Teen Alcohol Intervention

Many teens drink, some drink socially, some binge drink, some abuse alcohol, and some are alcohol dependent, or addicted to alcohol. Teen alcohol intervention is a way to help a teen recognize why alcohol use is dangerous and offer them help to stop drinking.

Teen alcohol intervention can help teens avoid or overcome an alcohol problem, but its important to know the right way to go about a teen alcohol intervention for it to be helpful.

People may have misunderstandings about what a teen alcohol intervention is from the way interventions are portrayed on television and in movies. Essentially, a teen alcohol intervention is an opportunity to tell a teen why alcohol use is dangerous and to get the teen to commit to getting help if they have an alcohol problem. Teen alcohol interventions can be used in several ways:

  • To help a teen decide not to use alcohol before he or she starts
  • To discourage a teen from using alcohol again if he or she has already tried it
  • To encourage a teen to get help if he or she has a drinking problem
  • To teach a teen or a group of teens about the dangers of alcohol use and abuse

Many people can deliver a teen alcohol intervention:

  • Parents and family members
  • Friends or peers
  • Doctors and other medical professionals
  • Teachers and school administrators
  • Religious leaders
  • Other youth leaders

The most effective teen alcohol interventions come from family members and friends who are concerned about a teen who is at risk for drinking or has a drinking problem. Friends have a tremendous amount of influence on a teen. Parents may not feel like they have as much influence on their teens, but most teens admit that their parents' opinions matter to them when they are making decisions.

For teens who have not yet begun to drink, or perhaps have only tried alcohol once or twice, a very informal teen alcohol intervention may be enough to help the teen decide not to drink. In this case, a parent, friend, or another concerned person talks to the teen about the dangers of alcohol and tells him or her that they care about the teen and don't want to see them get hurt. This is also a good time to praise teens for making smart choices if they are not drinking. This kind of teen alcohol intervention can be repeated periodically to help the teen remember why it's important to avoid alcohol.

The right intervention for a teen will vary depending on the circumstances. In some cases, a doctor may need to be involved, such as if a teen was hurt while drinking or while hanging out with someone who was drinking. If the teen was using alcohol at school, the intervention may include a school administrator or teacher.

If teens are already abusing alcohol or have an alcohol dependency or addiction the intervention should focus more on helping the teen admit they have a problem. The intervention can still be informal, where a loved one expresses their concern to the teen, or it can be a formal intervention where a group of caring people in the teen's life gather to tell the teen about their concerns, and how the teen's drinking is affecting everyone. In the formal intervention, the people present ask the teen to take specific steps, such as seeing a counselor or going into treatment for alcohol abuse. It is good to get professional guidance or advice for holding a formal intervention.

Regardless of the type of teen alcohol intervention, there are some tips to help it be more effective:

  • Be calm. Do not try to hold an intervention when you or the teen is upset.
  • Don't try to have an intervention when the teen is drunk. He or she needs to be sober to understand what you are saying clearly.
  • Don't accuse or label the person. Clearly express that you care for the person, and use “I” statements to tell the teen your concerns, like “I am hurt when you lie to me about using alcohol,” or “I am afraid you’re going to get hurt.”
  • Be specific about your concerns. Don't base your statements on rumors, but talk about what you have seen for yourself.
  • Have a plan for what you want to say before you start.
  • If the teen has a drinking problem, be prepared for him or her to be defensive or angry when you mention the problem.
  • Offer concern, hope, and support.
  • Help teens see how drinking may derail their plans and goals and encourage them to want to change if they are drinking.
  • Don't push the teen. Instead, make it clear what the consequences will be if they drink, like loosing their driver’s license, undergoing random drug tests, or being taken to see a doctor or counselor for help. Be prepared to follow through with these consequences.
  • If you are planning a formal intervention, invite a small group of people who know the teen well and are comfortable with the intervention. Don't include younger children. If possible, talk to a professional counselor to help you plan the intervention.

Remember that alcoholism is a disease that can be treated, but not cured. Preventing alcohol abuse by not drinking is better than trying to get treatment for alcoholism later. If a teen has an alcohol addiction he or she will need constant support to avoid relapsing into use, and patience from loved ones if he or she does slip up and drink again.


The Partnership for a Drug-Free America, "Intervention Quick Guide" [online]

American Academy of Family Physicians, American Family Physician, "Alcohol-Related Problems: Recognition and Intervention" [online]

Massachusetts Department of Public Health Bureau of Substance Abuse Services, "Provider Guide: Adolescent Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment for Alcohol and Other Drug Use" [online]

Related Article: Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse >>