about 33 percent of teens have had at least 1 drink.
  • By age 18, about 60 percent of teens have had at least 1 drink.
  • In 2015, 7.7 million young people ages 12-20 reported that they drank alcohol beyond “just a few sips” in the past month.

Preventing Underage Drinking

Preventing underage drinking is a complex challenge. Any successful approach must consider many factors, including:

  • Genetics
  • Personality
  • Rate of maturation and development
  • Level of risk
  • Social factors
  • Environmental factors

Several key approaches have been found to be successful. They are:

  • Environmental interventions – This approach makes alcohol harder to get, for example, by raising the price of alcohol and keeping the minimum drinking age at 21. Enacting zero-tolerance laws that outlaw driving after any amount of drinking for people under 21 also can help prevent problems.
  • Individual-level interventions – This approach seeks to change the way young people think about alcohol so they are better able to resist pressures to drink.
  • School-based interventions – These are programs that provide students with the knowledge, skills, motivation, and opportunities they need to remain alcohol free.
  • Family-based interventions – These are efforts to empower parents to set and enforce clear rules against drinking, as well as improve communication between children and parents about alcohol.

The Role Parents Play

Parents and teachers can play a big role in shaping young people’s attitudes toward drinking. Parents in particular can have either a positive or negative influence.

Parents can help their children avoid alcohol problems by:

  • Talking about the dangers of drinking
  • Drinking responsibly, if they choose to drink
  • Serving as positive role models in general
  • Not making alcohol available
  • Getting to know their children’s friends
  • Having regular conversations about life in general
  • Connecting with other parents about sending clear messages about the importance of not drinking alcohol
  • Supervising all parties to make sure there is no alcohol
  • Encouraging kids to participate in healthy and fun activities that do not involve alcohol

Research shows that children whose parents are actively involved with their lives are less likely to drink alcohol.

On the other hand, research shows that a child with a parent who binge drinks is much more likely to binge drink than a child whose parents do not binge drink.

Warning Signs of Underage Drinking

Adolescence is a time of change and growth, including behavior changes. These changes usually are a normal part of growing up but sometimes can point to an alcohol problem. Parents and teachers should pay close attention to the following warning signs that may indicate underage drinking:

  • Changes in mood, including anger and irritability
  • Academic and/or behavioral problems in school
  • Rebelliousness
  • Changing groups of friends
  • Low energy level
  • Less interest in activities and/or care in appearance
  • Finding alcohol among a young person’s things
  • Smelling alcohol on a young person’s breath
  • Problems concentrating and/or remembering
  • Slurred speech
  • Coordination problems

Treating Underage Drinking Problems

Screening young people for alcohol use and alcohol use disorder is very important and may avoid problems down the road. Screening by a health practitioner (e.g., pediatrician) provides an opportunity to identify problems early and address them before they escalate. It also allows young people to ask questions of a knowledgeable adult. NIAAA and the American Academy of Pediatrics both recommend that all youth be regularly screened for alcohol use.

Some young people can experience serious problems as a result of drinking, including alcohol use disorder, which require intervention by trained professionals. Professional treatment options include:

  • Seeing a counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or other trained professional
  • Participating in outpatient or inpatient treatment at a substance abuse treatment facility or other licensed program.

More Information:

Summertime offers a lot more freedom for teens. Click here to watch this video and talk to your teen about making responsible choices and the dangers of underage drinking:

Parents, check out our video for special events like dances, prom and graduation. Take time to talk to your teen about avoiding underage alcohol use. Click here to view our video:

Myths and Facts About Underage Drinking:  MythsFactsBrochure_508compliant

SAMHSA’s Family Guide to Underage Drinking Prevention (download digital version):

Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s website at: