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Alcohol use, misuse, or addiction?

Use refers to any scope of use of alcohol.

Misuse refers to the improper or unhealthy use of alcohol to produce pleasure, alleviate stress, and/or alter or avoid reality.

Addiction refers to substance use disorders at the severe end of the spectrum and is characterized by a person’s inability to control the impulse to use alcohol even when there are negative consequences. 

In Florida, 45% of high school students have tried alcohol. 20% report drinking regularly within the last 30 days.


As children mature, it is natural for them to assert their independence, seek new challenges, and try taking risks. Underage drinking is a risk that attracts many developing adolescents and teens. Many want to try alcohol, but often do not fully recognize its effects on their health and behavior.


Other reasons young people drink alcohol include:

  • Perceived peer pressure

  • Increased independence, or desire for it

  • Stress

In addition, many youth report having easy access to alcohol through their older friends, family members, or finding it at home.


Although the following signs may indicate a problem with alcohol or other drugs, some also reflect normal growing pains. Experts believe that a drinking problem is more likely if you notice several of these signs at the same time, if they occur suddenly, or if some of them are extreme in nature.

  • Mood changes: flare-ups of temper, irritability, and defensiveness

  • School problems: poor attendance, low grades, and/or recent disciplinary action

  • Rebellion against family rules

  • Friend changes: switching friends and a reluctance to let you get to know the new friends

  • A “nothing matters” attitude: sloppy appearance, a lack of involvement in former interests, and general low energy

  • Alcohol presence: finding it in your child’s room or backpack or smelling alcohol on his or her breath

  • Physical or mental problems: memory lapses, poor concentration, bloodshot eyes, lack of coordination, or slurred speech

Image by Jarritos Mexican Soda

What should I do if I discover my teenager has been drinking?

First, take a deep breath and don't yell or give a lecture. Instead, take some time to think and prepare what you're going to say. Once you're ready, sit down and have a calm conversation.

  • Find out why your teen has been drinking

    • Listen to them, and acknowledge the challenges and temptations they face

  • Review (or set) your expectations for zero-tolerance policy and the consequences for breaking it

  • Make sure your teen knows the facts about underage drinking

  • Impose an appropriate punishment such as: loss of privileges, grounding, random searches of personal space and possessions, or have them research and report risks of underage drinking to the you and/or the family

  • Don't publicly humiliate your teen

  • Give them ideas on how to say no that won't make them look or feel socially awkward

  • Make sure to watch for signs of a bigger problem


The Most Important Thing To Do...

Is to keep the lines of communication open with your teen, it is the best way to head off serious trouble in the future.


Establish trust, and make a promise within your family to stop underage drinking. When kids feel that you’re all in this together, they’ll be more likely to come to you when they have a problem.

If you're an adult thinking of hosting a party with minors, do you know about Florida's Social Host law?

The term “social host” refers to someone who hosts a party, which can include private individuals, employers, and other organizations. In Florida, section 768.125 of the state statutes explains that a host who sells or provides alcoholic beverages to a person who is under the age of 21 can be held liable for any injuries or damages that the underage person causes while he or she is intoxicated. Individuals who could potentially be liable include parents, older siblings or friends, relatives, neighbors, or even a stranger.

Unfortunately, too many teens still say alcohol is easy to get, and a U.S. government survey shows that most of those who drink alcohol do not pay for it. Instead, they get it from older friends or family members, at parties, or they take it from home without permission. Further, once kids start drinking, most engage in binge drinking, meaning that they have five or more drinks in a short time span with the goal of getting drunk.

The Don't Serve Teens website provides parents with things to do and say to reduce teen access to alcohol. It recommends that parents keep track of alcohol at home and speak up when underage drinking is discussed. Teen drinking is linked to injury and risky behavior. Thankfully, as a parent/guardian, you can reduce underage drinking by stopping easy access to alcohol.


​​NIH. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "Underage Drinking". January 2020. Accessed 12 Oct. 2020. ​

SAMHSA. "How to Tell if Your Child is Drinking Alcohol". 22 April. 2020.  Accessed 12 Oct. 2020.​

Talk it Out. "Punishment for Teenage Drinking: Do's and Don'ts" 17 Dec. 2019. Accessed 12 Oct. 2020.

NIDA. "The Science of Drug Use and Addiction: The Basics." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 25 Jun. 2020, Accessed 12 Oct. 2020.​

FTC. Federal Trade Commission. Consumer Information: "We Don't Serve Teens". Accessed Oct. 2020.

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