When do adolescents start drinking alcohol?

Teens who know their parents will not tolerate illegal drug use tend to resist peer pressure better than those whose parents avoid the issue.

The age when kids begin drinking alcohol has decreased over the last few decades. Many kids are already experimenting with alcohol in the fifth grade, many more than were just 10 years ago when teens were more likely to start drinking in eighth or ninth grade. According to the Metrowest Adolescent Health Survey conducted in 2006, 22% of 7th and 8th grade youth in the Metrowest region have used alcohol at some point in their lifetime. The majority of high school students in the region (67%) reported having used alcohol, with 42% of students reporting use within the last 30 days.

What drugs are adolescents using?

Alcohol is by far the drug of choice among adolescents. It is the most used and abused mood-altering substance among pre-teens and teenaged children. Some studies suggest that there could be as many as four million alcoholics under the age of 18, three years younger than the legal drinking age.

Kids who start drinking at a young age are more likely to experiment later with illegal drugs. The Metrowest Adolescent Health Survey results showed that 33% of high school students in the Metrowest region reported having used marijuana in their lifetime, and illegal use of prescriptions drugs was reported by 11% of students.

There are many designer drugs available today that did not exist 20 or 30 years ago. Marijuana potency has increased exponentially in the last 20 years. The latest fads in teen drug use are in abusing prescription over the counter drugs, a new synthetic drug called bath salts and most recently an ecstacy like MDMA drug called molly.

What effects do alcohol and other drug use have on adolescents?

Among adolescents who drink alcohol, 38% to 62% report having had problems related to their drinking, such as interference with work, emotional and psychological health problems, the development of tolerance, and the inability to reduce the frequency and quantity of use. Also, statistics clearly show that the younger a child is when he or she begins drinking, the more likely they are to develop problems with alcohol as adults. According to a report in the Journal of Substance Abuse, more than 40% of individuals who start drinking before the age of 13 will develop alcohol abuse problems later in life. What can parents do to prevent their kids from drinking alcohol and trying other drugs?

The strongest declines in drug use occurred during years when more parents and guardians were talking to their kids about the risks of drug use, and the kids were exposed to anti-drug messages in the media. Some statistics actually show an increase of drug use during years when parental involvement was down, even if anti-drug media exposure was up.

Kids who have strong communication with their parents, whose parents set clear rules and expectations, and whose parents discipline them when they break the rules are less likely to use alcohol.
Some major factors that influence a child’s decision to begin drinking are:

  • The number of peers within their immediate environment who have started to drink;
  • The number of adults they have regular contact with who have an alcohol problem; and
  • The amount of the time the child is alone in the home (limited supervision).

To help ensure that your child will stay away from alcohol and other drugs, remember the three C’s: Create, Connect, and Communicate.

  • CREATE a safe, supportive environment for teaching about the dangers of drug and alcohol use.
  • CONNECT with kids to find out what they know, how they feel, and what pressures they face.
  • COMMUNICATE clearly what you expect and what the consequences of use will be. The word “expectations” may have negative connotations, but by letting your child know what behaviors you will and will not accept, you help set the tone for their adolescence.

You can also help your teens to avoid risky behaviors like drug and alcohol use by making sure they have as many of the 40 developmental assests necessary to become, caring, responsible, and healthy adults.

What are the risks of hosting teen parties?

Parents who host teen parties should be aware of their liability should teens sneak in alcohol. Saying that you did not allow the alcohol is not enough to protect you, especially if you let these teens drive home and they cause an accident. To read about parents’ liability when hosting teen parties, click here.


For a list of local resources including adolescent medical services, mental health counseling, substance abuse, violence, grief, suicide, and after-school programs for teens, click here.