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Commack Schools News Article

Teens: Alcohol and Other Drugs

Teen Drinking
These articles were written by Jessica Salvesen and Jennifer Flatley.



Slang terms: booze, sauce, brews, brewskis, hooch, hard stuff, juice

It is very important for all parents to know that alcohol abuse and dependence is not only an adult problem.  Alcohol abuse and dependency also affects a significant number of adolescents and young adults between the ages of 12 and 20, even though drinking under the age of 21 is illegal.

            The average age when children first try alcohol is 11 years for boys and 13 years for girls.  According to research by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, adolescents who begin drinking with some regularity before the age of 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin drinking at age 21. 

Fact: According to the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, the three leading causes of death for 15 to 24 year-olds are automobile crashes, homicides and suicides.  Alcohol is a leading factor is all three.  Dependence on alcohol and other drugs is also associated with psychiatric problems such as depression, anxiety, oppositional defiant disorder, or antisocial personality disorder. 

How can I tell if my child is drinking?

     Sometimes it is very difficult to identify if your son or daughter is drinking.  Many teens will drink when they are out with their friends, when they are at sleepovers, or even when they are alone.  It is important to look for specific signs and symptoms if you suspect that your child is drinking.  Some immediate signs include:

  • slower reaction time   
  • drowsiness
  • slurred speech
  • memory loss
  • impaired vision
  • dulled smell
  • pin-point pupils and red eyes
  • severe mood swings

One can also look for these signs over time:

  • change in personality
  • hidden bottles or other evidence of alcohol consumption
  • lack of coordination

Where can I get help? If you feel that your son or daughter is drinking or you feel that he/she is showing signs of drinking, you can get help, from several sources:

  • Call and speak with your child’s guidance counselor at school.
  • For information and referrals contact the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information at 1-800-729-6686.
  • Call AA Alcoholics Anonymous’ 24-hour hotline: (631) 669-1124; or go to their website: http://www.suffolkny-aa.org
  • Read How to Cope with a Teenage Drinker: Changing Adolescent Alcohol Abuse, by Gary Forrest, for suggestions and advice.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration
Center for Substance Abuse Prevention

Written by: Jessica Salveson, Social Worker, CMS


Teenagers may be involved with alcohol and legal or illegal drugs in various ways. Experimentation with alcohol and drugs during adolescence is common. Unfortunately, teenagers often don’t see the link between their actions today and the consequences tomorrow. They also have a tendency to feel indestructible and immune to the problems that others experience. Using alcohol and tobacco at a young age increases the risk of using other drugs later. Some teens will experiment and stop, or continue to use occasionally, without significant problems. Others will develop a dependency, moving on to more dangerous drugs and causing significant harm to themselves and possibly others.
     Adolescence is a time for trying new things. Teens use alcohol and other drugs for many reasons, including curiosity, because it feels good, to reduce stress, to feel grown up or to fit in. It is difficult to know which teens will experiment and stop and which will develop serious problems. Teenagers at risk for developing serious alcohol and drug problems include those:

  • with a family history of substance abuse
  • who are depressed
  • who have low self-esteem, and
  • who feel like they don’t fit in or are out of the mainstream

     Teenagers abuse a variety of drugs, both legal and illegal. Legally available drugs include alcohol, prescribed medications, inhalants (fumes from glues, aerosols, and solvents) and over-the-counter cough, cold, sleep, and diet medications. The most commonly used illegal drugs are marijuana (pot), stimulants (cocaine, crack, and speed), LSD, PCP, opiates, heroin, and designer drugs (Ecstasy). The use of illegal drugs is increasing, especially among young teens. The average age of first marijuana use is 14, and alcohol use can start before age 12. The use of marijuana and alcohol in high school has become common.
     Drug use is associated with a variety of negative consequences, including increased risk of serious drug use later in life, school failure, and poor judgment which may put teens at risk for accidents, violence, unplanned and unsafe sex, and suicide.
     Parents can help through early education about drugs, open communication, good role modeling, and early recognition if problems are developing.  

Warning signs of teenage alcohol and drug abuse may include:


Fatigue, repeated health complaints, red and glazed eyes, and a lasting cough.


personality change, sudden mood changes, irritability, irresponsible behavior, low self-esteem, poor judgment, depression, and a general lack of interest.


starting arguments, breaking rules, or withdrawing from the family.


decreased interest, negative attitude, drop in grades, many absences, truancy, and discipline problems.

Social problems

new friends who are less interested in standard home and school activities, problems with the law, and changes to less conventional styles in dress and music.


     Some of the warning signs listed above can also be signs of other problems. Parents may recognize signs of trouble but should not be expected to make the diagnosis. An effective way for parents to show care and concern is to openly discuss the use and possible abuse of alcohol and other drugs with their teenager.

     Consulting a physician to rule out physical causes of the warning signs is a good first step. This should often be followed or accompanied by a comprehensive evaluation by a child and adolescent psychiatrist. Your child’s school can also be a valuable resource, including guidance counselors, social workers and school psychologists. 


This information was reprinted from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) which represents over 6900 child and adolescent psychiatrists who are physicians with at least five years of additional training beyond medical school in general (adult) and child and adolescent psychiatry.

The Facts for Families© series is developed and distributed by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP).   For more information please visit: www.aacap.org

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