Young people who don’t drink

It’s almost impossible to find a parent who is OK with their child drinking alcohol. But at the same time, many people think that it’s part of being young, which is a bit strange. Talking about drinking as a sort of phase that all youngsters go through is like saying that it’s a natural part of their development. And it really isn’t. Plus, nowadays, a lot of young people simply don’t drink.


Both the amount of alcohol consumed on each occasion and the percentage of young people who have ever drunk at all are falling. And the number who drink a fairly large amount of alcohol every month has declined too. The number of ninth graders who have been drunk before the age of 14 has fallen from 20 per cent in 2000 to 5 per cent in 2020. It’s good that we have been seeing this positive progress for some years now.  But that doesn’t mean that you, as a parent, can sit back and relax. Your job now is to make sure that the curve can continue downwards.


There’s been a steady reduction in youth drinking over the past two decades, both in Sweden and in many other countries. It seems to have led to a change in the role of alcohol in teenagers’ lives. Young people who don’t drink are doing better in many areas in life, than young people who do – which was not the case for previous generations. Today’s young non-drinkers self-report feeling healthier, their grades are also better, and they have fewer physical and mental problems. It’s hard to say for sure why consumption has declined and attitudes towards alcohol have changed amongst young people, but what we do know is that the youth drinking trend has been moving in the same direction in many countries over the same period, and that alcohol seems to play a less important role for young people today.

Not drinking is strong. It shows you have self-respect.

Jasmine, aged 16, Umeå


Attitudes towards people who seldom drink or who avoid alcohol completely are often judgemental. Some people have this idea that people who choose to be sober are wimps or boring, and that they don’t know how to have a good time. It’s a good idea to talk to your teenager about how someone who chooses not to drink is just like anyone else.


Some adults remember their own teenage years as a time when you drank to be sociable and to let go. And indeed, society’s norms often say that you should drink alcohol, but do so in moderation. Most of us tell our teenagers not to drink, despite possibly expecting them to do what we did. Think about what messages you’re sending to your child: if you ask your teenager not to drink but, at the same time, give them the impression that alcohol is part of enjoying yourself, of having fun, you might be guilty of double standards in your child’s eyes.


Just over 500 young people aged between 15 and 17 were asked whether it was difficult to say “no” to alcohol. 24 per cent said that it was difficult and 13 per cent said that it could be very difficult. The most common reason they give for this difficulty is peer pressure. A whopping 61 per cent drink because others do. A little bit of help from you, as their parent, can make it easier to say “no”.  Tell them if you found it hard to say “no” when you were young, That it’s a good thing to do and that having the courage to stand up for yourself often wins you a lot of respect. You might also like to tell them that it isn’t true that all young people drink.

I'm a little scared of getting drunk. You don't want to embarrass yourself, after all.

Mikaela, aged 16, Gothenburg


 Not every adult drinks, of course, but almost 8 out of every 10 do. Talk about your own experiences with alcohol without going into details about the sort of things that might embarrass you. You’re telling them simply to show that you know what it’s like.  Alcohol is a taboo subject in some families, but try to keep an open mind when it comes to your own drinking. And be prepared to be criticised and questioned.

More to read about the same topic

Teenagers and alcohol

There are many considerations that can easily arise when your child becomes a teenager. But first and foremost: how do young people think about drinking themselves? And why is it more dangerous to drink alcohol in adolescence than as an adult?

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

Take responsibility

Maybe you sometimes feel pretty helpless as a parent. But there’s a lot you can do. As always showing that you care, that you’re there and that you are happy to listen. And often it’s important to be clear about what you expect of your teenager.

If parents are not around

Festivals, home parties and trips abroad are examples of situations where adults are rarely present. There are some pitfalls that you, as a parent, should be aware of and that you can teach your teenager how to handle.

Yes or no?

The clearer you communicate your expectations, the easier it is for your teenager to take a stand or do what you say. Also, think about what sort of message and values you’re conveying to your child.

The teenage years

The teenage years are a very special time in your child’s life. Teenagers are navigating the frontier lands between childhood and adulthood and there are a lot of new things to handle: school, friends, being allowed to stay out late, sex, parties and – not least – alcohol.

Teenager’s drinking habits

Not only is it illegal to buy alcohol for young people, but most adults think that alcohol is something teenagers should be avoiding. So where are teenagers getting their alcohol? How much do they drink? And what sort of problems do young people experience in connection to alcohol?

Back to The Teenage Phrasebook home page