Drinking and Partying

Winter 2013

(This is an adaptation of an article that originally appeared in Aletheia, a student run publication of Lynbrook High School in Cupertino, CA)

Just a cursory glance through the students’ submissions for this issue makes it very clear that there is a significant number of Lynbrook students who are drinking alcohol, and many are not just “experimenting”, but frequently drinking to excess. Many of us whose children attend high achieving schools don’t want to believe our teens are drinking, or that drug use is a problem at our kids’ schools. We like to think this is something that happens at other, less “successful”, high schools. We especially don’t want to believe that our son or daughter is one of “those” kids. However, according to the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey of high school students, during the past 30 days:

  • 42% drank some amount of alcohol.
  • 24% binge drank.
  • 10% drove after drinking alcohol.
  • 28% rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.

These are scary statistics, especially when we consider how people tend to under-report bad behavior on these types of surveys. Extrapolating from this data, we can estimate that almost half of all our high schoolers drank some alcohol in the last month, and a quarter of them drank several alcoholic beverages in one sitting. What’s even more frightening is how many teens either drive a car or are a passenger in a car whose driver has consumed alcohol. (If you’re interested in more statistics about teen drinking and use of other drugs, check out the links at the end of this article.)

Since so many of the students’ submissions focused primarily on alcohol, throughout most of this article I will also mainly discuss their substance use as “drinking”. This is not to minimize the use and abuse of other drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, prescription drugs, ecstasy, inhalants, etc. Just because these substances were not specifically mentioned by this sample of students, please do not be lulled into thinking it is not happening at the high school.

Something that I sometimes hear from the parents of the teens who have been caught drinking is a sense of relief that it is “only alcohol”. It is important to remember that alcohol is a drug, and it is a very powerful, addictive drug that is widely available. It is possible to misuse and abuse alcohol, and even to develop alcoholism as a teenager. This is doubly unfortunate since the use of alcohol is particularly destructive to young brains which, since they are still developing, are more vulnerable to many of its negative effects.


As is suggested by some of the students’ stories, there’s a number of different reasons why teenagers drink or use other drugs. Some of the most common are …

To fit in. Since being a part of the peer group is so important for teens (this is a normal developmental stage they go through), many adolescents will drink when they’re in a social situation and their friends are drinking. They don’t want to appear like they’re scared, a loser, or somehow different.

To forget about stress and relax. Just as many adults turn to alcohol to unwind after a stressful day, teens have learned that they can – at least temporarily – forget about how stressed they are after a couple of drinks.

To act like a different person. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant which lowers our inhibitions, and this can help us loosen up and do things we normally would not do. We feel more confident, able to talk more easily, and more adventurous.

Because it’s socially acceptable fun. In our society, the use of alcohol at parties, sports events, and restaurants is considered normal, and even expected. We are all bombarded with advertising that shows beautiful exciting people drinking beer and having a great time. The companies that spend that much money selling their product know what people want to see. None of us are totally immune to the messages within these commercials.

They live with it. Alcoholism and other drug addictions are rampant in our society. According to Alcoholism Statistics.com ( http://alcoholism-statistics.com/families.php) “an estimated 6.6 million children under 18 live in households with at least one alcoholic parent.” We know there is a genetic link that can make us predisposed or more vulnerable to the risks of substance abuse.

To self-medicate. While we may not like to think about it, many adolescents are struggling with depression, anxiety, and other psychological problems. Unfortunately, there are far too many teens who have already experienced some form of trauma and/or have been the victims of some form of abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, neglect). Alcohol and other drugs help them forget their pain for awhile.

Consequences of Underage Drinking

According the CDC, youth who drink alcohol are more likely to experience:

  • School problems, such as higher absences and poor or failing grades.
  • Social problems, such as fighting and lack of participation in youth activities.
  • Legal problems, such as arrest for driving or physically hurting someone while drunk.
  • Physical problems, such as hangovers or illnesses.
  • Unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity.
  • Disruption of normal growth and sexual development.
  • Physical and sexual assault.
  • Higher risk for suicide and homicide.
  • Alcohol-related car crashes and other unintentional injuries, such as burns, falls, and drowning.
  • Memory problems.
  • Abuse of other drugs.
  • Changes in brain development that may have life-long effects.
  • Death from alcohol poisoning.

In general, the risk of youth experiencing these problems is greater for those who binge drink than for those who do not binge drink.


Some Warning Signs That Your Teen may be Drinking or Using Other Drugs

  • A drop in grades.
  • Withdrawing from family activities.
  • Breaking family rules about curfews, where they go, who they hang out with.
  • Skipping classes.
  • Becoming more defiant, resistant to authority, belligerent.
  • Moodier than is normal for them.
  • Dramatic shifts in mood and/or behaviors.
  • Strange smells. Using breath mints, gum, or perfumes to mask odors.
  • Bloodshot eyes.
  • Lying about their behaviors, who they’re with, where they go.

What Can You Do?

As a parent….

The best thing you can do is stay in contact with your teen. Talk with them everyday, but even more important – listen to them. Give them time and space to tell you what’s important to them.

Pay attention to them. Know what’s going on in their life, who they’re hanging out with, what’s going on in their classes. Stay aware of how much stress they’re experiencing and how they’re handling it.

Set a good example. If you drink or use other drugs, think seriously about the overt and covert messages you are sending. If you are overusing or abusing substances, get yourself help. You cannot help your child if you can’t take care of yourself.

Talk with your kids about drinking and its effects. Openly discuss your values and beliefs about alcohol and other drugs. Share your fears about them getting hurt in a car accident or engaging in risky behavior if they drink.

Try to get them to make a commitment to you that if they or their friends do drink, they won’t get behind the wheel of a car. Make yourself open to picking them up at any time if they find themselves in that situation. Give them a card with the phone number of a taxi service and promise to pay the charges if they need to use it.

If you know or suspect your teen is using drugs and/or drinking alcohol, do not despair, you’re not alone. Seek professional assistance, get you and your child into therapy, take them to an AA meeting, find what other resources are available at the school. Get yourself to an Al-Anon meeting where you can talk with other parents who are struggling with the same issues.

As a teen….

If you’re worried about friends who use alcohol or other drugs, tell them you’re worried about them. Never let a friend who’s been drinking or taking other drugs drive. If they absolutely insist on driving, do not get in the car with them. If you’re really worried, call the police. It’s better for them to be angry at you for “snitching” than for them to end up seriously injured or dead from a drunk driving accident.

Hang out with friends who don’t drink or take other drugs. There’s plenty of teens who are not using.

While I in no way condone underage drinking or other drug use, it is clear that many adolescents are doing it. So, in the interest of risk management: if you are drinking, think about what you are doing and make good decisions. If you are going to use substances that are illegal, effect your brain, and alter your mood, behavior, and judgment, then exercise caution. Limit your consumption. Drink a big glass of water before every alcoholic beverage. Eat a good meal first. Never try to drive anywhere. Only use alcohol or other drugs with people you know well and can trust. Remember you are much more vulnerable when you’re under the influence of these substances. Tell someone you trust where you’re going to be and who you’ll be with.

Know that it is possible to become an alcoholic even if you are an adolescent.

Seek help if you think you might have a problem. Talk with an adult you trust. If you don’t feel you know anyone that well – go to the school counselors, or call the teen hotline at 1-800-527-5344.

Some Interesting Links


Suggested Readings

How to Talk so Teens will Listen and Listen so Teens will Talk by A. Faber & E. Mazlish
Your Defiant Teen: 10 Steps to Resolve Conflict and Rebuild Your Relationship by R. Barkely
Positive Discipline for Teenagers by J. Nelson
From Binge to Blackout: A Mother and Son Struggle With Teen Drinking by C. Volkmann & T.Volkmann