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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 7 percentage points between 2019 and 2021 nationwide, Wisconsin’s rate dropped only 4 percentage points.

  • Forty-nine percent of Wisconsin teens have tried alcohol.
  • 1 in 6 Wisconsin high schoolers have reported trying alcohol by age 13.
  • 2 out of 3 Wisconsin teens don't see underage drinking as a risk.

Get the facts on underage drinking in Wisconsin

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.

Get tips on how to talk kids about alcohol

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

If 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.


Last revised April 30, 2024