Adolescent Alcohol Abuse Linked to Family Conflict

family conflictFamily conflict, particularly for adolescent girls, can lead to heavy drinking by the time they reach 16, placing them at risk for many negative consequences.[1] For example, 15 percent of 16-year-olds report drinking five or more drinks on one occasion on a regular basis.1 Alcohol increases a female adolescent’s risk of rape—38 percent of women who are raped are between the ages of 14 and 17 and 55 percent say they had been drinking or using drugs at the time.1 Adolescent heavy alcohol use is predictive of accidents, injuries, academic failure, and drug use.1

A study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs followed a group of 886 adolescent boys and girls from age 12 through 14.1 They assessed family conflict, depression, and amount of alcohol consumed at each age.1 From this, they concluded that family conflict at age 12 does not predict heavy drinking at age 14.1 Instead, it predicts depression in teens by the time they reach age 13.1 It is the depression at age 13 that predicts the heavy drinking at age 14, especially for girls.1 It is important to intervene as parents, teachers, and counselors, when family conflict and depression are apparent.1

Divorce is often a period of intense family conflict.1 Therefore, it is important to watch for signs of depression in young adolescents during this time, as it may be a precursor of heavy drinking in the future.1 Depression that is identified and addressed can prevent other problems later on.1 There are also many tools to share with teens in formats they can relate to, assuring they understand that alcohol use is not the answer.1 For example, there are educational presentations for student bodies, lesson plans in psychology and health courses, and informational brochures.1 These materials may lead young teens to reach out and talk to a counselor.1

Girls may be more susceptible to depression in the face of family conflict than boys.1 Females tend to focus more on relationships than males, and take more personal responsibility when conflict is high.1 While females become depressed, males react in other ways, such as aggression.1

While family conflict is a predictor of alcohol abuse, there are other factors that lead to alcohol use as well.1 For instance, according to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, more than 70 percent of teens receiving treatment for alcohol abuse have a history of trauma or abuse.1 Abuse, trauma, and depression rooted in the effects of family conflict are a predictor of teen alcohol abuse.

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