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Could your child be drinking to cope?

Use our guide to spot the signs that a young person may be drinking to cope with difficult situations and get advice on how to approach conversations about this issue.


How many young people are drinking to cope with difficult situations?

Drinkaware’s latest research has found that out of the 53% of young people aged 13-17 who have had a whole alcoholic drink, 43% have reported drinking for any coping reason and specifically 30% have reported drinking to forget about their problems1. While this is a small proportion of young people, this behaviour is harmful to their health and it negatively impacts on other areas of their life as well. Research shows2 that drinking to cope is associated with both anxiety and depressive symptoms and further alcohol abuse.

The reasons behind drinking to cope varies from young person to young person and can include (but are not limited to) bullying, problems at school and concerns about body image.

Signs that a young person isn’t coping / is drinking to cope

If a young person is drinking excessively on a regular basis, drinking on their own, drinking during the daytime, or often look hungover, then parents should take it seriously and talk to them about what they’re going through. 

More generally, young people may show that they’re not coping through changes in their behaviour. If they seem increasingly angry, more withdrawn, more secretive, stop spending time with friends, or are always upset, then it’s important for parents to investigate further.

How to approach talking to a young person about their drinking

As a parent, it’s important to pick your moment to have a difficult conversation with your child. Some teenagers might not want to talk at first. Let them know you are concerned about them, that you care about them, and that you are there for them if they need you. Sending an email or a text can work better if this is the way your child likes to communicate.

When you do talk to them, be honest, acknowledge what you’ve observed about their drinking, and ask them if they’re struggling and how they’re feeling. If your child is drinking to mask how they’re feeling, then it’s important to talk about what it is they’re really going through.

If you can, talk to your child's other parent about your worries, when the child is not around. They might have a different take on what’s going on. Try and sort out how to deal with the behaviour together so you are using the same approach, and can back each other up. Children are quick to spot if parents disagree, and can try and use this to get their own way.

If your child is having problems, don’t be too hard on yourself or blame yourself. Although it can be upsetting and worrying if your child is having a bad time, and it makes your relationship with them feel more stressful, this does not mean that you are a bad parent. And if things are getting you down, it’s important to recognise this. Talk to someone you trust and see what they think. Many people go on struggling with very difficult situations – but friends and family can often help.

How to get more specific advice about mental health and signposting to support services

If you think your child is struggling with their mental health, talk to your GP and to your child’s school or college.

This advice has been given to Drinkaware by YoungMinds.

YoungMinds website has specific advice on a wide range of mental health conditions and behaviour, and the YoungMinds parents helpline is also a great source of support and advice.

Call 0808 802 5544 for free Mon-Fri  from 9:30am to 4pm – available in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.


1) Ipsos-MORI (2017) Teenage drinking and the role of parents and guardians: Findings from Drinkaware Monitor 2016. London: Ipsos-MORI. Available at:

2) Holahan et al. 2001. Drinking to cope, emotional distress and alcohol use and abuse: a ten-year model. 62(2). 190-198. Available at:

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