Underage Drinking: What You Need to Say

Your Children need information to make good decisions.  Don’t wait until a problem arises to talk to them about drinking alcohol.  Be sure to tell your child:

1.  The body.

  • With the first sip of alcohol, the drinker is affected.
  • Alcohol passes through the lining of the stomach into the bloodstream.  It irritates the stomach lining, which can make a person feel sick.  If drinking continues, the person may vomit.
  • Alcohol moves through the bloodstream to every organ in the body, including the brain.
  • Once alcohol enters the brain, it changes the way a person behaves.  Alcohol can make people do things they do not want to do.
  • As a person drinks more alcohol, the ability to make decisions is affected.  The drinker also may lose balance and be unable to see or speak clearly.  The more alcohol a person drinks, the worse the effects can be.
  • Alcohol can have lasting effects on the brain, impairing how a person learns, thinks, and remembers.
  • Alcohol can kill.  When a person drinks too much alcohol in a very short period, alcohol poisoning can occur.  Breathing gets difficult.  A person can vomit, pass out, or even die.
  • Some people get addicted to alcohol.  They drink more and more as they get used to the alcohol, but they can stop and recover.

2.  The law.

  • It is illegal for anyone to buy or possess alcohol until 21 years of age.
  • Even one drink can cause a person to fail a breath analysis (breathalyzer test).  In some states, people under the age 21 who have been drinking can have their driver’s license suspended, be subject to a heavy fine, or have their car permanently taken away.

3.  Your family beliefs and history.

Discuss your personal beliefs with your child.  Sharing your values and family history around alcohol will create an environment of trust and understanding.

If You Drink:

  • Explain your rules for drinking responsibly and in moderation.
  • Be clear that you do not want your children to drink alcohol until they are 21 years old.
  • When they are 21, if they decide to drink, they should do so in moderation.

If You Don’t Drink:

  • Explain your reasons for not drinking, whether they are religious, health related, or due to family history.
  • Encourage your children to talk with you if they have questions about why you choose not to drink.
  • Be clear that you do not want them to drink alcohol.

4. The rules.

  • Make clear, sensible rules for your child and enforce them with consistency and appropriate consequences.
  • Following these rules can help protect your child’s physical safety and mental well-being, which can lower his or her risk for substance abuse problems.

Setting Clear Rules about Alcohol:

1. Be specific. Tell your children what the law is, what your household rules are, and what behavior you expect.  For example, “Alcohol is for adults.  Do not drink alcohol until you are 21.  Our family follows the law.”

2. Be consistent. Be sure your children understand that the rules are maintained at all times, and that the rules hold true even at other people’s houses.  Follow your own rules.

3. Be reasonable. Don’t change the rules mid-stream or add new consequences without talking to your children.  Avoid unrealistic threats.

4. Recognize good behavior. Always let your children know how pleased you are when they respect the rules of the household.

5. Put into practice. Write out your most important family rules and post them clearly where they are seen often by everyone in the family.  Review the rules regularly with your family on your children’s birthday or at the beginning of the school year.


Let your children know how important they are to you.  Be honest with term about the facts and consequences of underage drinking.  Your ongoing involvement, care, and concern will help your children to stay safe. Support your children’s future.  Keep them alcohol free.

This guide was produced by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Human Services Administration (SAMHSA) for more information visit www.family.samhsa.gov – A public education Web site, developed to support the efforts of parents and other caring adults to promote mental health and prevent the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs among 7 to 18 years old.