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Teen Drinking: Myths vs. Reality

Teen Drinking: Myths vs. Reality

Whether it’s newer shows and movies like Euphoria, Ma, Riverdale, classics like 16 Candles, or an as-yet-unmade movie or show marketed to teens, it’s safe to say that alcohol use is consistently a factor in many teen comedies. Most feature an epic party that’s a virtual bacchanal, with teens sipping booze by a fancy pool, or doing keg stands next to prized family heirlooms.

Occasionally, there’s consequences for the teen drinking in comedies, but often there aren’t. It’s unlikely Hollywood will stop using these tropes in film, but it’s important to highlight the actual reality when talking about teen drinking.

Teen Drinking Harms Teens in Many Ways

Most films and television shows focus on the emotional consequences of drinking. Sometimes, the main character does something embarrassing at a party, or their best friend is grounded after getting caught coming home drunk. While these are both certainly accurate consequences of drinking underage, there are many more.

MADD reports that teen drinking kills 4,300 people each year1, more than illegal drugs combined. Teens typically drink not for enjoyment, but to get drunk. Young people’s brains are still maturing, and in many cases this means they lack the ability to properly assess the risks involved with binge drinking. This can result in alcohol poisoning, injury, and long-term problems if they continue to binge drink.

Some may think that this type of teenage drinking is a phase, an act of rebellion by teens as they approach adulthood. MADD reports that the earlier someone begins drinking, the results show:

  • They are more likely to have an alcohol dependency problem later in life.
  • More than 40 percent of people who start drinking before age 13 will go on to become an alcohol abuser, or alcohol dependent at some point in their lives.2

The numbers are clear - of the 14 million people who are alcohol dependent, 95 percent started drinking before they turned 21.3

How Parents Can Talk to Teens About Drinking

Responsibility.org is a foundation dedicated to responsible alcohol use. They have many resources for talking to kids about drinking, from very young children to tweens and teens. Their programs are free to download. You can download full courses like Talking to Tweens About Alcohol and Talking to Kids of All Ages and learn more about how to cover this topic with your family.

Some of their top tips for talking to tweens about alcohol include:

  • Don’t let a bad conversation get you down — an emotional or annoyed response from your child may come up, but they’re still listening!
  • Explain — studies show parents are the main influence on their kids' decision to drink or not. Explain to them the legitimate reasons why adults can drink and teenagers cannot.
  • Lead by example — let your kids hear you having discussions about responsible drinking. Discuss who will drive home from the party in front of them, for example.
  • Get excited, get ahead — talk about responsible drinking early, and often.

Intoxalock Can Help Prevent Teen Drunk Driving

Intoxalock devices are often court-ordered, but anyone can install an interlock device in their car. Voluntary devices are often used as a preventative tool. Parents of teenagers occasionally install an ignition interlock device as a proactive way to protect their teen driver. The devices prevent drivers from starting the car with alcohol in their system, and request random retests during each trip. This helps ensure continuous sobriety.

If you are interested in an ignition interlock device for your teen, Intoxalock can help. Voluntary devices are offered at a cheaper rate and can be removed at any time. Contact us at (833) 623-0200 or find a location near you and make an installation appointment.


  1. Sacks JJ, Gonzales KR, Bouchery EE, Tomedi LE, Brewer RD. 2010 National and State Costs of Excessive Alcohol Consumption. Am J Prev Med 2015; 49(5):e73–e79
  2. The ESPAD Report 2003. Alcohol and Other Drug Use Among Students in 35 European Countries. Published 2004. Read excerpts here and Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2004). Monitoring the Future national results on adolescent drug use: Overview of key findings, 2003 (NIH Publication No. 04-5506). Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse. Read the overview here and Kyrpi, Kypros, et al. “Minimum Purchasing Age for Alcohol and Traffic Crash Injuries Among 15- to 19-Year-Olds in New Zealand.” American Journal of Public Health, January 2006, Voi 96, No. 1
  3. Grant, Bridgett and Deborah Dawson. “Age at Onset of Alcohol Use and Its Association with DSM-IV Alcohol Abuse and Dependence.” Results from the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey. Journal of Substance Abuse 9 (1997): 103-110.6. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Alcohol Dependence or Abuse and Age at First Use.” Washington, DC: Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Applied Studies, October 22, 2004.

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