Drinking, Drugs, and Violence

Drinking, drugs, and violence are all closely related. Teens who use drugs or alcohol or are violent may need special intervention to stop their risky behaviors. Keep reading for more information on drinking, drugs, and violence and where you can get help.

Teens who engage in violent behavior are more likely to use drugs and alcohol than teens who do not. A study reported by the National Youth Violence Prevention Center found that: 

  • 94% of teens who are violent use alcohol, compared to 80% of all high school seniors who have tried alcohol, and 50% who have used it recently
  • 85% of violent teens use marijuana, compared to 49% of high school seniors who have tried it, and 22% who were recent users
  • 55% of teens with violence issues use multiple illegal drugs, while about 10% of all teens use drugs other than alcohol or marijuana

Teens drug addiction or alcohol abuse greatly increase the risk for suicide compared to other teens.

There may be several reasons for the connection between teen substance abuse and teen violence:

  • Substance abuse may bring out violence in some teens or impair their judgment so they engage in violent acts.
  • Teens who are using drugs may commit violent acts to get more drugs, or the money for drugs
  • Some teens may be more likely to engage in many risky behaviors, including drinking, drugs, and violence, due to their personalities or environment.
  • Underlying mental health problems may make some teens more likely to use drugs and act violently, putting them at risk for suicide.

Many of the risk factors and prevention strategies for teen drinking, drugs and violence overlap.

Some of the risk factors for teens with drinking, drugs, and violence issues are:

  • Teen Depression or other mental illnesses
  • Lack of parental involvement
  • Poor academic achievement
  • Lack of self control
  • Teen gang involvement
  • Being the victim of abuse
  • Peer pressure

Teens who face these risk factors may not use drugs or become violent, but they are at increased risk for these problems.

Some strategies for preventing teen drinking, drugs, and violence are:

  • Talk to teens to find out what their concerns are and to express your care for them and your reasons for not wanting them to use drugs or alcohol or be involved in gangs or violence
  • Set a positive example
  • Set fair, consistent rules
  • Keep track of your teens’ activities and ask a lot of questions about what they are doing and who they are hanging out with
  • Get counseling for teens with mental health issues, aggression, or risky behaviors
  • Get academic help for teens who are struggling in school
  • Encourage teens in positive activities and goals
  • Get to know your teens’ friends. Don't forbid them from seeing certain friends or put down their friends, but talk to them about your concerns if any of their friends worry you.
  • Talk to teens about things they may see or hear in the media glorifying violence or drug use.
  • Control access to media, including the Internet, by keeping it in a public place. Don’t allow TVs or computers in bedrooms.

These factors, called protective factors, do not guarantee that a teen won't use alcohol, drugs, or engage in teen violence, but they make it less likely and may make it easier to spot the problem and treat it early on.

The warning signs of teen violence and teen drug use do not overlap as much as the risk factors do. Violent teens may talk about violence or act aggressively toward others, while those using drugs may experience radical and rapid changes in appearance or behavior. Withdrawal or depression can be signs of substance abuse, violence tendencies, or other problems. Teens with any signs of drinking, drugs, and violence problems should see a doctor or a therapist right away.

Treatment for teen violence and teen substance abuse also differ, but the same medical and professional personnel may be involved. A doctor can help a teen overcome substance abuse and treat underlying medical disorders, while a therapist can help the teen avoid relapsing into drug use and deal with emotional issues that are prompting his or her violent behavior. Parents, teachers, and other concerned people in a teen's life should not ignore warning signs for substance abuse or for violent behavior.


National Youth Violence Prevention Center, "Teen Substance Abuse and Violence Facts" [online]

SAMHSA's National Mental Health Information Center, "What You Need To Know About Youth Violence Prevention" [online]

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, "Understanding Violent Bheavior in Children and Adolescents" [online]

Related Article: Teenage Violence Prevention >>