Who Is Most at Risk for Becoming an Underage Drinker?

August 7, 2008

Research shows that certain factors put kids more at risk for underage drinking than other kids. These are called risk factors, and while having these risks does not automatically mean your child will become a problem drinker, it does mean you have to be more aware and make an extra effort to counter these risk factors. Parents need to find ways to provide more family and personal bonding experiences; set firm no-alcohol rules and consequences; see that their children have fun, supervised activities; visit school counselors for homework help and assessment for mental health problems; and provide more monitoring (including help from other adults) to keep your children alcohol free. Kids at highest risk for alcohol-related problems are those who:

  1. Have a family history of alcoholism, or have a parent who is a problem drinker.
    There is good evidence that children of alcoholics have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. Environment also plays a big part, since parents who are alcoholics provide a negative role model that children are likely to imitate. Boys with alcoholic fathers are four times more likely to abuse alcohol. Families who don’t use alcohol may not know they carry this predisposition to alcoholism, which could cause trouble for their child if he or she chooses to drink.
  2. Have parents with ambivalent or positive attitudes toward teen alcohol use. 
    Parents who don’t make and enforce clear, firm family rules of no alcohol use are more likely to have children who drink.
  3. Have close friends or siblings who use alcohol and/or other drugs.
    This is one of the greatest risk factors, because if their friends drink, kids are at a far greater risk to become drinkers themselves.
  4. Have a favorable attitude toward alcohol use.
    When children are in elementary school they often have very strong feelings against using alcohol or drugs. But when they enter middle school and see friends who use, their attitudes can change quickly. Those who expect to have a pleasurable experience in drinking alcohol are more likely to drink.
  5. Have been aggressive, hyperactive or hard to control from an early age.