How Do Teenagers Get Drunk Without Alcohol?

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A Guide to Teen Alcohol & Drug Abuse 

Is it possible to get drunk without alcohol? Yes, kind of. But, what does that mean? You need to consume alcohol to get drunk, right? Not really. The truth is, consuming ANY substance that can give you a “high” counts as getting drunk or high. Teens generally don’t have access to alcohol because of their age. (You need to be 21 to purchase alcohol in the United States.) Yet, teens are able to intoxicate themselves with products that ARE accessible, like substances that contain chemicals and gasoline. Also, Over-The-Counter (OTC) drugs and prescription drugs give teens access to high-invoking substances. The truth is, most parents only concentrate on drugs like LSD, methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, and marijuana. They think, “if my kid isn’t doing cocaine or meth, they’re not getting high” – but that’s not true at all. 

So, how are these substances accessible to teens?  The truth is, children and/or teens gain access to these substances in a variety of ways. First off, some teens might be prescribed medications that they and their friends can get high with. If they’re taking certain prescriptions for pain or to control symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), this could be what’s happening. Let’s break it down further.

How Do Teens Abuse Inhalants?

Inhalants are one of the categories of drugs that teens get their hands on and get high off of. In slang terms, this category of drugs goes by several names. Huffing, glading, or bagging are the most widely used words. These substances include spray paints, makers, glues, and even cleaning products. When these substances are huffed they produce a psychoactive property that alters the minds of users, giving them a euphoric high. This “high” is similar to the feeling they’d get by consuming alcohol. Inhaling substances affects the central nervous system and can slow down activity in the brain. Though it’s rare to become addicted to inhalants, some teens might get hooked on the ritual of getting high. When consumed, these substances give off a variety of symptoms, including slowed or slurred speech, dizziness, and poor coordination. In some cases, to get high, the teen will inhale the fumes straight from the product, and other times they’ll pour the product into a bag or container to breathe in the fumes. Inhalants are most popular among young teens, rather than high school or college-aged teens. 

Common Inhalants 

  • Paint thinners
  • Paint
  • Spray paint 
  • Hair spray 
  • Other aerosol-type cans 
  • Lighter fluid 
  • Gasoline 
  • White glue 
  • White-out 
  • Markers
  • Certain art supplies 
  • Vegetable oil
  • Whipped cream canisters 
  • Computer cleaning products
  • Odorizers
  • Liquid aromas
  • Leather cleaners
  • Nitrates 
  • Products used as topicals for chest pain 

How Do Teens Abuse OTC Medicines?

OTC medications, or Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are a category of drugs that are generally easily accessible for children and teens. OTC medicines are usually found in most home medicine cabinets. While easily accessible, these medications can be dangerous when put in the hands of a child seeking that “high” feeling. That’s because these substances mimic the effects of getting drunk. Some of these OTC medications even contain alcohol, like NyQuil, for example. Other OTC medications, like Dextromethorphan (DXM) and Loperamide, contain opiates. You might know of DXM as a cough suppressant. It’s usually found in cold medicines that are labeled as “extra strength.” This medicine comes in the form of syrup, tablets, or liquid gels and hits the user with depressant and hallucinogenic effects. The other drug, Loperamide, is an opioid used to treat diarrhea. Teens that want to get high from this medication soon find out they have to chug hard to get any sort of effect. That’s why oftentimes teens will combine the medication with other opiates. That gives the drug more of a chance of working. Many states have caught on to the qualities of these medications and now require age verification and identification before purchase. 

How Do Teens Abuse Hand Sanitizer and Mouthwash?

These might seem like innocuous products you purchase at your local supermarket, but in the wrong hands, these products become substances with which to get high on. Ever since coronavirus, hand sanitizers have been popular and easily accessible. If enough hand sanitizer and/or mouthwash is consumed, it could get kids drunk. This depends on the alcohol content of the product. This can be very dangerous though. Mouthwash, hand sanitizer, and similar substances are NEVER intended to be ingested. If too much is taken, it can lead to alcohol poisoning. That’s why many families opt for alcohol-free products for their children and teens. 

How Do Teens Abuse Nail Polish Remover? 

Nail polish remover and other personal care products and cosmetics contain chemicals and/or alcohol that can be consumed. Because kids and teens can purchase these products without age verification, they’re unfortunately often abused. Since nail polish remover often contains alcohol, some teens take it to get drunk. Also, some teens consume nail polish remover as an inhalant. Deodorants and other products found in aerosol containers are also abused in this way. 

What is the Reason Teens Want to Get Drunk? 

Teens want to get drunk for a variety of reasons. Here are just a few of the reasons teens might want to get drunk and/or high. Keep in mind, teens are complex humans with a plethora of feelings, emotions, and drives – this is not an exhaustive list. 

  • Pressure from peers 
  • Pressure on social media 
  • A desire to feel grown-up and/or mature 
  • As a form of self-medication for anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and other mental health issues 
  • As a way to kill boredom
  • To test limits
  • To push boundaries 
  • Because of a family history of alcoholism or drug abuse 

Teens at an especially high risk of developing substance abuse issues includes those with:

  • Low self-esteem 
  • A history of trauma 
  • Learning disabilities 
  • Bullying at school 
  • Gender identity issues 
  • Being a member of the LGBTQ+ community 
  • A family history of substance use 
  • A lack of family supervision 

How Can I Tell if My Teen is Drinking or Getting High? 

There are several key clues to look out for if you think your loved one is using. The clues listed below are similar to the signs you’ll find in an adult drug or alcohol user. These signs are listed out by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 

  • Changes in mood 
  • Irritability 
  • Defensiveness 
  • Anger 
  • Skipping school 
  • Problems with teacher and/or peers at school 
  • Doing poorly in class 
  • Rebelling
  • Changes in friendship 
  • Poor hygiene 
  • Low energy 
  • Lethargy 
  • Tiredness 
  • Trouble sleeping 
  • Lack of focus 
  • Trouble concentrating 
  • Smelling alcohol on their breath
  • Finding alcohol in their room or school bag
  • Bloodshot eyes 
  • Slurred speech 

How Can I Prepare to Talk to My Teen About Substance Abuse?

Talking to your child about their drug consumption is never easy. It’s a very difficult conversation to have, but here are some tips for helping you get a handle on this challenging issue.

  1. First, consider your child’s perspective and emotions 
  2. Next, get other members of your family on board, especially your spouse and your child’s siblings 
  3. Next, take all of the emotions you’re feeling and put them in a bag – manage your emotions
  4. Don’t blame your child – that’s not what this is about
  5. Express your concern 
  6. Tell your child you understand 
  7. Be prepared for their reaction – you might be blamed, cursed at, or more

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