Small Talks: How WI Prevents Underage Drinking

Father and son on a park bench combined with the Small Talks campaign logo

Why should you talk to kids about alcohol? Underage drinking is a real problem in Wisconsin, and it starts earlier and can be more dangerous than you might think. But parents, loved ones, and other caring adults can make a real difference. All you have to do is talk. That’s right. Having small, casual conversations with kids, starting around age 8, can help prevent underage drinking.

Underage drinking in Wisconsin

The good news? Nationally, underage drinking is becoming less popular. The bad news? Wisconsin’s kids aren’t keeping up with the trend. The percentage of Wisconsin teens who’ve tried alcohol exceeds the national average. While underage drinking rates dropped 6 percentage points between 2013 and 2017 nationwide, Wisconsin’s rate dropped only 1 percentage point.

59 percent of Wisconsin teens have tried alcohol
Nearly 38,000 Wisconsin high schoolers report trying alcohol by age 13
Three people icons in a row with the first two one color above text that says two out of 3 Wisconsin teens do not see underage drinking as a risk



What if I did it? I turned out okay.



Times have changed. Kids today try alcohol earlier, in larger amounts. Plus, we know a lot more about the risks of underage drinking.

Why start talking when they’re 8?

Research shows this is when children start to form their earliest opinions about alcohol. Help your child sort out what they hear from friends or see on TV, before someone hands them a drink. Start talking to kids about the dangers of underage drinking around age 8. Don’t worry; it’s easier than you may think. We can show you how, with helpful suggestions for tackling tough questions and ideas for getting the conversations started.

Two boys talking on a sidewalk



Understand why kids drink

Underage drinking isn’t a rite of passage. It’s not just curiosity or bad behavior, either. It is a community-wide challenge that affects Wisconsin families of all shapes and sizes. There are many reasons why children try alcohol, from peer pressure to unregulated marketing tactics. Kids may see it as a way to cope with trauma or difficulties in school, at home or in their community. No matter what, families aren’t to blame for underage drinking. But they can make a difference.

Warning signs

Children go through many physical, emotional, and social changes as they grow. It’s a natural part of adolescence that can make it hard to recognize when a child is at risk for underage drinking or already drinking alcohol. That’s why it’s important to look out for changes in kids’ attitudes and behaviors that could indicate a more serious problem. Talk with kids if you notice:

Big changes like…
  • Big mood swings and/or a defensive attitude.
  • Problems at school, like falling grades or poor attendance.
  • Breaking family rules.
  • Getting rid of old friends or not introducing you to new ones.
  • A lack of interest in their appearance or favorite activities.
  • Memory lapses and poor concentration or coordination.
Signs of drinking like…
  • The smell of alcohol.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Hangover symptoms, like bloodshot eyes.
  • Alcohol missing from your home.
  • Finding alcohol in hidden places, like a closet or backpack.
  • Hanging out with friends that use alcohol or other substances.

Get help now

Wisconsin Addiction Recovery Helpline logo without 211 numberIf you think your child is already drinking or struggling with substance use, don’t blame them or yourself. Focus on getting your family help instead. The Wisconsin Addiction Recovery Helpline can help. It’s free and available 24 hours a day. 


More than just alcohol

Small talks with kids can be effective beyond just alcohol. Parents across Wisconsin are making a big different in kids' choices about prescription medications and other drugs through frequent, casual conversations.


An older person and a younger person sitting by a hay bale

Last Revised: November 15, 2021