Scott C. Gottlieb Annual Scholarship Essay Contest Winner

Why do Teens Drink and Drive?

by Jennifer Schnalzer

Jennifer Schnalzer_smallGetting your driver’s license is big deal growing up. You get to experience a certain freedom and independence. However, with that freedom and independence comes responsibility that not all teens are ready for by the time they start driving. Drinking and driving remains a serious threat to the safety of teenagers and driving under the influence is a common cause of serious crashes, especially fatal ones. Teenagers who drink and drive are at much greater risk of serious crashes, therefore it is important for people to be aware of the factors that cause drinking and driving, be aware of the harms that come with drinking and driving, and to come up with solutions to help limit drinking and driving. Most people know the risks of what could happen if they drink and drive, so why do they still do it?

Advances in neurobiology have led researchers to determine that during early-to-mid adolescence, dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for the pleasure and reward circuit of the brain, is at its most heightened level of activity, compared to any other stage of life (Tiller, 2013). Teenage drunk-driving is usually most prevalent after parties and social events involving alcohol and a group of friends. After just a couple of drinks teens have the feeling of invincibility (Tiller, 2013). Some of the reasons as to why teens are more likely under these circumstances to drink and drive can be due to peer pressure and feeling the need to impress their friends, seeing others around them driving home drunk and making it home safely and assuming that there’s no harm in doing it too, or a lot of teens go to parties without parents knowing and then they get drunk and are now too afraid to call home and ask for a ride. It is important that we teach teens that there is never a good reason to get behind the wheel after consuming any amount of alcohol.

As we grow up we see things that shape who we will be. Fifty two percent of teens say that their parents are extremely influential when it comes to their driving behaviors (SADD, 2001). Therefore it is important for parents to not just preach to their children about the risks of drinking and driving but to demonstrate and teach them and help them understand the consequences. Parents need to establish ground rules and penalties for breaking them but also agree to pick up their children no matter what the circumstances are, preventing their teens from getting behind the wheel (Tiller, 2013). We are not only influenced by are parents, family members, friends, etc but also by the media in television shows, movies, songs, ads etc. A big factor that plays a role in drinking and driving are these influences. It is not uncommon for people to believe that if other people do it then its ok for them to do it to. Therefore, if you’re watching your parents, friends, actors, or sports players drink and drive then teens will think that it is ok for them to drink and drive as well. A big part of being a teen is trying to figure out where you fit in, and in the world today that is not always an easy thing to do, so it is easy for teens to feel pressured into doing something, such as drinking and driving, so for once they can feel as though they fit it. Regardless of the consequences or risks they know they may face, they would rather risk their lives then be judged by others.

Social media can play a big role in influencing drinking and driving. Just recently, police departments have had issues with people informing the public about road blocks. This information encourages people that they can make it home without getting caught (Smith, 2014). Social media, however, has positive influences as well, especially in social marketing. Social marketing has been used to address youth drinking and driving usually in the form of campaigns. These campaigns discourage driving after drinking and encourage safer alternative behavior such as using a designated driver or public transportation (ICAP, 2013). The Adcouncil has been behind some of the most influential drunk driving prevention programs with their catchy slogans like Drinking and Driving Can Kill a Friendship, Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk and Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving (Green, 2013). The “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk” program achieved an estimated ten percent reduction in alcohol-related fatalities between 1990 and 1991 (ICAP, 2013).

Teens are curious by nature, like an adventure and want to try everything that they were stopped from doing when they were younger. This include drinking and for many trying alcohol. Alcohol triggers the overconfidence of being able to handle anything and for some people that leads to drinking and driving. We are all common with the phrase “it won’t happen to me”. For some reason people think they are invincible to the risks and consequences and truly believe that they won’t get caught or hurt from drinking and driving. Teens understand that an accident can happen and that they may have legal problems as a result but I don’t think that they truly understand the impact, the hurt or the guilt that comes along with it or how that consequence can change your life forever.
Drinking and driving among teens in high school has gone down by fifty four percent since 1991 (CDC, 2012). Besides the minimum legal drinking age, the zero tolerance laws and the graduated driver licensing program, parent involvement and teen awareness have been a big factor in the decline. Peers can have one of the biggest affects. Not only can they pressure you into making the wrong decisions, they also have the power to pressure you into the right ones. Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) is the nation’s largest peer-organization that gets students to support and assist their peers in making intelligent, healthy decisions, spreading the word about the dangers and consequences of drinking and driving (Xavier, 2013). According to SADD, students in schools who participate are more aware and informed of the risks of underage drinking and driving and its outcomes. (Xavier, 2013).

Even though fewer teens are drinking and driving the behavior is still a major threat. It is important that we do everything we possibly can to keep teenagers from drinking and driving. States and communities have to keep increasing awareness and strengthening enforcement of existing policies. Pediatricians and other health professionals can help by screening teens for risky behavior and drug abuse as well as educate and encourage the parents to talk about and enforce the rules. Parents need to lead by example, talk to their children regularly about the dangers of drinking and driving and provide teens with a safe way to get home. But even so, at the end of the day, it is up to the individual to make their own choices. All we can do is help lead them in the right direction and hope that they make the right decision.


Tiller, Joel (2013). Teen Drinking and Driving: A Deadly Rite of Passage. Aboutkidshealth.
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Students Against Destructive Driving (2001). Drinking and Driving Remains A Serious Threat to
Teen Safety, National Study.
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Smith, Sam (2014). Don’t Encourage Drunk Driving on Social Media.
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International Center of Alcohol Policies, ICAP (2013). Social Marketing and Alcohol.
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Green, Morris (2013). Drunk Driving Prevention and the Effectiveness of Media Campaigns.
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Centers of Disease Control and Prevention: CDC (2012). Teen Drinking and Driving.
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Xavier, Anelli (2013). Students Against Drunk Driving. DUI Foundation
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