Engaging young people in advocacy, education & prevention
Creating social change around alcohol, drugs, and more

Youth Drinking Culture – What Can We Do?

May 3, 2017 12:13 pm Published by Comments Off on Youth Drinking Culture – What Can We Do?

If you’ve been to our Reality Parties for Parents, you’re no stranger to the fact that teen drinking culture is a tad outta control – And hopefully the health panel and local PD offered some handy solutions and tips for communicating with your community members and teenagers.

But we’re always hungry to keep our information arsenal packed so here are some more stats and solutions from around the web (yay!…not “yay” but you know what we’re getting at).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among young people in the United States. The CDC also reports that excessive drinking is responsible for more than 4,300 deaths among underage individuals each year.

Why do teens binge drink?

Teens often binge drink because they are wired for novelty-seeking—to gain new experiences that will ultimately lead to their independence. This can sometimes include risk-taking behaviors such as using and abusing alcohol and other drugs. Teens are also less sensitive to some of the impairing effects of alcohol (e.g., sleepiness, loss of motor control), the same effects that serve for adults as internal cues as to when they’ve had enough to drink. In other words, because teens have yet to develop the feedback loop mechanism that tells them that they are impaired, they end up drinking more—often in binge quantities.

Wouldn’t it be better if I taught my kids to drink responsibly at home?

Neuroscience has shown us that in any biological system, alcohol impairs learning and memory. It’s critical to remember that unlike some effects of alcohol that impair teens less than adults, learning and memory are considerably more compromised by alcohol in teens than in adults. Therefore, experiences had while drinking likely do not permit effective learning, despite the myth that keeping teens safe while letting them experience drinking will protect them (e.g., drinking in the basement, under parental monitoring, keys taken away, etc.).


Talking to Your Teen About Difficult Issues

Beyond the standard curation of a healthy, loving relationship with your child, these topics can be difficult – though necessary – to communicate about. We need to be receptive listeners. This does not make us enablers. This simply lets your teen know they can come to you and that is vital.

First reactions

  • Try to stay calm. Be honest if you’re shocked by the topic, but reassure your child that you do want to discuss the issue. This can help your child feel he can talk to you about anything.
  • Make sure the first thing you say to your child is something that lets her know you’re happy that she wants to talk to you. For example, ‘I’m so happy that you trust me to help you with this’.
  • Listen to your child. This means giving your child a chance to talk through what’s going on, without you trying to fix the situation. Often, teenagers aren’t expecting you to fix things – they just want you to listen.
  • Avoid being critical or judgmental, or getting emotional. If you need to let off steam, choose another adult to talk to when your child isn’t around.
  • Thank your child for coming to you.

Next steps

  • If you need a bit of time to cool down or gather your thoughts before you talk, set a time to talk later. Make sure it’s soon – don’t wait until the next day. The longer you wait, the harder it will be. Your child might go ahead without your input in the meantime.
  • If your child has some specific issues he wants your help with and you’re not sure how to advise him, say so. Offer to work with your child to find out what he needs to know – for example, about contraception, sexuality, alcohol and so on.
  • If your child wants your help with a tricky situation, read our article on problem-solving for steps to finding a workable solution.
  • If your child wants your opinion, let your child know how you see the situation rather than telling her what to do. For example, ‘I would prefer it if you don’t have sex until you’re older. But if you’re going to, let’s talk about making sure it’s safe’.


Longterm Solutions:

An environmental prevention model includes the following elements to bring about long lasting change:

  • Strategic use of data can help identify the problem, develop a strategy, and plan and monitor progress.
  • Community organizing ensures that community stakeholders are identified and involved, and helps to gain public support and change community norms.
  • Policy advocacy includes making changes in policies, either mandated (as in laws or regulations) or voluntary (via business or social policies or procedures).
  • Media advocacy where strategic use of the media helps to gain public and policymaker support for policy or norms change.
  • Enforcement of each of these elements ensures that the changes made are sustained over time.



Photo: Flickr/Mcclave