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Article Summary

Parental Guide To Prevention Against Teen Alcohol Use

In the United States, as elsewhere on the globe, the use of alcohol by teens is a persistent public health concern. In fact, alcohol happens to be the most commonly used drug among the underage.

Accordingly, some approaches and strategies have been studied and developed with an aim to prevent teenage drinking. Whereas some are based on schools and involved curricula targeting the prevention of alcohol use among the young, others are focused on alternative options.

These include extracurricular strategies designed to offer activities outside of school in the form of life and social skills training. Others involve the families of teens in prevention programs.

Apart from the above, several policy strategies have been implemented - with some looking to increase the minimum legal age at which one should be allowed to drink alcohol, others to reduce the social and commercial access of teens to drink, as well as reducing its commercial availability to the underage.

Some states have tried new approached involving entire communities. Project Northland and the Midwestern Prevention Project, for instance, combine most of the strategies discussed above.

That said, given how prevalent the abuse of alcohol is among adult populations, it is sensible that the focus should shift to preventing teen alcohol use. In the modern world, children are subjected to various societal pressures - from portrayal in popular entertainment and culture, advertisements, as well as the need to fit in with social groups and peers.

As such, it is not too surprising that parents and other interested parties are having a hard time trying to combat the flood of such influences. Still, there are many other things that any parent can do to keep their teens safe from the many dangers alcohol poses to them.

Read on to learn more:

Alcohol Abuse Prevention For Teens

Parent talking to teenOpen and honest communication works wonders when it comes to the recognition, prevention, and treatment of budding alcohol use and abuse among adolescents. To bring this to light, parents should:

1. Provide the Right Message

Ignoring the issue does not solve alcohol abuse among teens. To a large extent, most adolescents look to their parents and other figures of authority in the lives while modeling their behavior.

Therefore, if you can set clear guidelines on what is and what isn't acceptable in your home early on, you will have taken the very first step towards preventing alcohol abuse later on in your child's life.

Additionally, you need to let your teens know that they can raise any questions about alcohol use and alcoholism without fearing retribution or that you'll suspect them.

Most young people have lots of misconceptions about alcohol and its use. To this end, when you arm yourself with knowledge about these issues, you will be in a better position to help your children prevent alcohol from ruining their lives.

You will also be able to provide them with honest answers to any question they might raise. You can even go a step further and provide clear answers about the various effects of using alcohol, while following up with the fact that you expect your children to abstain from it - at least until they are of legal drinking age.

Luckily, most teens wish to remain on good terms with their parents. Therefore, if you explain the guidelines, they should strive to try and not disappoint you by avoiding drinking altogether.

Even as you do this, however, keep the following prevalent attitudes among teens about alcohol and its use/abuse:

  • Nearly 40% of teens do not think it is a great risk to drink five or more alcoholic beverages a day on a daily basis (SAMHSA, 2013)
  • Teens perceive alcohol to be less harmful in comparison to such substances as cocaine and heroin (SAMHSA, 2013)
  • Many teens point to peer pressure as one of the potential factors that would motivate them to use alcohol (NIAA, 2016)

2. Keep Tabs on Your Child

If you have little to no insight about the activities and whereabouts of the teens in your family you run the risk of having to deal with aggravated issues surrounding alcohol abuse.

Raising children requires great fortitude and cunning on your part. With so many variables - the child's temperament, the peers they surrounding themselves with, and your parenting style - it is nearly impossible to control everything. In the same way, you might be countering your efforts when you try to overprotect your children.

Still, you need to improve your insight about what your kids are doing and where they are at most times.

That said, you should remember that even the most trustworthy of adolescents might find themselves in a problematic situation as they develop towards adulthood. In such cases, you should not think that being vigilant is a sign of your over protectiveness.

Rather, knowing the activity, company, and location of the members of your family throughout the day is one way to ensure that they are safe at all times. Today, smartphones have made this easy.

In the same way, you need to stray from the routine your child perceives if only to prevent them from feeling complacent that you are not watchful. However, if you won't be home for one reason or another, get neighbors and other family members to watch your teens - even if it is from a distance.

All these strategies will make a world of difference in preventing your child from taking alcohol before they are legally allowed to do so.

3. Set and Enforce Rules

Parent setting rules Earlier, we talked about letting your children know more about alcohol abuse. A good way to reinforce the message is by following up until the rules are embedded in their persons.

To this end, you should let the teens in your family know that you will constantly mete out punishments and consequences when they transgress against the rules you set. Further, you should establish guidelines about the type of consequences you have in store for anyone who disobeys. One end of these results could be the threat of legal action because alcohol use is unlawful for teens.

On a personal level, there are many health consequences of drinking that you can reiterate to your teens. In fact, apprehension about death (in the case of slips and falls, and car accidents) and severe health complications might prove useful in helping them avoid alcohol altogether.

Whatever happens, it is important that you don't turn a blind eye to any evidence of drinking by your teenagers. Remember, children who escape the consequences of their actions are bound to repeat them at one point or the other.

4. Remain Open

The environment you provide at home should be one where your teen feels that it is safe for them to come and ask you any questions they might have about alcohol and its use.

Although these questions could stem from their curiosity, they might also point to deeper issues your children are facing in terms of peer pressure, pressure from work and school, as well as how these pressures might eventually translate into alcohol use and drinking behavior.

To this end, you need to answer these questions - failure to which your child will have no tools with which to combat any pressure they face in their lives. The answers you provide will also help them react responsibly to any situations that might compel them to take alcohol.

Another facet of remaining open is by recounting your own experiences - with any problems you might have faced in the past. You can also tell stories about people you know who drank in high school and ended up suffering or dying from accidents that were related to alcohol. By so doing, you will reinforce the fact that no one is immune from the negative consequences of alcohol use and abuse.

Over and above everything else, you should keep in mind that communication is one of the cornerstones where the prevention of alcohol abuse among teens is concerned. Breaking the lines of communication between your children and yourself will only make matters worse for all parties concerned.

Alcohol Prevention Strategies And Approaches For Teens

According to the IOM (Institute of Medicine) report on underage drinking, the consequences and patterns of teen drinking are closely interlinked with the overall patterns and extent of alcohol use in society. As such, teens are affected by factors not unlike those that affect adults.

From such a standpoint, it is clear that one of the most effective ways you can prevent the adverse consequences of teenage drinking would be to reduce the consequences and patterns of adult drinking around them.

Environments that do not support responsible choices for the consumption of alcohol by individuals of all ages will seriously undermine the awareness and education programs provided for young people.

While most teens get messages from such role models as their school counselors, teachers, and parents about the dangers of underage drinking, there are even more contradictory messages on the topic getting conveyed by other sources in their immediate environment.

The media and ads always portray drinking as being cool, fun, glamorous, and sexy. Similarly, many young people living in communities that place a low priority on the enforcement of campus policies on alcohol use. Further, the minimum legal drinking age might even be too low.

Due to these and other factors, many teens report that they always have relatively easy access to alcoholic drinks. Whereas some can buy it on their own, others get it from adult providers.

Last but not least, many adults have conveyed a relatively permissive attitude towards alcohol use among teens. Some, for instance, think that kids will always be kids while others thank the heavens that their child only drinks.

Overall, communities have to stop sending mixed messages to teens where alcohol is concerned. Instead, they should take proactive steps to help the young members in their charge to develop healthier and safer behavioral patterns. One way to do this would be to create an environment that is consistent with all the warnings against underage drinking.

The best environmental prevention model against teen alcohol use should include some elements if lasting change is to be had. These elements include:

  • The strategic use of data to identify potential problems, develop strategies, and plan, execute, and monitor progress
  • Community organizing to identify and involve key stakeholders, as well as gaining public support for changes in community norms
  • Policy advocacy to bring change either voluntary (through social and business procedures and policies) as well as mandated (in the form of regulations and laws)
  • Media advocacy with the strategic use of various forms of communication to gain policymaking and public support for the change of norms and policies

By enforcing the elements listed above, the changes made for the prevention of teen alcohol use will prove to be more sustainable both in the short and long terms.

Changing The Environment To Prevent Teen Alcohol Abuse

In the following section, you will find several environmental strategies for the prevention and reduction of the problems related to the abuse of alcohol by teenagers. As a systems approach, environmental prevention will change the community norms and structures that facilitate and promote underage drinking.

However, using this approach does not mean that young people are absolved of their actions. In fact, the opposite is true. Teens should and must be held accountable for any deviant behavior on their part.

The only difference is that underage drinking is not a secluded problem. In general, young people do not establish regulations and laws, or set promotion and advertising policies, taxes, or alcohol prices - all this falls on the shoulders of businesses and adult voters.

Experience and research show that the successful prevention of teen alcohol use should incorporate one or all of the strategies listed below:

a) Changing Social Norms

Teen refusing alcoholMany young people draw their own conclusions about social norms related to alcohol from what they hear and see about drinking in their communities and families. These norms end up acting as strong influences in their own behaviors and attitudes to alcohol.

When a community is consistent in its prevention of underage access to drinks and goes out of its way to enforce and publicize laws related to alcohol while limiting the promotion of drinking among the young, it reinforces positive messages about how unacceptable teen alcohol use is.

Within any culture, social norms are the standards of behavior that tend to prevail over members from their childhood through to their adulthood. These norms are primarily shaped either unconsciously or consciously by peer influences, parental beliefs and attitudes, marketing practices, advertising, the mass media, cultural traditions, religious affiliation, school rules, and law enforcement policies.

These standards of behavior affect everyone in society. However, they have an even stronger influence on young people as they learn to test boundaries, strive to fit in, and gain independence.

As an environmental approach, social norms act as the ideal prevention strategy against teenage alcohol use. After all, they have both a scientific and a common sense appeal. Further, the underlying ideas in support of these strategies are quite straightforward.

That said, individual behavior tends to be influenced by perceptions of the expectations and acceptance of others, as well as their behavior. However, individual perceptions are usually inaccurate because most people often assume that others will be more accepting of negative behavior than is the case.

By correcting these misperceptions among teenagers, you can strengthen their feelings of resistance against negative behavior.

Use the following strategies to help your children stay away from alcohol until they are legally permitted to drink - or even long after their legal drinking age has passed:

  • Correct all misconceptions to promote healthy behavior while decreasing problem behavior
  • Pressurize radio and television broadcasters to stop publishing alcohol ads targeting the young and encourage them to carry counter-ads to portray the true effects of underage drinking accurately
  • Restrict the sale of alcohol at events attended by teens while limiting the sponsorship of alcohol companies at community events
  • Promote events focused on alcohol-free lifestyles
  • Work with and educate retailers around your area to eliminate all reduced-price promotions of alcohol, as well as happy hours

b) Improving Law Enforcement

As a community, you can enforce better policies to stop underage drinking. Studies show that most of the existing laws that regulate alcohol use among teens are never implemented.

When this happens, young people are empowered to drink. It also communicates the general indifference communities have towards underage drinking and alcohol abuse.

The effective enforcement of all law related to such wanton drinking is crucial. Communities need to enact and implement policies that control alcohol to reduce the access young people have to alcohol. Without such enforcement, your community will start viewing these control policies as useless, and the violation of such policies will seem more acceptable.

The police, for instance, need to play a more crucial role in reducing the access young people have to alcohol. Apart from the unadulterated punishment of violators, the police and other law enforcement agencies need to take proactive steps to minimize teen alcohol abuse:

  • Include prevention-oriented strategies to reduce the commercial access to alcohol among teens
  • Invest effort and time in the identification and punishment of adults who illegally sell or provide alcohol to teens
  • Take measures to come up with more effective strategies to enforce laws related to youth access to alcoholic drinks

The three steps listed above can be implemented more effectively through the following approaches and strategies:

  1. Enforcing laws against underage drinking
  2. Enforcing zero tolerance laws against teen alcohol use and driving
  3. Enforce penalties and laws for adults who sell/provide alcohol to teens
  4. Strengthen penalties for possessing and creating false IDs
  5. Conduct random and regular shoulder-tap and decoy operations
  6. Increase the number of DUI checkpoints among other enforcement tactics
  7. Enforce alcohol restriction in public locations frequented by teens
  8. Apply the registration of beer kegs
  9. Develop and implement plans for controlled party dispersal

c) Reducing Availability

One of the best ways to prevent alcohol use among teens would have you making it harder for them to get alcoholic drinks. Only by so doing can you be sure that teenagers will drink less.

As a community, you can make alcoholic beverages less available by holding all adults accountable when they are apprehended supplying alcohol to teens. You can also raise the price of liquor, wine, and beer, as well as by reducing the total number of locations where it is served or sold.

The following approaches and strategies will help lessen the availability of alcohol for teen use:

  • Raising alcohol taxes
  • Restricting the location and density of alcohol outlets
  • Limiting the sale of alcohol at community events
  • Prohibit the sale of alcohol to teens
  • Regulating mail/internet order sales and home delivery
  • Mandating responsible beverage service (abbreviated as RBS) programs
  • Carrying out compliance check programs on teen alcohol use
  • Implementing beer keg registration
  • Conducting regular random shoulder-tap and decoy operations
  • Establishing alcohol restrictions especially in public locations frequented by teens

d) Changing Policies

Where the prevention of alcohol use is concerned, one of the most documented principles revolves around making it harder for teens to get alcohol and they will end up drinking less.

To this end, policymakers at the national, state, and local level need to enact policies that reduce the availability of alcoholic drinks to teens. The National Minimum Drinking Age Act, for instance, was enacted in 1984. Today, this law serves to require portions of federal highway funds to be withheld from those states that fail to prevent people aged below 21 years from buying and publicly possessing alcohol.

Apart from this law, several states have adopted many policies to address the problem of underage drinking. A couple of these policies are applied to the youth while others affect establishments and individuals that might supply alcohol to the underage.

According to the IOM (Institute of Medicine), these underage drinking strategies demonstrate that there is a broad commitment by society to reduce teen alcohol use and abuse.

Further, the ION notes that the effectiveness of law to restrict access can be increased notably by closing down all gaps in coverage, strengthening enforcement, and promoting compliance.

In this section, alcohol use among teens can be prevented and stopped altogether by:

  • Raising alcohol taxes
  • Requiring novice drivers to get graduated licensing
  • Applying administrative sanctions instead of criminal penalties
  • Enforcing zero tolerance laws around teenage drinking and driving
  • Increasing the number of alcohol-free activities, settings, and events
  • Promoting social host liability rules and laws
  • Writing zoning ordinances for the management of retail alcohol outlets
  • Controlling hours of sale

Key Strategies To Preventing Underage Drinking

Apart from the 4-pronged approach listed above, there are many other strategies that the key stakeholders in the lives of young people can adopt to reduce, prevent, and stop alcohol use among teens.

Family life, in particular, is one of the strong influences on most teens. Although you might not control all the situations in which your children find themselves in when they are outside the reaches of your family (society, communities, schools, and peers), you can take a proactive role in guiding the family culture. This way, everyone will understand that underage drinking is not only wrong, it is also punishable.

The reason why it is so important to prevent teen alcohol use is that it works well at dealing with potential alcoholism before it transpires. In the following section, you will find protective factors to teach you how to make your family life more important, prevent underage drinking, and promote proper mental health and wellness.

Once you can create these conditions at home, your children will have a lower chance of engaging in risky behavior such as drinking before they hit the legal age. Read on to learn how:

  1. Model Your Behavior

    The first step would be to be a model that your children can emulate. By being a positive role model, the teens in your family will see that you are walking the talk. In fact, you shouldn't expect them to stay away from alcohol if you don't stop drinking.

  2. Resolve Family and Personal Issues

    Next up, if there is any family or personal issue about alcohol abuse, you should seek family psychotherapy and counseling. These problems include but are not limited to illness, divorce, violence, and addiction in the household.

    The earlier you get the help everyone needs, the easier it will be to ensure that your entire family unit (with the teens included) has the mental health to deal with the temptation to take alcohol before they are legally allowed to.

  3. Be in the Know

    In the same way, you need to know everything that's going on in your teen's life. By involving yourself, you will get to know their friends, what they like doing, and where they tend to go.

    You should also encourage them to be independent while also setting all the appropriate limits - such as check-in times and curfews. You can go a step further and keep them accountable so that they know the consequences they risk if they stretch beyond these limits.

  4. Teach

    Apart from the above, it is imperative that you teach your teens about the science of alcohol and drugs. This means that you should go over and beyond the statistics and jump right into the science behind alcohol, drinking, and addiction.

    Of course, this will require that you research the brain science to understand how alcohol affects young people - both mentally and physically. A good source of information is The Science of Addiction and NIDA for Teens.

  5. Understand the Law

    As a conscientious parent, you might also want to research all laws you can find around teenage drinking, its consequences, and the punishments it carries. After that, you will be informed well enough to sit down with your children and discuss the legal consequences they risk if they are ever caught drinking before they turn 21.

  6. Create Drinking Contracts

    A proper family drinking contract will help you make rules and expectations clear so that your teens understand what will happen if you apprehend them drinking alcohol. It will also bring all the issues out into the open.

    For instance, you can offer to avail yourself to drive them home in case they find themselves at a party where they got drunk. Remind them that this is the best option and that trying to drive themselves might lead to accidents/death.

  7. Understand Substance Abuse

    In most cases, drug and substance abuse is correlated to underage drinking. To this end, you must know how to spot the warning signs of teen drug and drinking problems. Similarly, you should understand all factors that might increase risk - such as social transitions, family history of substance abuse and addiction, and depression, among others.

    Then, create an unique plan that you will follow to help your children seek help if the need arises.

  8. Create Alternative Activities

    You can also help your teens find alternative activity options that they can spend their time at - if only to keep them away from alcohol for the time being. Go all out and discover all school and community activities that might interest your teen before encouraging them to participate.

    Statistics show that teens who are active in church and social groups, volunteering, and sports tend to be less likely to feel bored - which might cause them to seek alcohol for fun.

  9. Get Help

    You can also look outside the circle your family revolves around for mentoring help. Talk to your teenager and ask them to seek out and find positive role models that will provide solace and guidance when you are not around.

    These role models, however, need to be in a position to reinforce your family's values and beliefs. If possible, they should come through spiritual and religious groups or more informally through school activities and sports teams.

    You should also keep in touch with your child's mentor so that they have another glimpse into their life.

  10. Spend Time Together

    Last but not least, spare some time to spend with your teen. In fact, you should never test your children for alcohol use unless you've exhausted all other options. Instead, spend time with them until they learn to love and appreciate your undivided, devoted attention.

    Some of the activities you can engage in with them include taking walks, playing tennis, bike riding, going out for dinner, cooking together, or bowling - as well as anything else that piques their interests.


Overall, keep in mind that alcohol is one of the most abused of all drugs both among teens and adults. The earlier you stop your children from accessing or thinking that alcohol is interesting or good, the easier it will be to prevent a teen alcohol problem from cropping up.

If everything else fails, you should get treatment to help your child overcome their use of alcohol. Talk to the most efficient treatment support specialist you can find and enroll your teen until they kick the habit before it is too late.






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