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Underage Drinking Is on The Decline? Here’s Why Parents Aren’t Convinced (And Shouldn’t Be)


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Good news and bad news in the ever-challenging world of raising teenagers: A recent 2017 survey shows binge drinking among 12th graders has decreased 50 percent since 1998.

The annual report conducted by the Institute of Social Research at the University of Michigan has chronicled teen drug and alcohol use since 1975 (so, yes, Mom and Dad, you’re probably part of the study, too). Binge drinking among teens was at its peak in 1998, with 35 percent of teens owning up to overindulging in spirits. Now, that rate is sliced in half, with only 16.6 percent of teens partaking in underage drinking.

So, can you breathe easier about chatting with your teens about underage drinking? The experts at Caron Treatment Centers say no.

“Despite all this success, we can’t downplay the fact that teenage drinking is still a major concern,” says Jessica Kase, student assistance program coordinator at Caron Treatment Centers. “At Caron, not only do we treat teens and young adults every day with alcohol as one of their primary drugs of choice, but we also know that most of our patients began their substance use by drinking alcohol at an early age.”

Studies from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism report that people who start drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to become alcoholics later in life.

While the educational efforts in school are great, the conversation doesn’t die there. It’s up to parents to keep the dialogue moving in the right direction. In case you need a few cliff notes on how to broach the topic, Caron Treatment Centers is sharing a few things they’ve picked up in their 30-plus years of prevention education.

  • Scare tactics don’t work. Sure, you have a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking, but scaring them isn’t the same as educating Use current events to start the conversation. Answer questions and avoid talking about the topic in an emotionally-charged moment. After all, you want them to come to you with questions.
  • Don’t skip other substances. Education and prevention start way before kids hit their teens – and include more than just alcohol. That’s why it’s so important to teach kids that medications are only used for a certain amount of time for a certain reason. This helps drive home the message that there is a level of respect for substances and how to use them properly.
  • Lead by example. It goes without saying that you’re the biggest influence in your child’s life. Watch the heavy pour of wine (many of us underestimate the actual serving size) and make sure the attitude you have toward alcohol is one you would want your kids to have.
  • Know the law. Help your child understand that 1) the legal drinking age is 21 and 2) there is a valid reason why. Explain that even though they’re adults, their brains are still developing. Also, just because it’s legal, doesn’t make it risk-free. Help them understand how they can curb the risks and support them to seek help if they are struggling with the disease of addiction.

Prevention works, but it’s up to parents to keep the momentum going. If you need help identifying addiction in your family, reach out to Caron to learn more about their Residential Assessment Program, which provides a comprehensive addiction assessment to accurately diagnose substance use disorder in your teen.

For more information and to learn more about drug and alcohol prevention, visit caron.org.