5 Causes of Teen Drinking: Why do Kids Drink Alcohol?

A teenage boy drinking alcohol underage.

The reasons for teen angst are endless. Just like every person is different, there are different reasons why teens may drink alcohol. Even the most confident people can doubt themselves at times. As teens move through middle school and high school, classes are getting more difficult, and puberty also makes things challenging.

Don’t brush it off. While their behavior could just be the result of hormones or homework, it could also be an outside influence, like alcohol. That’s why it’s important for parents to talk to kids about alcohol and the causes of teen drinking.

Peer Pressure

Teenage years are hard. Most kids are just trying to navigate the choppy waters of school and friends. Whether it’s making the basketball team, sitting at the “right” table at lunch, or having a core group of friends they can always count on — teens want to have a place where they belong.

The desire to fit in can push teens to make bad choices. Peer pressure is one of the biggest reasons why teens choose to drink alcohol. By the time most teens are in high school, two-thirds have tried alcohol. At big parties, or even just hanging around with a couple of friends, some kids find it hard to say “no” to alcohol. That’s because they believe refusing a drink could make them look uptight or jeopardize their place in the group.

Teens Want to Feel Grown-Up

By the time most kids are sophomores in high school, they can be physically as big as most adults. They might be driving, working a part-time job, and have more responsibilities at home, like looking after a younger sibling. Teens are maturing and are eager to be treated like an adult. They may see alcohol as something that grown-ups do, so why shouldn’t they?

The amount of time most teens spend on social media also may give them a skewed sense of reality. Many of the celebrities and music moguls they follow are posting pictures from parties and events where alcohol is front and center. It can make drinking seem very glamorous. One study found that alcohol portrayed in social media makes teens feel like drinking is the normal thing everyone is doing. Discuss with your teen that what they see on social media is not always the reality of what’s really happening.

What teens don’t understand is that while they may appear grown-up, their brains are not. The teenage brain is still developing until age 25. Alcohol affects the developing teenage brain differently than it does an adult brain. Alcohol misuse can affect judgment, impulse control, memory, and more. Alcohol can cause serious and permanent damage to the still-developing adolescent brain.

Pushing Boundaries

In teenagers’ minds, growing up means bending, or dare we say, breaking the rules. Most teens think they have all the answers. They’re experts on how much they need to sleep at night, they don’t think spending hours on their smartphones is a problem, and they think they can drink alcohol without short and long-term consequences.

This is the time for parents to set clear limits and to stand by punishments. If a teen thinks they’re old enough to break the rules, then they are old enough to accept the consequences.

Teens See Parents Drinking at Home

Parents over 21 can absolutely have a drink and don’t have to hide it. Additionally, responsible behavior about alcohol can actually set a good example for children. So, when young adults turn 21 and can legally choose to have a drink, they know what responsible behavior looks like. For example, when the family goes out to a restaurant, make a point of saying that Dad is going to have a non-alcoholic drink with dinner; because he’s driving home.

Part of having alcohol in your home is the responsibility of reducing teen temptation and access. First, set a clear zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking in your family. Then, keep tabs on what alcoholic beverages are in your home. Are cans of beer missing from the refrigerator in the garage? Did a bottle of vodka that you rarely drink go missing from the top shelf of the pantry? Are bottles of alcohol at the same level you left them? All parents want to trust their kids, but you can help them make good choices by eliminating temptation.


Let’s face it, the teenage years are a roller coaster of hormones and emotions. One minute your teen is on cloud nine because he scored the winning goal in a big soccer game, and the next day he’s completely overwhelmed by an upcoming math test. He may think alcohol is the answer to numbing those feelings of depression or chasing the high of being the team hero. It is important to help your teens establish healthy coping strategies and outlets for fun and excitement.

Recognize the Signs of Teen Alcohol Use

No one knows your kid better than you. If you notice changes in your child’s behavior, ask questions. Most of the time, just talking about a problem is enough to help them through a bump in the road. But you may find yourself in a situation where your child has lost control, and you need to act.

Signs of underage drinking:

  • Skipping school
  • Grades drop
  • Discipline problems
  • Comes home smelling like alcohol
  • Alcohol missing from your home
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Changes group of friends

Parents who have open and honest talks with their kids build trust that will last a lifetime. That family bond is a solid foundation your whole family can lean on during difficult times. The good news is, you can start today! Having small conversations with your kids is the best way to prevent underage drinking. It also opens the lines of communication for the future. Parents who talk to their kids about the causes of teen drinking can have a big impact on whether their child decides to drink.

Talk it Out NC has advice for parents and important information for teens to avoid the dangers of underage drinking. To let your kids know you’re truly in this together, Take the Pledge as a family to stop underage drinking.