Exploring The Reasons Behind Teenage Alcohol Abuse

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In the UK, the law regarding the minimum legal drinking age is clear. You must be aged 18 or over to purchase alcohol – and if you look under the age of 25, you’ll be required to show photographic identification (e.g passport or driving licence).

This means that it’s illegal to buy alcohol under the age of 18 or sell it to underage people. However, when it comes to drinking at home, the rules become less clear. On private premises, those under 18 can consume alcohol.

That being said, the NHS recommends that young people shouldn’t consume alcohol until they turn 15 – and it’s recommended that they are supervised. Likewise, the NHS suggests that children should have no more than one drink a week.

Despite these recommendations, young people continue to regularly abuse alcohol – but why? What are the main reasons behind alcohol abuse among teenagers? And what are the dangers of teenage drinking? That’s what we’re going to explore today.

Read on to learn more about the dangers of teenage alcohol abuse, as well as some of the reasons behind teenage binge drinking and alcohol abuse.

What is Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol abuse is a form of alcohol use disorder and a form of substance abuse. It is considered a dangerous drinking pattern that involves consuming alcohol in excessive amounts – to the point that it causes problems. This can include physical health problems, mental health problems, and more.

Binge drinking is a form of alcohol abuse. When you binge drink, you put yourself at risk of alcohol poisoning – as well as long-term damage to your physical health.

Because people have different tolerances to alcohol, it can be hard to define how much alcohol consumption counts as binge drinking.

Some people may be able to consume five or more drinks and not feel negative effects, but others may drink the same amount but be severely intoxicated.

The NHS guidelines suggest you should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week – and this should be spread across three or more days. Anything over this could be considered alcohol abuse.

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Teenage Alcohol Abuse: Is It A Problem?

Unfortunately, adolescent substance abuse is a problem in the UK – and teen alcohol abuse is no exception. Although the legal drinking age is 18 in the UK, young people continue to drink alcohol.

This includes children – every three days, a child under the age of 10 undergoes treatment at the hospital for alcohol-related problems. This involves having a diagnosis that mentions alcohol consumption and mental or behavioural disorders, liver disease, or the toxic effect of alcohol.

Thousands of teens drink alcohol underage, with 44% of children between the ages of 11-15 drinking alcohol in 2018. This is around two-fifths of all children. Underage drinkers may not realise the harm that alcohol can do. Over half of children aged 11-15 thought it was acceptable to consume alcohol at that age.

Consuming alcohol underage can cause problems in school – thousands of school children are both permanently or temporarily excluded from school per year for alcohol and drug-related incidents.

The Dangers of Underage Drinking

Alcohol can have many negative effects on a person’s life – and is linked to over 60 medical conditions. This includes a range of cancers (mouth, throat, breast, liver and stomach), as well as high blood pressure and liver problems (e.g cirrhosis).

Abusing alcohol can also impact mental health, and can cause depression as well as worsen existing symptoms of depression.

However, drinking alcohol from a young age can have slightly different effects. Teens who drink may be impacted differently. Read on to learn more about the dangers of underage drinking.

Alcohol Poisoning

One of the main risks of alcohol abuse in young people is alcohol poisoning. Young people may not be aware of the dangers of drinking too much alcohol or may think that the risks associated with alcohol abuse don’t apply to them.

When you’re young, you think you’re indestructible – so teenagers may be more likely to ignore warnings about alcohol abuse.

Likewise, teenagers are less likely to be aware of their tolerance to alcohol, which means they may drink more than they are used to or more than their bodies can handle.

Alcohol affects how your brain works through your central nervous system. Also known as an alcohol overdose, alcohol poisoning occurs when your blood alcohol levels are too high.

It can affect certain areas of your brain – areas that control life-supporting functions such as temperature, heart rate and breathing.

This can have a range of negative consequences and can put young people in dangerous and vulnerable situations. In England, around ten thousand underage drinkers (people under the age of 18) are admitted to hospitals as a result of alcohol consumption per year. Likewise, it can increase the risk of injury, low blood sugar, as well as seizures.

It’s important to know the signs of alcohol poisoning as it is considered a medical emergency. Some signs of an alcohol overdose include:

If you notice these signs, either in yourself or your teenager, then you should seek medical attention immediately. Alcohol poisoning can be fatal if left untreated.

Slower Brain Development

Alcohol can slow down the brain development of young people. When a young person drinks alcohol, they may be at risk of their brain not developing as much as it should.

It’s no secret that alcohol affects brain functioning – and the teenage years are a crucial time for brain development.

In fact, it’s not just underage drinking that can impact brain development – drinking under the age of 20 can cause changes in the brain that impact learning and concentration.

Likewise, abusing alcohol at a younger age may encourage impulsiveness and risk-taking behaviours. It can also increase the risk of developing anxiety, which can continue into adult life.

Alcohol is also linked to poor academic performance. This can impact the rest of a young person’s life – the teenage years are a crucial time when it comes to applying to universities, apprenticeships, and getting good grades.

Long-Term Health Problems

Alcohol has been linked to a range of health problems, including cancer. Alcohol consumption is a known carcinogen that can be a causal factor in several types of cancer.

For example, head and neck cancers, oesophagal cancers, liver cancers, breast cancers, and colorectal cancers. This means that if you have a drinking problem, you have an increased risk of developing cancer.

Excessive alcohol consumption can also increase the risk of developing liver problems including liver disease, digestive problems, high blood pressure, strokes, heart disease, and a weakened immune system.

It isn’t just your physical health that alcohol can impact. In the long term, alcohol can also affect your brain functioning, causing the neurons in your brain to shrink. This can put you at risk of alcohol-related dementia, which can progress and impact every aspect of your life.

Alcohol consumption can also affect your mental health, putting you at a higher risk of developing anxiety or depression – or worsening existing symptoms.

Alcohol Use Disorders

Regardless of whether you are 16 or 56, if you abuse alcohol regularly, the risk of developing an alcohol addiction rises. Alcohol abuse falls under the category of alcohol use disorder – but alcohol abuse can quickly turn into alcohol dependence.

Alcohol dependence is the more severe form of alcohol use disorder. Alcohol dependence refers to the physical addiction to alcohol.

If you are dependent on alcohol, you will experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking or when you lower the amount of alcohol your body is used to.

It can be difficult to overcome alcohol addiction without the right treatment. At Help4Addiction, we can source the best rehab clinics in your local area. Scroll down to learn more about how our team at Help4Addiction can help you overcome your alcohol addiction, or help your teenager.

Why Do Teenagers Abuse Alcohol?

As we’ve established, teen drinking can have many negative consequences. There’s no denying that teenagers can be difficult to guide, and they may not listen when you speak to them about alcohol abuse.

However, the key to preventing underage drinking – or simply reducing underage drinking – is understanding the reasons behind teenagers abusing alcohol.

Trying to solve the problem and prevent underage drinking without understanding the reason behind it will likely be an unsuccessful effort.

There is always a reason why teenagers abuse alcohol – and many teenagers have not developed effective coping skills that can prepare them for the challenges they face.

There are many risk factors regarding teenage alcohol abuse – whether it be social factors, personal factors, or environmental factors. Read on for some of the main reasons why teenagers binge drink or abuse alcohol.

Peer Pressure

A key reason that young people may abuse alcohol and partake in binge drinking is peer pressure. As a teenager, approval from peers is one of the most important things to many.

It can take a lot of courage and willpower for a teenager to stand up to their peers and say ‘no’. Likewise, it can put them at risk of being bullied. Peer pressure is rife in schools and teenage environments, and is a leading cause of alcohol abuse among young people.

Family Members Drink Alcohol in Excess

A young person’s environment can have a huge impact on their alcohol consumption. If a teenager grows up in a household where alcohol abuse is present, they may conclude that this is normal behaviour and that alcohol abuse is acceptable.

Young people are easily influenced by their caregivers and learn through observation. The Social Learning Theory suggests that behaviours are learned through conditioning and observation.

This means that if a young person is around adults that drink in excess, they may be more likely to drink too. For example, a child may have never kicked a football before – but after watching a parent or primary caregiver do so, they’ll likely be able to do so and have the desire to do so.

Even if you warn your teenagers of the consequences of binge drinking and abusing alcohol, they will be more inclined to abuse alcohol if they are around adults who get enjoyment from consuming alcohol in excess and wish to try it themselves.

Underage Drinking is Widely Accepted in Society

There is no denying that the UK has a culture of drinking – and this drinking culture spreads to teenagers too. With teens being shown enjoying alcohol on TV shows and movies, it’s no surprise that many young people think it’s acceptable to drink excessive amounts of alcohol.

Alcohol is often promoted as a way to unwind – to have fun and to socialise. Alcohol is firmly embedded in the culture in the UK – with many shows and soaps being based around bars, music referencing alcohol regularly, and more.


Although it’s easy to forget as an adult, teenage life can be extremely stressful. With hormones, physical changes, school, and the stress of the future, teenage life can be difficult at the best of times.

The transition from childhood to adulthood is a confusing time for almost everyone – let alone the individual problems that young people may face. For example, bullying, problems at home, school pressure, and many more.

For many young people, alcohol may feel like an escape – but many young people may not be aware of the dangers of alcohol abuse. Drinking doesn’t solve problems – and abusing alcohol may only make things worse in the long term.

Drinking Alcohol In Excess? Seek Help Today

Addiction can be difficult to overcome, and nobody should have to deal with addiction alone – including underage drinkers. The longer that you go without treatment, the further your life will be impacted by addiction.

If you are looking for treatment for your teenager, we can help. We’re in contact with a range of rehab centres around England and Wales – and can source the best place to receive treatment in your local area.

We’ll speak with you to discuss your requirements and preferences so we can understand the best course of action. This will help us to find the right treatment program/ treatment plan.

There is a range of rehab options to choose from – for example:

We can discuss your options to determine which is the best choice for you or your teenager. We’ll be on hand to answer any questions you may have about the treatment process. Typically, the process includes three stages – detoxification, addiction therapy, and secondary treatment.

Detoxification addresses physical dependence. During this stage, you’ll have no access to alcohol to free your body of the substance. However, detoxification alone doesn’t address the social, psychological and behavioural aspects of addiction.

This is something that is addressed during addiction therapy and secondary treatment. Addiction therapy can improve your confidence, give you a further understanding of your addiction, and teach you effective coping techniques.

Some forms of addiction therapy include CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), counselling, family therapy, group therapy, and more.

Secondary treatment, also known as aftercare, provides you with ongoing support throughout your recovery – the support doesn’t have to end once you leave rehab.

This can include online support, telephone support, or ongoing counselling. Some people also benefit from support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12-Step Program.

About Author

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.

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