Teen Alcohol Addiction – Statistics, Effects, Causes & Treatment

Underage drinking, also known as youth alcohol consumption, is a serious issue that affects many teenagers across the globe. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) conducted in 2019. revealed that about 39.7% of individuals aged 12 to 20 years reported drinking at least once in their lives, and 18.5% in this age group reported drinking during the past month.1

Teen alcohol abuse can lead to a wide range of negative legal, physical, social, and mental health outcomes. According to research, excessive drinking among youth aged 12 to 20 years annually results in 1,092 deaths from motor vehicle crashes and 1,000 deaths from homicides in the United States. Teen alcohol addiction is a growing concern among parents, health professionals, and society at large.1

Why Do Teens Drink Alcohol?

It’s essential to understand the reasons why teenagers consume alcohol to develop effective strategies to prevent and treat teen alcohol addiction.2,3

1. Peer pressure 

This is one of the most common reasons why adolescents consume alcohol. They often feel the need to fit in with their peers, and drinking alcohol can be a way to gain acceptance and socialize with others.

Peer pressure can be powerful, and adolescents who feel isolated or excluded from their peer group may be more likely to turn to alcohol. Additionally, teens who attend schools where drinking is prevalent may be more likely to do so themselves.

2. Family history and the home environment 

Family can also play a significant role in teen alcohol addiction. Adolescents who have a family history of alcohol use disorder (AUD) are more likely to develop the condition themselves. This may be due to genetic factors or learned behaviors from family members who engage in heavy drinking.

Furthermore, adolescents who live in households with permissive attitudes toward alcohol are more likely to drink. Parents who drink heavily or who allow their teenagers to drink may unintentionally encourage alcohol consumption in their children.

3. Exploration

Lastly, many teens drink alcohol for the thrill and excitement of trying something new or to feel more grown-up. Adolescents are at a stage in their lives where they are exploring their identities and seeking new experiences. Alcohol consumption may be viewed as a way to rebel against authority or engage in risky behaviors. Additionally, teenagers may be attracted to the idea of feeling more grown-up and mature by consuming alcohol.

Signs and Symptoms of Teen Alcohol Addiction?

It’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of teen alcohol addiction early on. Some of the most common signs of alcohol abuse in teens include changes in behavior and personality, including irritability, mood swings, and a lack of interest in hobbies or activities. Physical signs of alcohol addiction include red or glazed eyes, slurred speech, and impaired coordination. Other signs may include a decrease in academic performance, problems with the law, and social isolation.2

What are the Effects of Underage Drinking?

The effects of underage drinking can be both short-term and long-term. In the short-term, alcohol can impair judgment, leading to risky behaviors such as drunk driving or unprotected sex. It can also result in injuries, accidents, and even death. Long-term effects of alcohol addiction in teens include changes in the brain, liver disease, and an increased risk of developing mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.2

How Does Alcohol Affect a Teen’s Brain?

Alcohol affects the developing brain differently than it does the adult brain. The teenage brain is still developing and is more vulnerable to the harmful effects of alcohol. Alcohol consumption can interfere with the development of crucial brain structures and circuits, leading to cognitive deficits and impaired memory. It can also increase the risk of developing AUD later in life.4,5

Alcohol affects the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for decision-making, impulse control, and judgment. As a result, teens who drink are more likely to engage in risky behaviors and make poor decisions.4,5

Alcohol may even affect the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Studies show that alcohol abuse during adolescence can lead to damage to the hippocampus, affecting long-term memory and learning ability.4,5

What are the Psychological Effects of Alcohol on Teens?

Depression and anxiety are common mental health issues among teenagers, and alcohol consumption has been linked to the development and exacerbation of these problems. This section aims to discuss the connection between depression, anxiety, and alcohol in teens.6-8

Alcohol consumption has been shown to increase symptoms of depression in teenagers. Teens who abuse alcohol are at a higher risk of developing depression compared to those who abstain from alcohol. Furthermore, depression symptoms may worsen as alcohol consumption increases. This can lead to a vicious cycle where teens drink to cope with their depression, which in turn worsens their depression symptoms.6,7

Similarly, drinking has also been linked to anxiety in teens. Adolescents who consume alcohol regularly may experience increased anxiety symptoms, including feelings of nervousness, panic attacks, and phobias. Alcohol consumption can also worsen pre-existing anxiety symptoms, making it difficult for teenagers to manage their anxiety.8

The relationship between alcohol consumption and depression and anxiety in teenagers is bidirectional. This means that not only can alcohol consumption increase symptoms of depression and anxiety, but adolescents with depression and anxiety may also be more likely to consume alcohol. Teenagers with depression or anxiety may use alcohol as a way to self-medicate, cope with stress, or numb their feelings.6-8

Moreover, alcohol abuse as a coping mechanism for depression and anxiety can lead to alcohol addiction in teenagers. Adolescents who rely on alcohol to cope with their mental health issues may develop a tolerance to its effects, leading to increased consumption and a higher risk of addiction.6-8

What are the Consequences of Underage Drinking?

The consumption of alcohol by individuals under the legal drinking age of 21 can lead to a range of negative consequences, including legal, social, and health-related problems. One of the most significant consequences of underage drinking is the potential for legal problems. Possessing or consuming alcohol underage is illegal in most countries, and individuals who are caught can face severe legal consequences.2,15

These consequences may include fines, community service, mandatory education programs, and even jail time in some cases. Furthermore, individuals who engage in teen drinking may face legal issues related to driving under the influence or other alcohol-related offenses, which can lead to severe legal consequences and impact their future prospects.2,15

Teen alcohol abuse can also have social consequences. Adolescents who consume alcohol may experience problems in their personal relationships with family, friends, and romantic partners. Alcohol consumption can lead to behavior changes and impaired judgment, which can negatively affect social interactions and lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, and even violence. Furthermore, underage drinking can impact academic performance and lead to disciplinary problems in school, which can further exacerbate social issues.2,15

Health effects are another significant concern when it comes to teen alcohol abuse. Adolescents who consume alcohol may experience physical health problems, such as liver disease and damage, heart disease, high blood pressure, and more, which can have long-lasting effects on their health.2,15

Furthermore, alcohol consumption can increase the risk of accidents, injuries, and violence, which can have severe health consequences and even lead to death in some cases. Finally, adolescents who consume alcohol are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, which can lead to unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.9,15

How To Prevent Underage Drinking?

Preventing underage drinking requires a collaborative effort from parents, teachers, healthcare providers, and the community. This section aims to discuss various ways parents and other closely related people can prevent teen alcohol abuse.10-13

  1. Education and awareness: Firstly, parents can play a significant role in preventing underage drinking. They should educate their children about the dangers of alcohol consumption, including the legal, academic, and health consequences. Parents can also provide their children with healthy coping mechanisms to manage stress and emotional problems, such as regular exercise, engaging in hobbies, or talking to a trusted adult.
  2. Setting clear expectations: Parents can set clear expectations and rules regarding alcohol consumption. This includes communicating to their children that teen drinking is not acceptable and establishing consequences for breaking the rules. Parents should also monitor their children’s behavior and be aware of their activities and whereabouts, especially during social events.
  3. Prevention programs: Schools can implement prevention programs and campaigns to educate students about the dangers of alcohol consumption. Teachers and school staff can be trained to recognize signs of alcohol use and offer support to students who may be struggling.
  4. Help from medical professionals: Healthcare providers can also contribute. Pediatricians and other healthcare providers can educate adolescents and their parents about the dangers of alcohol consumption and screen for alcohol use during routine check-ups. They can also provide referrals to mental health professionals if necessary.
  5. The role of the community: Lastly, the community can also play a role in preventing underage drinking. Local law enforcement can enforce the relevant laws and hold individuals accountable for supplying alcohol to minors. Community organizations and local businesses can also support prevention efforts by sponsoring prevention campaigns or hosting alcohol-free events for adolescents.

Together, these efforts may help reduce the prevalence of teen alcohol abuse and its associated consequences.

Underage Drinking Treatment Programs

AUD is a condition that affects many adolescents and seeking appropriate treatment may be crucial for their recovery. Various treatment programs are available for adolescents struggling with AUD, including inpatient and outpatient programs, therapy, counseling, and other options.14

Inpatient treatment

These are residential programs designed for struggling individuals with severe AUD. Inpatient programs provide 24-hour medical and emotional support and often involve a medically supervised detoxification process to safely manage the withdrawal symptoms that may occur. 

Inpatient programs also offer a structured environment with a range of therapeutic interventions, such as individual and group therapy, behavioral therapy, and family therapy. They may be highly effective for struggling teens who abuse alcohol and require intensive and structured treatment.14

Outpatient treatment

These programs are another option for adolescents struggling with AUD. Outpatient programs are flexible, allowing struggling individuals to continue attending school or work while receiving treatment. These programs vary in intensity but generally involve regular appointments with a healthcare provider or therapist.14

This type of treatment also provides access to various forms of therapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, and family therapy. Outpatient programs may be appropriate for underage individuals who don’t require on-the-clock care for their alcohol addiction and have the necessary support at home.14


Therapy is another essential treatment option for adolescents struggling with AUD. Therapy involves regular sessions with a mental health professional, focusing on identifying and addressing the underlying causes of AUD.14

Various types of therapy can be used, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps struggling individuals identify negative thought patterns and behaviors and develop coping skills, and motivational enhancement therapy, which focuses on enhancing motivation and increasing confidence in the struggling individual’s ability to change.14

Family therapy can also be an effective form of therapy, as it involves the entire family in the treatment process and can address issues within the family unit that may contribute to the struggling teen’s alcohol abuse.14

Support groups

Other options for treating AUD in adolescents include support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and SMART Recovery. Support groups provide a supportive environment where individuals can share their experiences, receive encouragement, and learn from others who have been through similar experiences.14

Parents, caregivers, and healthcare providers should work together to identify the most appropriate treatment option for each teen struggling with alcohol addiction, taking into consideration their individual needs, preferences, and level of AUD. With the right treatment and support, adolescents struggling with AUD may successfully overcome their addiction and achieve a healthier and happier life.2

How Do I Find Treatment for Teen Alcohol Abuse?

American Addiction Centers (AAC) offer a range of services to help young people recover from alcohol addiction. Upon admittance, the first step is usually a diagnosis, which is done by a qualified medical professional. The diagnosis should help determine the severity of the addiction and the appropriate course of treatment. 

There are different types of individuals who struggle with AUD, including individuals who binge drink, individuals who drink heavily, and functional individuals whose conditions can be just as severe. The stages of AUD can vary, but generally involve the following phases: experimentation, regular use, problematic use, addiction, and recovery. The staff at AAC is well-experienced in recognizing the stage that the struggling individual may be in and providing appropriate care for that stage.

Detox is also an important part of treatment and involves detoxifying the body from alcohol. Withdrawal symptoms can include tremors, nausea, seizures and more, which is why this process is closely monitored by a doctor at AAC. Medication can also be an important part of recovery. There are medications available that can help reduce cravings and ease withdrawal symptoms. However, medication is not the only solution and is typically used in conjunction with therapy and other forms of support.

AAC offers a hotline for struggling teens and their families to call for support and guidance. The hotline is staffed by trained professionals who can provide information about treatment options and costs and help connect suffering individuals with resources in their community.

At AAC, the focus is on providing an all-encompassing approach to treatment. This typically includes individual and group therapy, family counseling, and support groups. The center’s team of experts includes psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and addiction counselors who work together to provide personalized care to each patient.

Frequently Asked Questions