Alcohol and Stress

Stress has repeatedly been shown to have a role in the onset of substance abuse, including abuse of alcohol. What’s more, the finding of a causal relationship between stress and alcohol has been demonstrated in teens. Read the rest of this article for more on the relationship between alcohol and stress.


One of the main sources for research-based information on teens, alcohol and stress is the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA). CASA was founded by Joseph A. Califano, Jr., former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, in 1992 as a nonprofit with the mission of informaing Americans about the impact of substance abuse in terms both of economic and social cost. CASA takes the stance that addition is a disease that is both preventable and treatable.

The Big Three Risk Factors

In the National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse VIII: Teens and Parents, published in August 2003 by CASA, it is reported that high stress, boredom, and having more than $25-per-week  spending money are individually linked to greater likelihood of smoking, drinking, getting drunk, and use of illegal drugs. With two out of three of these factors at work, teens are at least three times more likely to smoke, drink, and using illegal drugs as teens who have none of these factors in their lives. The research showed that the number of highly-stressed 17 year olds is more than twice the number of highly-stressed 12 year olds.

Coping Skills

In Teen Tipplers: America’s Underage Drinking Academic, revised in February 2003, CASA reported that good coping skills - which diffuse stress by dealing with problems head-on rather than avoiding them - are protective against teen alcohol abuse (Laurent, J., Catanzaro, S. J., & Callan, M. K. (1997). Stress, alcohol-related expectancies and coping preferences: A replication with adolescents of the Cooper et al. (1992) model. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 58(6), 644-651). When the coping skills are not there, teens cope with their stress by medicating it with alcohol (Jessor, R. (1992). Risk behavior in adolescence: A psychosocial framework for understanding and action. Developmental Review, 12(4), 374-390).

Family Stress

The National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse X: Teens and Parents, published in August 2005 by CASA, addresses family stress and its relationship to substance abuse. The characteristics that have been found to be associated with about half the average risk of substance abuse for a teen includes four characteristics of their family life. First, the family typically eats dinner together 5 to 7 times per week. Second, parents are at least moderately proud of the teen. Third, the teen can confide in the parent. And fourth, there is little or no stress and tension between family members. Twenty-six percent of teens live in such a household. On the other hand, when there is a great deal of tension or stress, teens have double the average risk of becoming substance abusers.

The Special Case of Girls

In a February 2006 press release, CASA points out that girls/young women are more likely than boys/men to abuse substances to relieve stress (among other reasons). There is also a link between early puberty and substance abuse for girls, and this is thought to be related to the stresses of the physiological and emotional changes associated with the onset of puberty [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Grunbaum, J. A., Kann, L., Kinchen, S. A., Williams, B., Ross, J. G., et al. (2002). Youth risk behavior surveillance: United States, 2001. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 51(SS-4)] as well as stressful personal problems or life events. Exmaples of life events that have been identified include parental divorce, the illness or death of a family member or friend, changing schools, or changes in (romantic) relationships.


2003 CASA National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse VIII: Teens and Parents
National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse X: Teens and Parents
The Formative Years: Pathways to Substance Abuse Among Girls and Young Women Ages 8-22
Teen Tipplers: America's Underage Drinking Epidemic

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