What is typical alcohol and substance use?

None. There is no typical or acceptable alcohol or substance use during childhood or teenage years.

Even though alcohol and other substances are illegal for minors and we would expect that they would abstain from use, children and teenagers are curious and they get exposed to these things, offered them, and pressured to use them. Also, those with certain difficulties, including, anxiety, depressed mood, behavior problems, inattentiveness are more prone to give alcohol and substances a try.

Most substances are harmful, especially when used in large amounts. And young people don't react to substances in the same ways adults do. For instance, younger people seem to experience more of the pleasant effects of alcohol, which can easily lead to excessive use and loss of control. Also, their brain is extremely sensitive to alcohol's and substances' neurotoxicity that can compromise their health, security, and further development in the long run.

Because using alcohol or substances usually serve their intended purposes (eg, alleviating anxiety, amplifying positive brief experience), at least at first, chances of using them again may increase over time, leading to negative impacts on physical development, everyday life, school performance , and social relationships, as well as increasing tendencies for risky behaviors.


When should I be concerned about a child's or teen's alcohol or substance use?

Alcohol or substance use during childhood or adolescence should always be a cause of concern for caregivers. The longer a substance has been used, the more habit forming and dangerous it becomes.

But how do you know if a child or teenager is using alcohol or other substances? Aside from direct evidence (eg, bottles, bags, or other paraphernalia), caregivers often see physical, emotional, and behavioral changes. Of course, the specifics of these changes depend directly upon the substance being used. For example, smoked tobacco can cause coughing and respiratory problems, while vaped stimulants can cause insomnia, irritability, and unexplained weight loss.

Here are some important signs that may indicate that a child or teen may be developing serious or problematic use:

  • Changes in behavior, everyday rituals, and friendships.
  • Mood swings, irritability, or argumentativeness.
  • Unusual agitation, restlessness, or hyperactivity.
  • Lethargy, being slowed down, sleeping more or lack of motivation.
  • Declining grades, skipping school, and poor school or work performance.
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or extracurricular activities, such as athletic, artistic, and social endeavors.
  • Comments from other teachers, school staff, classmates or friends, and caregivers.
  • Delinquent/substance-using friends.
  • Exhaling the smell of alcohol or tobacco.
  • Signs of alcohol use (eg, difficulties in awakening or falling asleep during class, etc.).
  • Dangerous behavior such as getting into fights, driving while impaired, or dangerous sexual activity.
  • Isolating from friends or missing school events.
  • Borrowing or taking money or valuables.
  • Missing prescription drugs or missing alcohol.


What can I do to help a child or teen with alcohol or substance use?

Caregivers know their children best. If you are a caregiver, there are a few things you can do in order to address the use of alcohol and substances in adolescence:

  • Pay attention and invest in some family factors that can be protective. Family factors that can be protective for alcohol and substance use prevention are maintaining effective bonding through mutual trust and respect, positive parenting role models, distinct boundaries, and supervision of activities and behaviors.
  • Plan to have conversations with your child about the matter. Talking about alcohol and substance use is important, but sometimes dropping a serious conversation with kids out of the blue can make them feel ambushed. So, give a heads up beforehand and make sure to be clear about what the conversation will be about. Let your child know that you plan on talking about your concerns, thoughts, and rules about alcohol and substance use, letting them know that they are not in trouble.
  • Make rules about alcohol and substance use clear. Clearly spelling out your rules and the consequences of breaking them is necessary. Research shows that kids tend to be safer when parents set limits and it can be easier for children who are feeling pressured to say no.
  • Explain the reasons why alcohol and substance use are prohibited. The potential consequences of drinking and using substances are real. Any substance use impairs judgment and children are more likely to find themselves in dangerous situations. It can often affect school performance, relationships, and chances in the future. Explaining the reasons and having a conversation about them can increase the chances of an open, adult conversation with your child. Being open and honest about the dangers of alcohol use can also help your child make better informed decisions.
  • Speak to your child the way you'd like to be spoken to. Kids are often ordered to do things without being given a reason or being listened to. So, treating them as adults, showing them respect and letting them know what you expect can model good behavior.
  • Listen to your child. Give your child or teen a chance to express their concerns and feelings. They may take the opportunity to ask questions or check in about something that is bothering them. Having an open and respectful dialogue may increase the chances that your child will feel more comfortable being honest with you in the future.
  • Pay attention and look for help for other mental health difficulties. If you notice that your child struggles with some mental health difficulties (such as inattentiveness, hyperactivity, reactivity, excessive worries, etc.), look for help so that these factors will not increase the risk of your child experimenting with alcohol or substances.


If you are concerned that your child is already using alcohol or substances, it may be helpful to seek out professional support, since timely identification and intervention are essential for appropriate support.

Alcohol or substance use that is too frequent, intense, present in many different contexts, and that negatively interferes with your child's and family's lives may indicate the possibility of Substance Use Disorders.

The public system provides services through the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and Centers of Multidisciplinary Assessment, Counseling, and Support (KEDASY).

Where to find more information

Specific, detailed, and clinical information on Substance Use Disorders can be found at [clinical short guide at the program website].

If you want to know more about the closest available services for educational and public health systems for children and adolescent assistance across the country, go to our Services Mapping webpage here.

You can also find more information by pointing your phone camera at the QR code below or by clicking here.



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