Youth alcoholism continues to have devastating effects with more than 5,000 deaths each year attributable to alcohol consumption by young people under the age of 21. These deaths related to teenage alcoholism result from intoxication-related car accidents, homicides, suicide, burns, falls, and drownings.
Strategies to curb underage drinking and youth alcoholism can be divided into two categories, environmental interventions and individual interventions. Ideally a combination of both types of interventions would be used to cut down on teen alcoholism.
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Measures to Reduce or Prevent Teenage Alcoholism
Environmental: These teenage alcoholism prevention initiatives are designed to reduce opportunities for youth to engage in underage drinking and include heightening awareness of the problem, increasing legal penalties for underage drinking and engaging community support to stop alcohol use by youth.
Environmental-focused interventions include:
- Increasing the cost of alcohol.
Studies have shown that teens are less likely to purchase alcohol when it’s expensive. Obviously, teens have limited funds for such things.
- Raising the minimum legal drinking age.
Studies show that the earlier one begins drinking, the greater the likelihood of alcoholism. Also, binge drinking is most prevalent among teens and those in their early twenties. Binge drinking is very dangerous, carrying with it the risk of alcohol poisoning, coma, and even death.
- Raising public awareness through public service campaigns and other initiatives.
There are already some public services campaigns, but more are needed. In addition, the “just say no” and similar initiatives are not really effective. Campaigns based on research would be better.
- Restaurant and bar server training and compliance checks. This should also include the training of all store clerks where alcohol is sold.
In one study, more than 90% of high school seniors said it was easy for them to obtain alcohol when they wanted it. When alcohol is so easy to get, teens will continue to use it.
- Deterring adults from purchasing alcohol for minors or providing alcohol to minors.
It is illegal to provide minors with alcohol, but laws need to be consistently enforced. Giving alcohol to teens not only encourages them to drink, it sends the message that underage drinking is OK.
- Enforcing penalties for the DWI (driving while intoxicated, use of false IDs, and violating zero-tolerance laws.
One law that has proven useful is suspending or revoking the driver’s license of anyone underage caught drinking. It’s powerful deterrent for teens.
Individual Measures to Reduce or Prevent Youth Alcoholism
These youth alcoholism prevention initiatives help educate and prepare youth to resist the urge to experiment with alcohol and drink in spite of influences and opportunities to which they are exposed.
Education that focuses on addressing attitudes and motivational factors, as well as providing youth with skills that enable them to “say no” and wait until they are of legal drinking age, has been proven most helpful.
Individual-focused teenage alcoholism interventions include:
- School-based prevention programs that include addressing peer pressure to drink and teaching teens how to resist those pressures in addition to providing information about the dangers of drinking.
These programs also offer interactive and developmentally appropriate information, include peer-led components, and provide teacher training.
- Family-oriented prevention initiatives where parents’ ability to influence their children’s behavior and attitudes play a critical role.
Setting and enforcing rules against underage drinking and monitoring the child’s behavior have proven to help reduce the propensity of underage drinking and onset of youth alcoholism.
For family-based teenage alcoholism interventions to be effective, parents need to be informed about the risks of teenage alcoholism and know how to talk to their child about alcohol use. Public campaigns can address these issues and so can school-based programs.
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