Peer Pressure Facts: 5 Reasons Teens Try Alcohol

A teenage boy feeling peer pressure.
A teenage boy being peer pressured.

If you have a teenager, there’s a good chance they may try alcohol sometime before they are of legal drinking age. Nearly 20 percent of 8th graders and more than half of 12th graders have admitted to consuming alcohol in the past month.

But why do they do it? There’s no uniform answer to this question, but we have some thoughts as to why your child might consider drinking underage.

1. All the ‘Cool Kids’ are Doing It

Middle and high school can be difficult times for teenagers to find their own niche. Peer pressure, in the form of social learning, may be the reason an adolescent decides to drink. If the “cool kids” at school are partying and drinking, people excluded from that circle might also engage in dangerous behaviors to fit in.

As the saying goes, would your student jump off a bridge if their friends did it first? The answer is: most likely. In high school, most students don’t want to be different. They want to fit in, so they might engage in risky behaviors they wouldn’t have otherwise. If their perception is that everyone else is drinking alcohol, then they are more likely to also drink alcohol.

2. Advertising and Social Media Makes It Look Fun to Drink

Have you ever watched an advertisement on television for an alcoholic beverage? Whether it’s a commercial for beer or an “alcopop,” advertisements for these beverages typically feature young people having a good time while drinking. People want to have fun, and these advertisements indicate that with alcohol, you too can have fun.

With today’s “influencer” culture, it is very easy for young people to see drinking on social media and want to emulate it. Teenagers spend more than seven hours each day on their phones, and with the rise of platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok, there’s no telling the amount of media that is consumed by most teenagers in a given day. Teens may see someone they “follow” drinking on their social media channel, and they may try to copy the behavior.

3. Ease of Acquisition and Accessibility

In North Carolina, it is illegal to sell alcohol to anyone under the age of 21. But that doesn’t mean it’s always as difficult as it should be for those who are underage to find alcohol. This is not a new development.

For generations, kids have been stealing alcohol from a parent’s liquor cabinet or paying an of-age friend or sibling to purchase alcohol for them. Starting the conversation about the dangers of underage drinking is key to prevent young people from starting down that path.

4. ‘Nothing Bad Will Happen’

Whether it’s a deliberate act of rebellion or a misunderstanding of cause and effect, the comparatively undeveloped brain of a teenager might see drinking as a permissible activity. Teens and young adults may not view alcohol as particularly hazardous to their health.

However, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, while teens may not consume alcohol as often as legal-aged adults, when they do drink, they drink to excess more often. In fact, 90 percent of all underage drinking can be categorized as binge drinking.

5. Stress

Due to a wide variety of external stressors in their environment, many teens report higher stress levels than adults. Adolescents might turn to drinking to “take the edge off,” or to temporarily forget about their problems. For teenagers, it might seem like an easier solution to drink the pain away.

This “solution” is very short-lived, as engaging in substance misuse will always bring more problems than it solves. Encouraging young people to reach out to trusted adults for help in dealing with mental health or stress-related issues can prevent a substance misuse problem from arising in the first place and build their confidence in authority figures as well.

How Can Parents Help Curb Pressures to Drink?

Talk It Out NC encourages parents to Start the Conversation with their children about underage drinking. By Taking the Pledge with their children, parents and guardians affirm their commitment to ending underage drinking.