Helping Your Middle Schooler Say No to Alcohol

As a parent, caregiver or teacher, you play a big role in whether the middle schoolers in your life drink underage. With the tips and tools on this page, you’ll be well armed to help them resist the pressure to drink and give them reasons not to drink.

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Too Soon = Too Dangerous

Underage possession of alcohol is illegal in the United States, and the minimum legal drinking age is 21. That’s because the earlier that a young person starts to drink, the more likely they are to have alcohol-related problems as a teenager or adult. Alcohol can affect mood, thinking, decision-making and cause long-term harm to the brain
and body.

Quick Guide – Deep Digging: What Happens When People Drink Too Much at Any Age

Too Dangerous

Here are some of the dangers of underage drinking:

Poor Judgment and Reckless Behavior

Kids may not recognize that critical decision-making abilities, coordination and motor skills are diminished long before they show overt signs of intoxication. Alcohol also decreases inhibitions and judgment and can lead to reckless decisions and aggression.

Blackouts and Overdoses

Alcohol can also cause blackouts, which are gaps in a person’s memory for events that occurred while they were intoxicated. Drinking a lot of alcohol can also lead to a life-threatening alcohol overdose due to vital life functions shutting down.

Injuries and Death

Each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 4,000 kids die from causes related to alcohol, such as car crashes, burns, falls, and other unintentional injuries.

Cognitive Problems

The brain is still developing throughout the teen years. Research shows that heavy drinking in the teen years can cause long-lasting harm to learning, memory, and reasoning.

Alcohol Use Disorder

The younger someone is when they start drinking, the greater the chance they’ll develop alcohol-related problems at some point in their life. People ages 26 and older who began drinking before age 15 are 4 times as likely to report having alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the past year as those who waited until age 21 or later to begin drinking.

Risk Factors

Who’s at risk? Alcohol problems can sneak up on anyone who drinks. But there are ways to tell if someone is more likely to develop alcohol-related problems.

Quick Guide – Who’s at Risk for an Alcohol-Related Problem

Starting Young

The younger someone is when they start drinking, the higher the chances of having problems with alcohol later.

Having an Impulsive Temperament

Some people have the strong urge to act on impulse and to seek new experiences. They have a higher risk of starting to drink early and developing alcohol problems.

Having Friends Who Drink

The more friends a person has who drink, the more likely that person is to drink.

Having Close Family Members with Alcohol-Related Problems

This raises a person’s risk for alcohol problems, but it’s not destiny. Steps can be taken to protect the kids in your life from alcohol problems.

Having Behavioral Issues or Traumatic Experiences

Young people who experience early childhood trauma or who have behavioral issues and certain mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or other substance use, may be at a greater risk of developing alcohol problems as adolescents. Middle schoolers who have already begun drinking are even more likely to have alcohol problems if they drink heavily, drink to get drunk, drink to cope with stress or feel less of an effect from alcohol than other people would.

Setting Healthy Expectations for Safe, Legal Alcohol Use in the Future

Alcohol use can have consequence no matter when you drink. Talk to the kids in your life about what they can do to lower their chances of developing alcohol problems. Here are two important points to cover:

It’s important that, if they ultimately choose to drink, they don’t start until age 21—not only is that age the law, research shows people who start drinking after age 21 have a lower chance of developing AUD compared with people who start younger.

Quick Guide – Script to Share with Middle Schoolers

Dealing with Peer Pressure

Everyone faces peer pressure in their lives. It’s important to teach middle schoolers that they have the right to resist peer pressure to drink. Sometimes resisting isn’t easy, but they can do it with practice and a little know-how. And perhaps most important, never serve alcohol to your middle schooler or their friends. Research shows that underage students whose parents provide alcohol are more likely to engage in heavier drinking, to drink more often, and to get into traffic crashes.

How Peers Pressure

The first step to standing up to peer pressure is to be aware of it. When middle schoolers can spot peer pressure, they are more likely to be able to deal with it. You can help your middle schooler recognize the different things people do to pressure others, such as:

  • Put-downs – insulting or calling a person names to make them feel bad
  • Rejection – excluding someone or threatening to end a friendship or relationship
  • Reasoning – telling a person reasons why they should try something or why it would be okay if they did
  • Unspoken pressure – feeling like they need to act or dress a certain way or do the same things they see others doing without anyone saying anything to them


Quick Guide – The Peer Pressure Bag of Tricks

Peer pressure can be difficult to resist. Most people don’t want to make others feel bad, but it’s important for the kids in your life to know that they can stand up for themselves. Here are some strategies you can teach them that help with spoken pressure.

•  Say no assertively
•  Suggest something else to do
•  Stand up for others
•  Walk away from the situation
•  Find something else to do with other friends

•  Go to a party where you know people will be drinking alcohol
•  Attend a party unprepared to resist alcohol
•  Be afraid to say no
•  Mumble
•  Say no too aggressively
•  Act like a know-it-all when saying no

Your middle schooler can also consider returning the challenge by saying, “I thought you were my friend,” or “I don’t want to drink, and if you’re my friend you won’t ask me to.”

Quick Guide – Know Your No’s

Unspoken pressure may come from role models like older siblings, teachers, coaches, or celebrities on social media or in movies and on TV. Unspoken pressure may also come from peers—friends or other people.

Here are some tips your kids can use to help them resist unspoken pressure:

•  Give them a reality check—most middle schoolers don’t drink
•  Remember—alcohol can be very dangerous
•  Walk away from the situation
•  Find something else to do with other friends

Role Playing Exercises – Spoken vs Unspoken Peer Pressure

Peer Pressure Can Be Good, Too

Peer pressure isn’t all bad. Friends can pressure each other into some things that will improve their health and social life and make them feel good about their decisions.They can use this positive peer pressure to help each other resist bad peer pressure by saying things like “we don’t want to drink” or “we don’t need to drink to have fun.