Under Pressure: When Teens Turn to Alcohol to Relieve Stress

Under Pressure: When Teens Turn to Alcohol to Relieve Stress


Today’s teens live in a stressful world. The pressure to succeed in all areas, including academics, athletics, and or outside activities and interests, can be overwhelming. The short-term effects of alcohol may seem especially alluring to teens when they are under immense pressure.

Teens are often exposed to messages in the media and often at home that alcohol has a relaxing effect after a long, hard day. Teens, however, rarely take in to account the long-term consequences alcohol consumption can have on their developing minds and bodies. Even if they are aware of these issues, they tend to focus only on the imminent future.

The Risk of Using Alcohol to Relieve Stress

Teens who turn to alcohol for stress relief may initially do so only in social situations. Over time, though, they are at higher risk to consume more alcohol more often.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA), teens who drink alcohol as a result of stress are more likely to binge drink. In this regard, one alarming statistic is how easily teens are able to obtain alcohol. According to the National Survey on Drug and Alcohol Use (NSDUH) 2013, the majority of teens (93.7%) aged 12-14 who reported drinking also reported they obtained the alcohol for free. They specifically sited access from family members or finding it at home.

Healthy Stress Management

One way to head off using alcohol to mediate stress is to offer teens healthy ideas about how to manage stress. What follows is a quick list of some easy way to help them cope:

  • Just listen. Sometimes teens just need you to hear them. As a parent, it may be your natural instinct to try to problem-solve when your teen talks about stress factors. Simply validating that you understand the pressure he is experiencing is often enough.
  • Writing it down makes it manageable. Encourage your teen to create a daily and/or weekly schedule that clearly lays out what needs to get done and how long each task will take. Structure and predictability can contribute greatly to reducing stress. A schedule provides an opportunity for your teen to process and plan each day accordingly.
  • Prioritize tasks. When their responsibilities are prioritized, it is easier for teens to get a clearer picture of what is most important. Encourage your teen to remove tasks that are not essential from the list.
  • Recreation re-energizes. It is important for your teen to make time for activities that she enjoys. Sometimes, busy teens get so overwhelmed that they feel guilty if they take any time for themselves. It is important to explain that we all need time to relax and re-boot.
  • Physical activity alleviates stress. Encourage your teen to stay active. This is also an opportunity for you to spend some quality time with him. Go for a run or walk together, work out at the gym, take a swim, or play tennis.
  • Practice what you preach. We all need healthy ways to cope with stress. When you take good care of yourself, you model an important life lesson to your teen.

Today’s teens face many daily stressors. Teens who are equipped with healthy ways to manage their stress are less likely to turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism. It is never too early to learn how to manage stress. The ability to cope with stress translates into a healthier, happier, and more productive life.

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This article was written by

Dr. Jennifer Powell-Lunder is one of the tween, teen and parenting experts that participated in the focus groups that helped form the new educational campaign and website, TheAlcoholTalk.com. Her expertise and vast experience were also tapped for much of the advice and guidance included on the site. Her unique understanding of the communication techniques necessary for The Alcohol Talk to effectively take place make her an ideal spokesperson for the campaign. Dr. Powell-Lunder is a clinical psychologist specializing in work with tweens, teens, young adults, and their families. She is co-author of the book Teenage as a Second Language (Adams Media 2010) and the creator of www.itsatweenslife.com, an interactive and informational website for parents and tweens, and co-creator of www.Talkingteenage.com, an interactive informational website for the parents of teenagers. Jennifer is a regular contributor for outlets including Psychology Today, Parenting Magazine, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Chicago Tribune, GalTime, KnowMoreTV, Examiner, and North Texas Kids. She has also been featured in The Huffington Post, Yahoo, AOL’s ParentDish, Mamapedia and many other blogs and websites. As a parenting expert on both radio and television programs including NPR’s Talk of the Nation, NBC’s TODAY in New York, Better TV and WCBS, FOX and ABC affiliates, Jennifer talks about tween, teen and parenting issues. She was profiled in Westchester Magazine’s January 2012 feature on ‘People to Watch Jennifer is a published researcher, in-demand speaker and consultant on tween, teen, and young adult issues. She spent almost a decade as a Program Director of an inpatient adolescent psychiatric unit at a private psychiatric hospital in the Northeast where she now serves as Senior Clinical Liaison. She is also an adjunct professor of psychology at Pace University. Jennifer sits on the Board of Directors for Family Ties, a non-profit family advocacy agency serving Westchester County, NY and maintains a private outpatient practice in Bedford Hills, NY.

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