Teenagers, alcohol and other drug use

Why do teenagers use alcohol or other drugs?

Risk-taking is a key part of adolescent development. It helps teenagers develop their identity, build experience and gain peer approval.1

father talks with teen son at breakfast

For some teenagers, risk-taking will mean experimentation with alcohol and other drugs.

But most teens who drink or use other drugs don’t become addicted.

There are some common reasons why teenagers might use alcohol and other drugs, including to:

  • experiment – adolescence is a time of curiosity, experimentation and risk-taking
  • fit in – some teens use drugs to overcome insecurities and low self-esteem, or to feel like they belong or fit in to friendship groups and social circles
  • feel good – many teenagers take drugs to get high, to experience feelings of pleasure and euphoria, and to relax
  • stay awake
  • fall asleep
  • increase confidence
  • lose weight
  • deal with emotional pain or trauma
  • feel better – some teens take drugs as a form of self-medication, to relieve stress, forget or replace negative feelings, depression or social anxiety.2,3

There are different ways teenagers use alcohol or other drugs. But there’s no typical use or progression, and most drug use doesn’t lead to problematic use or dependence.

You can find out more about understanding teenager alcohol and drug use here.

  1. NSW Health. Substance Use and Young People Framework 2014 [16.11.2022].
  2. Positive Choices. Why do young people use drugs? 2022 [5.12.2022].
  3. Gray KM, Squeglia LM. Research Review: What have we learned about adolescent substance use? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry [Internet]. 2018 [5.12.2022]; 59(6):[618-27 pp.].