Posted on November 21, 2011


Teenagers drink alcohol for all of the same reasons as adults.

  • Booze oils the wheels of any social situation. It eliminates fear and inhibition. I still find it hard walking into a room full of people without a glass of wine for moral support even though I am 54. Thank God I don’t also have to contend with dozens of pairs of female eyes looking me up and down to see what I am wearing because in teenageland there is only one kind of cool. I don’t have to dance either or snog strangers just to find out what that feels like, or prove to others that I am snoggable.
  • Booze allows a terrified teenager with the hots for someone to summon up the courage to talk to them. Booze also softens the blow when they are rejected.
  • Booze is a brilliant de-stressor. Many a grown up reaches for a stiff drink, either on their way home or when they get home to rid themselves of all the ghastlier aspects of the working day, when they feel sad, depressed or too tired to cope. For a teenager who doesn’t even really know who they are yet/hates school or is bored stiff by it/feels acutely anxious about exams alcohol does exactly the same job.
  • Booze makes life more fun. It bonds people together socially for a laugh as we share the ritual of opening a bottle, or splashing the coke over the iced vodka.

But for a teenager there is one very important additional aspect – in a world where they see adults drinking all around them, buying or consuming alcohol makes them feel more grown up. My daughter turned 18 recently and it was the fact that she could carry ID allowing her to get into places where alcohol could be bought which seemed to symbolise adulthood, not the fact that she could now vote. All her friends who were yet to reach that threshold wrote how ‘jeal’ they were in her birthday cards.

We drank a very expensive bottle of white wine over dinner to celebrate. ‘If you are going to drink, try and make sure it is only the best,’ her father told her, savouring the crisp burgundy in his glass. We took the empty bottle home with us as a token of such a rite of passage. If my father had still been alive he would have made it into a lamp for her.

 The problems come when teenagers do not understand that they are not yet physically or mentally mature enough to cope with too much booze, too quickly. Alcohol can tip a teenager over the edge much more quickly than it does for an adult with greater body mass and maturity. Hospital A and E departments are full of teenagers with alcoholic poisoning, every weekend. They opt for the sugary drinks, for the disgusting, health destroying, packed with colouring, Bacardi Breezers because they still have the taste buds of children and don’t like the bitterness of alcohol. Or for vodka and coke. They can drink them as if they were soft drinks.

 Our job as parents is surely not to wag the finger of disapproval, for what could be more hypocritical. We need to teach them drinking etiquette. We need to explain the dangers, the need to take it slowly, to sip rather than chuck it back out of nerves, to wait for one drink to take effect before you have another, to never drink on an empty stomach or mix drinks. Maybe then they will listen.

Posted in: drink