Why do teenagers drink?

First and foremost: teenagers are different and do different things. Some have tried beer a few times and others drink every weekend. And many of them simply aren’t interested in alcohol. But there are some reasons that come up time and time again amongst those who do drink.

BECAUSE OTHER PEOPLE DO

Many teenagers say that they drink for social reasons, such as getting to know new friends. The number of people who drink in their social circle plays a big part too, but recent research shows that those who feel peer pressure when it comes to alcohol often drink less than other teenagers. 

BECAUSE YOU THINK IT’S EXPECTED OF YOU

Norms and expectations affect us – whether we’re 14 or 44 years old – and in our teens, the desire to fit in can be particularly strong. If your friends drink, you might want to bring your own bottle to the party too, so people don’t think you’re weird. 

Tonårskille som håller handen för ansiktet.
Photo: Pablo Frisk

"You’re scared that if you don’t drink people will slag you off to others. Tell them that you’re boring, stuff like that".

Petrus aged 16, Göteborg

TO GIVE ADULTHOOD A TRY

When you’re a teenager, you often want to feel like an adult, not a child. You’ve seen adults drinking since you were small, if not at home, then in films and on TV.

So it’s hardly surprising that they’re curious about how it tastes and what it feels like being drunk. But if you think about it, there aren’t that many adult things that teenagers can do. Alcohol, on the other hand, is an adult thing that teenagers can get ahold of and try out.  

TO HAVE FUN AND FOR COURAGE

Many teenagers who drink alcohol say that they like how it feels and that alcohol makes things more fun. Alcohol can also feel like something that makes you feel a bit braver and a bit more attractive. And if things don’t quite work out as you hoped, you can always blame the alcohol. 

"You drink to try something new and to see what it’s like being drunk".

Adrian, aged 15, Umeå

BECAUSE IT SEEMS LIKE PART OF LIFE

Most adults in Sweden drink alcohol, and it’s common for people to drink in films and TV shows, while on social media, young people are bombarded with pictures of drinks in the sunset. And young people are exposed to alcohol advertising, despite the  ban on marketing alcohol products to people under the age of 25.

Given how often young people see alcohol in a variety of contexts, it’s hardly surprising that they   it as a natural part of life. 

BECAUSE THEY DON’T FEEL GOOD

Young people who say they don’t feel good about themselves and their lives drink more often and in bigger quantities than the rest of their age group. And teenagers can actually end up feeling worse as a direct result of their drinking. If you’re worried that your teenager is unhappy and is drinking, you’ll find more information and support here.

Young during a pandemic

It’s too early to say how the Covid-19 pandemic will affect youngsters in the long term. But thanks to surveys we do know a little about what life has been like for young people during the pandemic.

In the spring of 2021, the Swedish Council for Information on Alcohol and Other Drugs (CAN) ran a survey amongst students in the second year of upper secondary school.

Almost one in every four had felt substantially more anxious, and eight per cent had experienced considerably more conflict at home. Those who had been greatly affected by the pandemic suffered from more issues such as headaches, stress, and depression.

Upper secondary school students as a whole, however, had not suffered from these issues to a greater extent than before the pandemic. The more the students felt that their leisure time and socialising had been restricted during the pandemic, the less alcohol they had drunk and the less likely they were to have smoked.  

More to read about the same topic

Useful contacts and more info

It can sometimes be good to talk to someone who knows a bit more about teenagers and alcohol, or about anything else, for that matter.

If you want to do more

There’s a lot you can do to support and be there for teenagers. Maybe you can take part in night-time patrols, or make it easier for them to say “no”, or help promote a smarter approach to alcohol in some other way.

Other important topics to read about

When parents are not around

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