Teen Drinking

teendrinkingQuestion: My 13-year-old son has come home from friend’s houses with alcohol on his breath a few too many times. My husband says that a drink here and there is nothing to worry about. My husband is not an alcoholic; he hardly ever gets drunk although he has a glass or two of wine to help him fall asleep every evening. We’ve talked to our son about drugs and alcohol, and we live in a good school district, but his friends seem to have lots of access to adult beverages. I’m so worried about my son, I haven’t been sleeping well. Please advise!


Anne – Philadelphia, PA

Answer: Dear Anne,

In North America we have age of majority. In Canada, most provinces are 19, some are 18 and in the U.S it is 21. Drinking under age is against the law. Regardless of what your personal views are on minor’s drinking. If a 13-year-old were to be caught by police, it is a chargeable offense. The parents of your son’s friends are liable in these situations too. Because your son is so young, the parents’ of these friends would probably be charged in lieu of your son. Either way, who wants to get involved in that?

When you say he comes home with alcohol on his breath – is he drunk? And if it is happening a few too many times, you probably need to consider whether or not your son has an alcohol problem. If he does, he needs help! Statistics show that there is an increased risk for alcoholism the younger a person starts drinking (varies by culture).

The other issues I wonder about is whether he is drinking in the presence of these friends’ parents? Or are the parents not home? I would suggest asking your son what the situation is over at his friends’ houses. Have you tried calling these parents and having a discussion with them? – perhaps they are not aware that their son and his friends are drinking and could put measures in their house that prevents it from happening. Perhaps they do know and don’t care, which is ultimately putting your son at risk! Then you need to decide if you want your child going there anymore.

Even though you say your husband doesn’t get drunk – using any substance to mask or deal with something like pain, or anxiety or not sleeping can be problematic. The issue is that usually the body builds up a tolerance – so when two glasses of wine don’t help him fall asleep anymore it becomes three, then four etc. Before you know it, you have created a problem. Just be careful with that one.

If your son is aware that your husband only drinks to “fall asleep” you are communicating the need for substances outside of one’s self to help one cope. Maybe your son is drinking because he is dealing with some issue like anxiety, or social incompetence, or peer pressure where he thinks he will only be liked if he goes along with his friends and drinks.

If Dad is saying it’s no big deal to have a drink “now and then” — your son has just been given permission to drink — even though you don’t think it’s right, a child will usually go with the parent who is going to let him do something! You and your husband have to come to some kind of agreement on this issue and stay on same page when dealing with your son.

Talk to your son about how he is feeling. Refrain from lecturing about drugs and alcohol – you’ve tried that and obviously it had no benefit. Forget about threatening to send him to a Pennsylvania alcohol withdrawal center or any similar facility anywhere else. Let your son know that you are there for him, no matter what. You may have to start imposing restrictions on his time away from home until you can get this sorted out and build back trust.

Out of the Mouths of Babes-Parenting from a Child's PerspectiveAnswer by Dyan Eybergen, author of Out of the Mouths of Babes: Parenting from a Child’s Perspective. Dyan, a pediatric psychiatric nurse, has more than ten years experience working as a therapist and parent educator.

Dyan and her family were guests on the cable television show “For Kids Sake”, along with parenting expert Barbara Coloroso. Eybergen resides in St. Albert, Alberta, with her husband and three sons.


  1. Anne,

    You have to get your husband over to AA… somehow.

    And bring your son to a therapist to make sure he does not develop an addiction- the genes are often inherited.

    I lived with my ex for 23 years denying that he was an alcoholic, and wasted two decades of my life.



  2. Drinking at age 13 is not acceptable under any circumstances. Do whatever you have to and find out how your son is getting access to alcohol. Be clear with him about your expectations and your rules and don’t waver. Set consequences for unacceptable behavior and following through. Find ways to keep him busy and get him involved in activities with different groups of friends. Bottom line, get a handle on it now before the problem escalates.

  3. I agree. Drinking to “fall asleep” is a dependence nonetheless. Dependence, for any reason, is still dependence. Some are dependent on alcohol to cope with life, some to fit in, some to fall asleep. Sounds “like father like son.”

  4. C. Larry Fancher says:

    No one here appears to be an alcoholic!, but drinking for “sleep” is likely to become a problem. The bigger issue here is a father who’s attitude is so lax about his 13 year old drinking. These parents need to get together and quickly adopt this responsible mother’s attitude about this kid drinking. Visit the neighbor who is committing this crime and lay down the law to both the “friends” parents and this 13 year old NOW before it’s too late! Trying to be a friend to your own kid is
    such a rookie mistake.

  5. Anne,
    I too have been in the situation with a husband who rationalized his use of alcohol (and other things). No good came of it, and my son and I now live on our own. His daddy has visitation though, and my baby, my 7-year old son, told me when he grows up he’s gonna drink and smoke “just like daddy”. You can imagine my heartbreak, and my resolve, and where my empathy for your situation comes from.

    I felt compelled to reply to this, mostly to say that I strongly second the advice of Dr. Eybergen. Find the answers you need, exercise your parental authority, and fulfill your responsibility as a mom. Do all the things your heart is telling you, and always lead with love. KNOW where your boy is, who he’s with, (every time) what he’s doing while there – check if you feel you need to do so. He does have to to learn from experience, has to learn to listen to and trust what his own head tells him, and has to know mom won’t always be on hand to tell him right from wrong – he needs to be able to trust himself – all that is important. But YOU are MOM, and you are right to act now. Your DLH is another issue. It will help if he understands and supports your efforts to guide/correct your son, but if he believes he drinks “just to go to sleep”, it doesn’t sound to me like that is likely. I’ve used these words with my son. “Honey, I know daddy smokes and drinks, but that doesn’t make it right. You know momma doesn’t do either of those things. You know right from wrong, and you know it isn’t healthy or right for you to drink alcohol or smoke. Make smart choices and make sure you keep your own body strong and healthy.”
    I hope this helps.

  6. I’m curious about why your son is drinking alcohol, what his experience has been before, during and after, how he views himself about it, his views of his friends who do and don’t drink, etc. There’s so much information untapped! When we look at this issue through a wide lens, and postpone panic and judgement, what do we see is “trying to happen”? Frequently a curious, respectful conversation with our kids reveals tons of information that we could never know from guessing, strategizing, and planning without their participation.
    Your son clearly needs your care and guidance, but how much of your fear and accusation? First, be on his side.

    • Dorothy
      yours is one sane, non panic voice i hear in this entire conversation. Agreed there is a law here and any suggestion of breaking it is blasphemy. I myself have had access to and consumed various alcoholic beverages from beer to whiskey right from the time i was in 8th grade. It used to be on some special occasions like a picnic, or some function. Same thing with smoking. I am over the hill now and i am not at addicted to either alcohol or smoking. I do take a drag from somebody who is smoking now and then, and maybe a beer in a month or so.
      I do agree, that there are some people who are predisposed to becoming habitual, whereas there are others like me , who can prevent it from becoming a habit, and can control our urges. But yes, your suggestion highly makes sense, talk to your children, and with RESPECT.

  7. Anne,
    First of all I want to say how brave you are to open up about this very sensitive issue. I work for an agency that helps victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and the worse thing to do is keep “secrets”.
    I agree with Dr. Eybergen and Shelley that you have to ask lots and lots of questions. Is your son going to be happy about this absolutely not but thats ok. When talking to either my children or clients about issues they may not want to discuss, I find it very helpful to first of all let them know that you are concerned for their safety. When you start talking about safety, normally no one can argue about being safe. Secondly, have some facts about the topic, underage drinking is illegal and can lead to serious health problems. Thirdly have some solid guidelines/rules and consequences and be very clear about these. Lastly, be willing to listen and be prepared to hear somethings you may not want to know about.
    Remind yourself that you are doing these things because you love your son. Be strong and fight the good fight because your son is worth it.

  8. Anne,

    I have recently went through the same problem with my step- daughter. What helped me and my husband was we set her down and explained to her the hazards of drinking at such a young age and that it only leads to more problems and that they are ways to have fun with her friends without involving drinking. We also had a meeting with the parents of her friend that she was drinking with and they had no idea that we did not allow her to drink. The final thing that we did was we made arrangements with the local hospital for her to come and visit the morge to see were drinking can lead as well as we arranged for her to take a tour of the regional jail. This has helped her to see what she was doing was wrong and that she wanted more out of her life thatn to become a drunk. I know that there are alot of parents that think one or two drinks is not going to hurt my child but one is one to many. Hope this helps.

    • Deni B. Sher says:

      I love what you did with your step-daugher. I wish I had taken those steps with my son 17 years ago, when he started to drink at 15 for “fun”. At 26 he was an alcoholic and addicted to cocaine. I did “tough love” then and today, at 33 he is clean six years. BUT, the Hell we went through I don’t wish on anyone. Parents are in Denial. I was. Denial is the “innate ability we all possess to alter reality at any given moment, when reality is unacceptable to our psyche.” Parents need to deal with the immediate situation or it will grow into an addiction. I’ve been there. I’m very impressed with how you handled the situation!!

  9. I have lived this with one of my own children. A 13 year old drinking more than once or twice as a form of experimentation is on the road to trouble. Things can quickly get out of control. I would suggest looking up your local chapter of Alanon. The only requirement for membership is that you are bothered by someone’s drinking or drug use. You do not have to have it figured out or diagnosed whether that someone is an alcoholic or an addict. If it bothers you, which it sounds like your son’s drinking does, then you will find hope, some answers, and people like yourself who love someone who is drinking too much for their own good.

  10. As a First Aid attendant at a high school, I was called to attend a thirteen year who had gone home for lunch and drank a bottle of alcohol. The person that brought him to the office just saw him as ‘drunk’ but I immediately recognized that he was going into shock due to alcohol poisoning. 911 was called and he was transported quickly to the hospital. He remained overnight in the hospital, and hopefully learned a valuable lesson called “Teenage drinking… a death defying act.”

  11. WHERE are the parents’ of your son’s friends.? I would be banging on their door in no time and INDEED I would have them arrested for contributing to the delinquecy of a minor and every other charge I could muster up( child endangerment as being the most effective way of getting them in front of a judge).You must be a Saint..I would not be angry with my son ..just very woried and concerned as to the frequency. Do you realize how many teens die of alcohol poisening annually???!!I would be so furious with these parents you would probably have to hold me back before I would break a bottle of booze over their stupids heads!!!How dare they not control their children.

    • I know I’m a few months out in this conversation but….”how dare they not control their children” No one controls anyone else – and not our children in particular. Look at any toddler or teen and you will see clearly that you cannot control them (though you can force a them into rebellion and lying). We love them, guide them, teach them, discipline them, and cross our fingers.

  12. Deni B. Sher says:

    As the mother of a recovering alcoholic and drug addicted son, I can tell you from experience that when a teenager drinks you are headed for major trouble. He may start just for “fun” but when someone respects their body and mind, they don’t want to put a foreign substance inside. You need to spend time with your son NOW and let him know how much you love and adore him and try to explain the negative side of drinking. I love how Kaye handled her step-daughter. Teenagers are really still babies. Their bodies are still growing. They don’t understand the big picture. Take him to a drug rehab. Let him speak to addicts, who started drinking at 14 or 15. That is reality. I didn’t do what I am telling you.
    Seventeen years ago I knew nothing about addiction, today I know an immense amount because my darling son became an alcoholic and a drug addict. It is the most painful experience a mother and child endure. It was living Hell. This can be prevented. Now is the time to prevent a horrerndous future. I ended up spending fortunes on my son BUT the only thing that truly turned his life around was when I came out of denial, admitted he was an addict/alcoholic and did “tough love” on him. He was forced to depend on himself. Today, he is clean 6 years and I have a son again!!! I beleive our children are in pain and they cover the pain with drugs and alcohol. Find out what’s really bothering your son. It’s important that he can share any pain he’s feeling. Also, what I didn’t give my son was boundaries, consistency and discipline. Children need that. I tried to always be his friend. I never knew how to say, “NO”. I am working on a musical called, “Tough Love – The Musical” which I am hoping will help families around the world to deal with this subject. It should be on stage in 2010!!!

  13. Rula A Qadir says:

    What is “Tough Love” and where can I get more information about it?

    • Tough Love is a national program started by Phyllis and David York. It was a response to their own 3 daughters’ dabbling in delinquency and the penal system. The program teaches parents to say “No” to out of control behavior while still reinforcing that they are loved. Separating children from their behavior is powerful. It activates other members of the community to be a support to parents and kids in crisis, offering outreach and contracting. The books are great resources and the model powerful for kids surrounded by chaos and making troublesome choices.

  14. I’m wondering what people think about my 17 and a half year old coming home once or twice a month drinking about 3 beer at a party at friends houses? Apparently, parents are aware at these homes that the kids are drinking and the parents are ok with it there. I’m not sure if it is a big deal or if I need to just relax as he is not getting drunk and is almost 18. Thoughts….?

  15. I have heard some say “Trying to be a friend to your own kid is
    such a rookie mistake.” I am not sure I understand this concept. I do think the responsibility of parenting comes first before popularity with our children, but it is because of my relationship or connectedness that I feel I have gained respect from my son. I therefore feel like a friend to him. He is only 12. I don’t know what is to come, but I thought anything would be easier if I was his friend. Why do some say parents should not be their children’s friend? I must not to getting the concept, or I don’t know what the teen years will bring.

    • Truly – if a main goal of parenting a teen is to teach them to be safe, then opening lines of communication and keeping them open is of paramount importance.

  16. I’ve been reading quite a bit about this topic this year. Let alone all the legal reasons, the medical reasons for teenagers avoiding alcohol are very compelling. The longer a person waits to start drinking, the less likely they are to have a problem with alcohol in the long term.
    Also, teenager’s brains react differently to alcohol and they often feel more in control and confident for longer – when adults are starting to feel drunk and tired, teenagers can still be firing up and feeling great. Even when they are obviously unable to function, their own perception is different, they believe they are still doing fine. Adults can usually tell when they’ve had too much.
    Education is the best defense. Teach your kids how to deal with peer group pressure, and to be confident they can make decisions for themselves. Make sure they know the ugly truth about alcohol abuse. Make sure they know that if they find themselves in a position where they are feeling pressured, or they have messed up and need your help, that you will come for them no matter what.
    Of course, that doesn’t mean they can just go and do whatever they want and expect you to pick up the pieces. You know your teen best, and you will know when they are ready for a bit more responsibility and freedom, or if they need to be closely monitored.

  17. It is an interesting topic. However, we forget to talk about the main reason behind drinking. You gotta stop blaming parent A or parent B who allows alcohol into the parties. Look deeper. The truth is that drinking is a way to fill in a gap (an emptiness). You gotta ask – what kind of a gap is the kid trying to fill? Where is the real problem? A fulfilled conscious life doesn’t allow space for alcohol. I wasn’t drinking as a teen because I was toooo busy and motivated to think about it. I did a dozen of things simultaneously. Is your kid motivated? What is his hobby? Have you taught him about time management and things that are interesting and fun?

  18. I am a mother of two boys 4 and 8. My husband is an alcoholic and I am not sure how to help my kids deal with this when they become aware of it.The older one sometimes gives looks that he may be trying to find answers but I am not sure.I just want to be ready for that opening question if I am asked.
    So far the older one occassionally mentions that I am angry a lot more than before or we will have arguments over very little issues.I try and be very patient but sometimes the human side of things take over.
    Any suggestions for how I should try and look after the emotional side of my kids?