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Adolescent Alcohol Use: Still Spilling the Wine

Adolescent Alcohol Use: Still Spilling the Wine

In the summer of 1970, when those of us of my generation were still wearing our hair long, still believing in peace and love, and who were just content with being everyday people, Eric Burdon and War recorded a song that typified our appearance, our mindset, and our approach to life. The name of the song is “Spill the Wine,” which was a monster hit at the time. It is interesting that, as adolescents of the 1960s going into the 1970s, we were in fact “spilling the wine.” 




Fast forward to the 2014 Monitoring the Future survey of drug use and attitudes among American eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders, which continues to show encouraging news about youth drug use, including a decreased use of alcohol (NIDA, 2014). However, in contrast to the Monitoring the Future survey, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that in people under age twenty-one alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug in the United States—more than tobacco and illicit drugs—and is responsible for more than 4,300 annual deaths among underage youth (CDC, 2014a). When analyzing drinking levels among youth, the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior survey found the following statistics about high school students during the past thirty days (CDC, 2014b):


  • 35 percent drink some amount of alcohol
  • 21 percent binge drink
  • 10 percent drove after drinking
  • 22 percent rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol


Additionally, the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that 11.6 percent of youth age twelve to seventeen drink alcohol and 6.2 percent reported binge drinking (SAMHSA, 2014). Furthermore, the CDC’s underage fact sheet (2014a) states that youth who drink alcohol are more likely to experience the following consequences:


  • School problems such as higher absence rates and poor or failing grades
  • Social problems such as fighting and lack of participation in prosocial youth activities 
  • Legal problems such as arrest for driving or physically hurting someone while driving
  • Physical problems such as hangovers or illnesses
  • Unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity
  • Disruption of normal growth and sexual development
  • Physical and sexual assault
  • Higher risk for suicide and homicide
  • Alcohol-related car crashes and other unintentional injuries, such as burns, falls, and drownings
  • Memory problems
  • Changes in brain development
  • Death from alcohol poisoning


Given the aforementioned consequences of underage drinking, and the need to develop and implement evidence-based practices, it is necessary for therapists, school personnel, substance abuse counselors, and parents to understand the motivation for adolescent alcohol and drug use, as well as why adolescents engage in risky behaviors. 




Lecca and Watts (1993) ascribe three motivations for adolescent alcohol and drug use: a coping motive, a drug experience motive, and a peer influence motive. These motives reflect adolescents’ need to cope with daily stressors, to encounter risks “in order to test identity and self-efficacy,” and to fit in by submitting to peer pressure (Lecca & Watts, 1993). The American Psychological Association (APA), in their excellent document Developing Adolescents: A Reference for Professionals (2002) provides several theories as why adolescents engage in risky behaviors: 


One theory stresses the need for excitement, fun, and intense sensations that override the potential dangers in a particular activity (Arnett & Balle-Jensen, 1993). Another theory stresses that many of these risk behaviors occurs in a group context and include peer acceptance, and status in the group (Jessor, 1991). A third theory stresses that adolescent risk taking is a form of modeling and romanticizing adult behavior (Gibbons & Gerrard, 1995). It is necessary to remember that adolescents are not all alike and they may have different reasons for engaging in the same risky behaviors (Jaffe, 1998). 




So in working with adolescents an important question to ask of them is, “What purpose does your drinking serve?” or “What exactly does drinking do for you?” It is equally important for families, schools, and communities to work collaboratively in both prevention and treatment. Adolescents may still be “spilling the wine,” but for those of us who still have a passion for working with them, it is still necessary to work with them to have ensure that they have a “far out,” turned-on life without alcohol and drugs, and help them see that the best high in life is when you are high on life.




American Psychological Association (APA). (2002). Developing adolescents: A reference for professionals. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/develop.pdf
Arnett, J., & Balle-Jensen, L. (1993). Cultural bases of risk behavior. Child Development, 64, 1842–55.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2014a). Fact sheets: Underage drinking. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/underage-drinking.htm

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2014b). Youth risk behavior surveillance – United States, 2013. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/ss/ss6304.pdf

Gibbons, F. X., & Gerrard, M. (1995). Predicting young adults’ health risk behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(3), 505–17.
Jaffe, M. L. (1998). Adolescence. New York, NY: Wiley. 
Jessor, R. (1991). Risk behavior in adolescence: A psychosocial framework for understanding and action. Journal of Adolescent Health, 12(8), 597–605.
Lecca, P. J., & Watts, T. D. (1993). Preschoolers and substance abuse: Strategies for prevention and intervention. New York, NY: Routledge. 
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). (2014). Monitoring the future survey: Overview of findings 2014. Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/monitoring-future/monitoring-future-survey-overview-findings-2014
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2014). Results from the 2013 national survey on drug use and health: Summary of national findings. Retrieved from http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUHresultsPDFWHTML2013/Web/NSDUHresults2013.pdf