Peaks in Teenage Alcohol Use: Recognizing When It’s No Longer Recreational

Excessive teenage alcohol use is associated with self-medicating underlying emotional issues, sensation-seeking, identity exploration, and social learning more so than adult substance use, therefore requires different treatment options considering developmental differences. Alcohol is the most commonly used substance in the United States. By age 15, around 30% of teenagers have had at least one drink. By 18, this number has doubled. Around 20% of high schoolers report that they drink five or more drinks at a time when they do drink. Some of the reasons that alcohol is so commonly overused by teens is widespread availability and an overall cultural acceptance of alcohol use. Both factors encourage teens to experiment with alcohol and often eventually leads to experimentation with more dangerous substances and risky behavior.

When the Party is Over

Although teenage alcohol use is common at a party or with parents or older siblings, teens are more likely to binge drink than adults who might have a couple social beers at an event. Teens might try to normalize their alcohol use by claiming all their friends drink, however, teens are more likely to overestimate how much their friends drink. This can justify their own drinking habits, but also presents unrealistic expectations of how much they believe is socially acceptable. While alcohol is accessible by going through their family’s supply or asking older friends to purchase alcohol for them, teens are more likely to hide the extent of their drinking from friends and family. Secretive behavior affects levels of trust, feelings of guilt, and isolation.  

Consequences of Alcohol Overuse

Examples of alcohol overuse interfering with your child’s mental health and daily functioning include changes in mood, academic decline, changes in groups of friends, not following rules at home, skipping curfew, problems with memory and concentration, incoherent speech, less interest in activities they used to enjoy, and lower energy levels. For teenagers struggling with mental health issues, alcohol overuse may intensify their symptoms of depression, anxiety, impulsivity, and paranoia. As teenager’s brains are still developing, alcohol affects them different and can interfere with the development of their frontal lobes, which are responsible for rational decision making, and strengthening of neural connectivity between their frontal lobes and emotional regions. Underage drinking is associated with increased risk for speeding, car accidents, injuries, alcohol poisoning, physical and sexual assault, and suicide. People who start drinking before the age of 15 are 4 times more likely to meet the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives.

When looking for a residential treatment center for your child, consider these factors:

Co-ed. Elevations is unique from other residential programs in that it does not separate students by gender, which encourages healthy relationships and boundaries that do not exist in a vacuum.

Age Appropriate. Teens struggling with alcohol use may already be exposed to the influence of older peers. Choosing a rehab for young adults rather than focusing on underlying issues encourages a different peer group who may have had different consequences than younger teens. Family involvement is a larger part of residential treatment to prepare students to transition back home more often than independent living.

Rebuilding family relationships. Programs for struggling teens that include high levels of parental involvement have better outcomes than those who do not. In addition to family therapy, we encourage visitation on-campus, overnight, and home visits. We also offer family seminars with workshops on family dynamics where parents participate in group sessions with other families in the program and experience what it is like for their student on campus.

Transition Planning. We offer classes in an accredited traditional school environment to ensure that students stay caught up in school and receive additional support if they are struggling. We have a college-placement specialist that helps students with standardized testing prep, career planning, and skills such as reading comprehension, media literacy, organizational strategies, and self-advocacy.

Holistic Approach. Residential treatment focuses on the body, mind, and spirit rather than just how the problem manifests through alcohol use. Elevations offers a 12 step-model, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) to help teenagers look at their belief systems and personal history that have motivated their substance use. We provide experiential activities that focus on strengthening students’ overall health and wellbeing and believe that changes in perspective and self-esteem lead to long-term changes in behavior. Elevations includes fields, volleyball, full gymnasium, climbing wall, library, and art therapy. We also encourage students to participate in community service and adventure trips off-campus.


Elevations RTC is an all gender residential treatment center for teens ages 13-18 that focuses on the intersection of emotional and behavioral issues and alcohol use. We provide intensive psychiatric medical care, educational support, group therapy, and experiential learning to address teenage alcohol use to ensure students’ future success living healthy, productive lives. Elevations is relationship-based and emphasizes building social skills and self-esteem to move forward and develop healthier coping skills.

Elevations Quick Facts

Leading RTC Accreditations


Ages 13 – 18

Comprehensive Medical / Psych

Community-based Approach

Fun, Experiential

Accredited Academics

Real-World Setting

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