Raising a teenager is a tough task, no doubt. Your child is at a crucial stage of development, changing physically and emotionally. They are starting to think more independently and becoming curious about more “adult” aspects of life.  And while this transition is entirely natural and a part of life, the temptation to experiment with dangerous and addictive substances is also a reality. One of the biggest culprits is alcohol; in fact, alcohol abuse and underage drinking in South Africa are big problems.

I know my child is experimenting, but just how worried should I be? How bad is underage drinking in South Africa?

According to Aware.org, 50% of teenagers in South Africa drink alcohol.  One of the organisation’s studies also showed that someone who starts drinking under the age of 18, which is illegal, is four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than someone who starts consuming booze after the age of 20.

Just let that sink in for a moment…

Yes, the statistics are terrifying, and will probably increase your stress and number of sleepless nights. But, of course, the more you know about underage drinking in South Africa, the more you can do to address alcohol use with your teen.


Wow… I need a second.

Ok, what are the reasons for teenagers drinking alcohol?

Because you are dealing with your day-to-day life and duties as a parent, you might lose sight of the fact that your son or daughter is grappling with many personal issues and pressures, especially if your communication isn’t the best. Here are some of the most prominent:

  1. The “rebellious teenager” isn’t just a stereotype: teens often see the rules you (or teachers) set as attempts to control them a little too much, so they turn to alcohol as a form of rebellion.
  2. There’s the “cool factor”: most teenagers experience some form of peer pressure, and they would rather fit in with the “in crowd” than be ostracised or bullied.
  3. A sense of hopelessness: in a guide created by the Government and South African Breweries, it states that “with only half of our youths living in two-parent households, the prospect of 25% to 35% unemployment and only a small percentage of school leavers finding jobs, South African teenagers face a very uncertain future”. And it’s this uncertainty that might drive them to hit the bottle and drown their sorrows.
  4. Depression and anxiety: uncertainty, socio-economic circumstances and body issues also lead to mental health issues amongst the youth. For teens, consuming alcohol is a form of escapism from their seemingly unbearable reality.


This is a serious issue. I’m afraid to ask, but what are the effects of alcohol on teenagers?

Continuous abuse of alcohol can have severe consequences for minors… we’re talking about more than just a hangover.

The effects of abusing alcohol include:

  • A significantly reduced ability to concentrate and commit things to memory. Of course, this can have a devastating impact on their studies.
  • Getting involved with crime or becoming violent. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and the ability to make sound judgement, so teens are more likely to participate in dangerous and criminal situations, like car accidents and theft.
  • Aggravating thoughts of self-harm or suicide. Despite trying to use alcohol to escape their depressive episodes, it can exacerbate impulsive behaviour.
  • Perpetrating sexual assault. Alcohol abuse can make someone significantly more aggressive and impulsive and make them feel entitled to another’s body.
  • Making a teenager want to experiment with other harmful, illegal substances.
  • Increasing chances of sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy because alcohol abuse can lead to high-risk sexual behaviour.



I wasn’t aware of this.  I need to talk to my child, but are there any signs of alcoholism I can look out for?

While teenagers certainly act erratically and become moody from time to time (remember, they have a lot to figure out), there are some red flags- especially if more than one happens often- that should prompt you to intervene:

As a parent, you should look out for:

  • Regular mood swings or angry outbursts
  • A drop in school attendance and test results
  • A dismissive and apathetic attitude
  • Leaving the house and staying out very late
  • Switching friendship groups often or hanging out with much older people.

We allow our children to have alcohol on special occasions at home. Is this illegal and adding to the problem of underage drinking in South Africa?

A big misconception about demystifying alcohol for teenagers is that allowing them to experience booze in a controlled environment will make them less like to experiment without your knowledge. However, according to Sandra Pretorius, director of Sanca Horizon Alcohol and Drug Centre: “Having alcohol at home isn’t going to prevent children from drinking with their peers where no supervision is available. And, of course, rewarding children with booze for excelling at school – something that 42% of parents in the UK sample group admitted to doing– is another no-no”.

You also need to keep the law in mind here. As Adv. Jackie Nagtegaal, LAW FOR ALL’s Managing Director, points out: “Not only is underage drinking in South Africa illegal, but The National Liquor Act (2003) says that no one may supply liquor to minors.” There is one exception: parents may, on occasion, give their child a moderate amount of alcohol, say for religious purposes, but it must be done under supervision.

It’s also important to remember that no one may sell alcohol to a minor, and a seller must make a reasonable effort to determine if the person buying booze is over 18.  Children are also not allowed to lie about their age or try to persuade someone else to buy alcohol for them.

The law is strict when it comes to alcohol, and anyone who doesn’t comply with these rules and regulations can be fined up to R1000 000 or face up to 5 years behind bars.

Open a bottle of communication and support, instead.

It’s always best to foster a home environment in which your children feel like they can talk to you about things and not be judged or disproportionately punished.  If they feel supported and loved, they will turn to you instead of a bottle of booze for help.

If you need additional help, you can reach out to the following:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous SA National Helpline: (0861 435 722)
  • Narconon South Africa: (011 622-3998)
  • Alateen General Service Number: (021 595-4508)
  • LifeLine: (0861 322 322)