Alcoholism in Teenagers

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : October 04, 
| 4 Sources

Research studies on alcoholism in teenagers show that the earlier an adolescent begins to drink, the greater the chances for alcohol abuse or long-term dependence on the drug.

Data from a study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) indicates that teens who begin drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependency than those who start consuming at 21 years of age.

A survey of students in grades 8, 10 and 12, sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), amplifies the problem of underage drinking and why alcoholism in teenagers continues to be a pervasive problem among today’s youth.

  • Alcohol Consumption: 26% of 8th graders, 40% of 10th graders, and 51% of 12th graders reported drinking alcohol during the past month.
  • Binge Drinking: 16% of 8th graders, 25% of 10th graders, and 30% of 12th graders reported binge drinking defined as having five or more drinks on a single occasion for a man or four or more drinks for a woman) during the past two weeks.

In another survey of nearly 5,000 high school seniors and dropouts, 80% reported getting drunk, drinking and driving, or binge drinking.

Moreover, greater than half of respondents said their drinking made them feel ill, miss work or school, be involved in a car crash, or get arrested.

In a commentary on Youth Drinking: Risk Factors and Consequences, NIAA Director Enoch Gordis, M.D. emphasized that alcohol is the most widely used and abused drug among youth and causes serious and potentially life-threatening problems.

He further emphasizes that youth drinking requires significant attention… because of the extensive human and economic impact of alcohol use by teens.

High risk factors for alcoholism in teenagers include early onset of drinking and substance abuse, close family members with the disease, and deficits in visual and auditory processing, according to an article written by Shirley Y. Hill, Ph.D. and published in the August 2000 issue of Biological Psychiatry.

In addition to genetic factors and how early in life drinking begins, teenager alcoholism may be influenced by the behavior of parents, peers and other role models.

The NIAAA reports that a teen’s susceptibility to advertising and psychological needs also play roles in the manifestation of dependence.

Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism in Teenagers

If you have a teenager, be alert to signs and symptoms provided by Mayo Clinic that may indicate a problem with alcohol:

  • Less or no interest in activities and hobbies
  • Bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and memory lapses
  • Difficulties or changes in relationships with friends, often characterized by joining a new crowd
  • Declining grades and problems in school
  • Frequent mood changes and defensive behavior

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 

I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LPC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More

For more information on teenage alcoholism and treatment options, please contact us.


Ellickson, P.L., et al. Teenagers and alcohol misuse in the United States: By any definition, it's a big problem. Addiction 91(10):1489-1503, 1996.

More on alcoholism in teenagers on our main teenage alcoholism page 

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