Actions to Help Your Child Stop Drinking

March 14, 2009

(NOTE: Below are several tips to assist parents as they seek to help their child quit drinking. But first, if you have tried all these without success and think your child needs professional help, go directly to the bottom of this Web page for suggestions on finding assessment or treatment providers.)

Children who drink are often unaware of the harm they are doing to themselves, so parents must take action to keep them alcohol-free. Research shows that parents who know their child is drinking and don’t take action to stop it are more likely to have children who become binge drinkers (five or more drinks at a sitting).

Binge drinking greatly increases a teen’s risk of brain impairment, which can produce alcoholism, poor judgment, lower grades, anti-social behavior, and even mental illness. In one study, 60 percent of teens who binge drank during their teen years became alcoholics by age 30.1 In another survey, three times the number of eighth-grade girls who drank heavily said they attempted suicide compared to girls who did not drink.2

If you suspect your teen is drinking, take immediate action by: a) talking with your child; b) talking with your child’s friends and their parents; c) talking with those who may supply alcohol to your child; d) helping your child set up a plan to avoid the people and situations that contribute to alcohol use; e) scheduling daily and weekly parent-child meetings to assess how he/she is doing in avoiding alcohol; and f) increasing your monitoring to see that your teen stays in an alcohol-free social environment. These are necessary to enable your child to become alcohol-free. To help your child abandon alcohol use and increase his or her chances of recovery, approach your child using the three proven parental skills that prevent underage drinking, BONDING, BOUNDARIES and MONITORING.


Bonding means to create a feeling of being loved, connected to and valued by others. When teens drink, they often become difficult and feel less attachment to their families, which increases the need for more positive family and one-on-one child bonding experiences. The BONDING section of this website has good ideas to increase family bonding in general and thereby prevent underage drinking, but here are some specifics to enable you as you strive to help your child to stop drinking.

Choose a good time to talk.

As soon as you suspect your child may be drinking (when he/she is not tired, rushed or intoxicated), plan a time to sit down and talk with them. (NOTE: This talk will be the first of many as you educate your child on alcohol harms, establish boundaries and family rules, and continually monitor compliance with the rules and plans.)

Talk to your child in a way that promotes BONDING.

Stay calm and don’t become angry even if he/she is rude, defensive or argumentative. Staying calm will help your child be more cooperative and more likely to tell you the truth.

Plan what you will say in advance; envision your self staying calm but firm. In this initial conversation you’ll need to: 1) express your love and concern; 2) find out why and how much he/she drinks; 3) explain the harms of alcohol use; 4) set down clear rules of no-alcohol use and the consequences if he/she breaks the rules; 5) explain that he/she needs to help devise a plan to stay alcohol-free; 6) rein in your child until he/she has created a plan and agreed to live by it; and 7) explain that you will be monitoring his/her activities as he/she follows the plan and earns back your trust.

Begin by telling some things you like about your child.

Express your deep love for your child, at the beginning of your talk, and repeatedly during the conversation: “We want you to know how much we love you, and that we really care what happens to you.” “You mean more to us than anything else in the world, and we are unwilling to stand back and see you harm yourself and your future.” “It’s because we love you and care so deeply for you that we insist.” “You are important to us, and we want you to grow up to have a happy, successful life.”

Ask questions.

Find out about their drinking habits: when they had their first drink: why they drink; how long they have been drinking; who they drink with; how much they generally drink at a time; how they feel when not drinking; and where they got their alcohol. Some kids drink because they are curious, bored, want to have fun, or give in to peer pressure. If they drink to relieve stress, anxiety or depression, or have been drinking a long time, they WILL LIKELY NEED PROFESSIONAL ASSESSMENT and/or TREATMENT to quit. Call 211 for a free alcohol-use assessment or for treatment options.

Explain the harms.

Let your child know that you are very concerned about underage drinking because new research shows that a teen’s brain is still developing and alcohol can damage their developing brain. Underage drinking is also illegal and can get them in a lot of trouble. Read Responses to Frequently Asked Questions and the Alcohol Brain Damage Lesson in the Resource section to help you better understand the harms of underage drinking. Later, you may want to teach this lesson, or have your teen teach it to the family. We are very concerned about your drinking because your brain is still developing and alcohol can damage three areas of your developing brain:

  • It can damage your brain’s pleasure-reward system so normal things aren’t as enjoyable, and it can lead to early alcoholism.
  • It can damage your pre-frontal cortex which can cause poor judgment and lack of impulse control.
  • It can damage your hippocampus, which can negatively affect your learning and memory ability.
  • Drinking alcohol slows brain activity, which puts you at risk for other dangers including serious accidents, unprotected sex, illegal drug use, or doing stupid or dangerous things that can cause trouble.
  • It is illegal for a minor to drink, possess, purchase, or attempt to purchase any alcoholic drink. If you drink underage, or even have it with you, you could be picked up by the police, have to go to court and end up paying a big fine.

Explain that he/she needs to quit drinking immediately.

Emphasize that his/her health is at risk, so to protect his/her brain and future, the drinking must stop and that you are willing to help them. ASK: “We want to help you quit drinking. What can we do to help you?” Recognize that you will likely need to do things to help your child stop using alcohol. These include getting your child more involved in family activities (work or play); increasing expressions of love and praise to create more family bonding; seeking opportunities for your child to learn skills and get involved in school, sports or community activities; and helping your child find things to do that are more rewarding than drinking.

Setting Boundaries

Boundaries are the expectations, rules and consequences that define what parents expect their children to do or not do. Boundaries are also the personal rules a teen chooses to lives by. Unclear rules and lack of consequences leave a child vulnerable to alcohol use.

  1. Establish rules.
    Together, discuss and write down firm family rules to avoid further drinking, etc. For example: No drinking alcoholic beverages of any kind (including beer, wine, wine-coolers, alcopops, etc.), [or, until you are at least 21 years old.) Always let us know where you are, who you are with, and what you are doing at all times. If there is alcohol at a party, call us and we’ll come get you. Never get in a car with someone who has been drinking. Stay where you are, call us, we’ll pick you up, and we won’t get mad.
  2. Establish consequences. With input from your child, write down the consequences that will happen if he/she breaks the no-drinking rule. Research shows that if teens thought they would be punished for drinking rather than simply being talked to, they were less likely to drink.3 Also establish positive consequences if your child obeys the rules. Some children are motivated by fear of negative consequences (move away from pain) while others are motivated by reward (move toward pleasure). Some families use a three-column chart that lists the family rules, and both the negative and positive consequences.
  3. Ask your child to make a commitment that he/she will not drink.
    “We know it is important to have fun, but from now on your fun must absolutely be alcohol-free. We would like you to make a commitment that you will not drink any more alcohol of any kind at all (or, until at least age 21). How do you feel about that? Are you willing to make that commitment?” If he/she is unwilling to make the commitment, then he/she should be immediately evaluated by a professional for alcoholism (see note at end) and not be allowed to go out with friends until agreeing to an acceptable plan to avoid alcohol.
  4. Ask your child to create a written plan to stay alcohol-free.
    Ask your child to think about all the things that led to or facilitated his/her drinking and write them down in a list. Then ASK: “What things do you need to do to stay alcohol-free?” Ask your child to think up and write down a personal plan that addresses all the issues, people and circumstances on the list that caused him/her to drink. This plan should include establishing personal boundaries and strategies to stay alcohol-free. To help your child make the plan, ASK: “What people and circumstances do you need to avoid to stay alcohol-free?” “What boundaries do you need to set for yourself to avoid drinking?” “What fun things can you plan that don’t include alcohol?” “What things do we, as parents, need to do to help you give up your need for alcohol and stay in an alcohol-free social environment?” The personal plan should include ideas for parental monitoring, family bonding time, family problem-solving time, attending family dinners, and ideas for after-school activities (including doing homework and/or getting school tutors) that would help your child use his/her time in a profitable way to stay alcohol-free. If your child craves high adventure, make plans to fill those needs in an acceptable, productive way as well. Creating an acceptable Plan may take several parent-child discussion sessions to complete to your and your child’s satisfaction. It should be something that is achievable for your child, and should include a tracking chart that recognizes your child’s progress as he/she earns back your trust.
  5. Establish daily and weekly reporting sessions.
    Your child’s plan needs to include a brief daily, and longer weekly reporting to you (the parent) of how he/she is doing in following the plan. In addition, he or she should report immediately after returning home from an activity, and you should check for signs of alcohol use. Each reporting session needs to be short, positive and encouraging and include: 1) some things you like about your child; 2) his/her successes in following the plan; 3) the failures or things he/she had trouble with; 4) administering the planned consequences; and 5) your loving encouragement to continue on or do better. Failures should be greeted with kindness, compassion and concern, but still include the consequence. If your child told you the truth, you can let him/her work off part of the consequence with extra chores and good behavior. If you discovered your child didn’t tell you the whole truth, the full consequence for breaking a rule should hold firm.
  6. Increase your teaching time on the dangers of underage alcohol use.
    Either you, or your child, should prepare and present the Alcohol Brain Damage Lesson listed in the Resource section to your family. Also, you can check out from the public library or school district several good videos/DVDs on alcohol brain damage to view and discuss as a family. (These include: The Truth About Alcohol from,Brain Scans, Don’t Drain Your Brain, Addiction and the Human Brain, and Getting Stupid – How Drugs Damage Your Brain – from Human Relations Media (, 1-800-431-2050). Ask your school district or public library to purchase the videos or DVDs if they don’t have them.)
  7. Decrease unsupervised time spent with friends. Your child likely had access to obtain and use alcohol because of lack of supervision. Explain that he/she will not be allowed to go out with friends until he/she has completed an acceptable written personal plan that will enable him/her to stay alcohol-free; and he/she has agreed to live by the plan. Then establish earlier curfews as he/she earns back trust, and have him/her report daily on how well he/she followed his/her personal plan. Consider banning sleepovers as they are often used to hide alcohol use. If appropriate, increase supervised after-school activities and/or request your child put in more time studying or doing homework.
  8. Have your child practice effective ways to say no. Role-playing alcohol refusal skills prepares your child to deal with the real life challenges of staying alcohol-free. These skills can be as simple as acting assertive and confident and simply saying, “No thanks. I don’t drink.” or “Are you kidding? My parents always find out and they would ground me for a year.” The following five-step refusal skill is effective in responding to many different situations, and is especially useful if a child wants to help his/her friends stay out of trouble.
    1. Ask questions: “What are we going to do?” “Why would you want to do that?”
    2. Call it like it is: “That’s ____ (illegal, cheating, stealing, bullying, mean, etc.)”
    3. State the consequence and say no: “We could get in a lot of trouble. That sounds like a bad idea. I’m not into that.”
    4. Suggest something else*: “Let’s go_________ instead.”
    5. Sell your idea and leave the door open: “We’d have a lot of fun______” “If you change your mind, let me know…”

    Ask your child to think of situations when he/she might need to use refusal skills. (If your child can’t think of any, ask, “What about_______”) Role-play refusal skills with him/her until it becomes natural and easy. *Help your child prepare a list of fun alternate activities to suggest to a friend if an offer to drink alcohol or use drugs, etc. comes up.

  9. Talk to the parents of your kid’s friends. NOTE: Your child may not want you to talk to their friends or their friends’ parents. Don’t be intimidated. It is your right and obligation to ensure that your child is in an alcohol-free social environment at all times. While some parents may not understand the harms of underage drinking and have a different point of view, don’t hesitate to invite them over, point out the new research, and invite them to join you in a united parent-front.EX: “You have great kids, and he/she has been a good friend to my child. We’ve become aware that some of our kids who hang out together have been drinking. That concerns us because new research shows that teen alcohol use can damage a teen’s developing brain and is a lot more dangerous than we thought, causing brain impairment, an increased risk for alcoholism, and other social problems. We have decided that drinking is not worth the risks to our child’s future. We have established firm family rules to prevent underage drinking, one of which is they can’t hang out with kids who drink. We would like you to help us keep our kid alcohol-free in three ways:Talk to your kids about not drinking alcohol and together help us establish a new social norm that there will be no underage drinking among these friends.Help us see that the kids have fun, planned, no-alcohol activities with some adult supervision when they get together.Monitor the kids to be sure there is no alcohol use in our homes, and provide parental supervision when they are at your homes, or under your care.

    ASK: “Could we, as parents, all be willing to commit to do these three things to ensure that our kids stay alcohol-free?”

    To help educate others, you can print off a Fact Sheet for your kid’s friends and their parents, and give parents a Parent Brochure. (See the Resources section. Note: the brochure prints on legal size paper.) Or you can order a free brochure online from the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control by clicking on Contact Us and requesting brochures be mailed to you.

  10. Talk to your kid’s friends.
    Invite your kid’s friends over and explain your concern with underage drinking, that alcohol can harm their brain development and that you have a firm “no-alcohol (before age 21) rule.” Ask them for a commitment not to drink around your child, and not to provide alcohol to him/her.EX: “We want you to know we like you; and our son/daughter enjoys you as a friend. We want you to have fun in life. But some things are not okay with us. One of these is underage drinking. We understand that some of you have been drinking. We are very concerned about that because new research shows alcohol can harm a teen’s developing brain. We have a firm, “no-alcohol (before age 21) rule.” We feel so strongly about this that all alcohol use has to stop. In order for (our child) to hang out with you, we need a promise that you will not drink around him/her, and not offer him/her any alcohol. How do you feel about that? Are you willing to make that commitment? (If not, your child will have to find new nondrinking friends.)


Monitoring is knowing where your teens are, who they are with what they are doing, and ensuring that they remain in an alcohol-free social environment. Teens naturally resist monitoring and it is usually a parent’s weakest skill. But don’t be dissuaded. It is your right and obligation as a parent to know where your children are and what they are doing at all times.

Monitoring is important because education and rules are not enough to keep some teens from using alcohol, as there are constant pressures and opportunities to drink. In addition, the areas of the brain that encourage impulsivity and risk-taking develop very early in teens, while the areas that improve impulse control don’t fully develop until about age 25. Parents need to monitor their kids’ activities to see that they stay in an alcohol-free social environment. Here are eight things you can do to become more effective in monitoring:

  1. Always know where your kids are, who they are with and what they are doing.
  2. Keep your kids busy in supervised activities. Ensuring that your kids stay busy with worthwhile activities will help them avoid underage drinking. Boredom is a dangerous thing for kids, especially for those who crave high- adventure, so be sure that your children stay involved in sports, music, art, service projects or other activities that give them something to do.
  3. Get together with other parents to be sure that your kids have regular fun, planned activities and appropriate adult supervision when not at home.
  4. Call other parents to be sure they will supervise parties.Research shows that parents who call to make sure that other parents will be present at teen parties are less likely to have a child who drinks. Allow your child to attend parties only if you have certified that a parent will be there to supervise, and that the parent will wander through the party often enough to ensure proper adult supervision. If alcohol ever appears at a party, instruct your child to call you and you will pick them up.
  5. Ensure that alcohol is not available to your kids at home or from friends, siblings, relatives, etc. If you suspect someone is supplying alcohol to your teen, talk to them frankly and let them know that it is illegal to supply alcohol to minors, that it can cause brain damage and alcoholism in a teen, and that you will turn them into the police if it happens again. Then follow through.
  6. If you drink, make sure your alcohol, including beer, is locked up. While you may trust your child not to take your alcohol, you don’t know about every friend who might come in your home. Most kids who drink report obtaining alcohol from home or the home of their friends. Other parents need to know that their kids are safe when visiting your house. In addition, always set a good example of low-risk drinking,”which research supports as being two drinks per day for men (at least an hour apart) and one drink per day for women.4 In the case where there is a family history of alcohol dependency, the low-risk guideline is no alcohol. For more information, see
  7. Find ways to keep in touch with your child when you are not around, either through phone calls, text messages, or having a neighbor check in once in a while. Be aware that kids are more at risk during the hours of 3-6 p.m., when some children do not have adult supervision. Call them occasionally during that time or ask them to call you to report that they are doing the things they were asked to do and are alcohol-free.
  8. Drop in at their parties or events occasionally, unannounced.Let them know that it is not a matter of trust, it is simply a matter of caring – ”that you really love them and care what happens to them. Whether they admit it or not, at some level, kids appreciate knowing that their parents care enough to make and enforce no-alcohol rules.

Making no-alcohol rules without parental monitoring to back them up is ineffective in preventing teen alcohol use. Monitoring is important to ensure that your child stays in an alcohol-free social environment. It is not easy to get your child to stop drinking, but using these suggestions of BONDING, BOUNDARIES and MONITORING will greatly increase your chances of success. While it is work, it is worth the effort. Don’t give up hope, don’t be intimidated by your child’s threats, and do seek professional help by phoning 211 if you need it. Your child is worth it!

Does Your Child Need Assessment or Treatment?

Explain to your child the need for ASSESSMENT OR TREATMENT: “We think you may need to talk with a professional who handles these types of teen alcohol issues. Sometimes, if you are drinking a lot or drinking to relieve stress, anxiety or depression, you need help to stop using and find alternatives to alcohol to solve your problems. So, we are scheduling an appointment for an assessment. When is the best time for you?”

If your child refuses, don’t be bullied into not scheduling the assessment. Call the health care office where the assessment will take place and ask them to help you get your teen there for the appointment. (Call 211 from any telephone for information on free assessments and treatment options.)


  1. UCL Institute of Child Health, Press Release Sept 2007. Adult outcomes of binge drinking in adolescence: findings from a UK national birth cohort, Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health 2007
  2. Windle M, Miller-Tutzauer C, Domenico D. Alcohol use, suicidal behavior, and risky activities among adolescents. Journal of Research on Adolescence. 1992;2(4):317-330.
  3. Foley, KL, Altman D, Durant R, Wolfson, M (2004) Adults’ approval and adolescents’ alcohol use. Journal of Adolescent Health, 34-345, e17.
  4. US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,