How Relationships Affect Adolescents Drinking

Our lives are a network of relationships which are central to our mental and emotional health and wellbeing. The more closely we are attached to those we love, the happier we will be and the more personal fulfilment we will have in life.

Relationships are particularly important during adolescence. Some of the strongest influences on adolescent drinking behaviour arise from those people that young people spend most time with. Having positive relationships with family, school and peers impacts adolescent health, wellbeing and decision making.

Studies have found that higher levels of alcohol use among parents and peers increased alcohol use among adolescents and young adults.1 Warm and supportive parent-adolescent relationships were found to lead to lower levels of adolescent alcohol use including problematic use and misuse.2 Adolescent self-belief and abilities are shaped by the perception that adults in their lives care about them.

As parents we have a strong influence on the decisions our adolescents make about alcohol. When parents show disapproval, their adolescent is less likely to drink but the converse is also true. Parental monitoring and norms around adolescent alcohol use are directly linked to adolescent alcohol use.3 Having a loving high-quality open relationship with your adolescent where they feel loved, listened to and valued, while also being monitored and having clear boundaries and consequences, go a long way to protecting a young person from alcohol consumption and delaying age of first drink. This leads to a reduction in long-term consumption levels and its impact into adulthood.

During adolescence, having friends and a sense of connection to our peers, impacts health and wellbeing. Parents also influence adolescent friendship with evidence showing that well-adjusted young people have high quality peer relationships. While we may be aware of negative peer influence, peers can also impact on positive health choices leading to happiness and wellbeing. Young people’s wellbeing and educational outcomes are influenced by the social competence of peer group members and their support for pro social behaviour including engaging in school activities, helping others and completing assignments.4

A young person’s relationship with their teachers and school connectedness can affect adolescent behaviour around and attitude to alcohol. A supportive school environment is essential where the young person has a sense of belonging, a good relationship with teachers and peers, feels connected and has high school satisfaction.

Parents,  peers and schools all need to work together to support the healthy development of young people and delay the age of first drink. “Ni neart go cur le cheile.”

To organise a parent workshop on “Having the conversation about alcohol with your teen” or for information on Drinkaware’s Junior Cert Alcohol Education Programme, please contact

  1. Cruz JE, Emery RE, Turkheimer E. Peer network drinking predicts increased alcohol use from adolescence to early adulthood after controlling for genetic and shared environmental selection. Developmental Psychology. 2012;48(5):1390–1402.
  2. Bahr SJ, Marcos AC, Maughan SL. Family, educational and peer influences on the alcohol use of female and male adolescents. Journal of Studies on Alcohol. 1995;56(4):457–469.
  3. White HR, McMorris BJ, Catalano RF, et al. Increases in alcohol and marijuana use during the transition out of high school into emerging adulthood: The effects of leaving home, going to college, and high school protective factors. Journal of Studies on Alcohol. 2006;67(6):810–822. 
  4. Furlong MJ, Whipple AD, St. Jean G, Simental J, Soliz A, Punthuna S. Multiple contexts of social engagement: moving toward a unifying framework for educational research and practice. California School Psychologist 2003;8:99–113.