Symptoms of Teen Alcohol Abuse
The most obvious symptom of teen alcohol abuse is repeated smell of alcohol on their breath or coming from their body, along with bloodshot eyes, an unsteady gait and other physical tell-tales. But there are other common symptoms that teens are pretty well into abuse of alcohol. These include mood swings, abruptly changing friends, stealing, lying, breaking curfew set by parents, making excuses, staying in their room, and having things in their possession that are associated with alcohol use.
Advice for Parents
If you know your teen is not yet drinking, while this is an incredibly good sign that you’ve been effective in communicating the dangers and risks of alcohol use, you shouldn’t consider that your parental job is done. Definitely praise your teen for making the decision not to drink. You’ll also want to recommend that they choose friends who, like them, make good choices, that they get involved in activities that build upon their strengths, and that they avoid people, places and situations where alcohol and other drugs are likely to be present.
What about the notion that allowing teens to drink with their parents can somehow protect them from problems with alcohol later in life. Research studies tell a different story. In fact, the outcome is just the opposite. In home environments where teens are permitted to consume alcohol with their parents, the odds increase for teen alcohol problems.
On the other hand, if you don’t want your teens to drink, research shows that parents do have an important influence over their teens’ decisions about alcohol. This extends through the high school years and to the transition into college.
What can you, as parents, do to keep your teens safe and help prepare them for making sound decisions relative to alcohol and other drugs? Start by setting clear expectations, such as establishing a house rule that no underage drinking is allowed. You also need to communicate the consequences clearly and consistently, and be willing to enforce them.
Help your teens learn about alcohol, its risks and dangers, so that they can become more informed and better able to make sound decisions when they are encouraged by their peers to engage in drinking at parties and other events.
If Your Teen Already Drinks
Suppose your teen has begun drinking. You’ve noticed the problem and now don’t know what to do about it? It’s a little like trying to get the horse back into the barn after he’s had a taste of freedom. Teens are likely to rebel against parents clamping down on their new-found independence, especially if they have been secretly drinking and getting away with it for some time.
The best recommendation is to get help for your teen immediately. Do not wait and think that this is just a passing phase. If your teen is drinking now, it will only get worse unless you act.
The first thing is not to panic. Sit down with your teen along with your spouse (if there are two parents living in the household) and discuss what happened. What you will do will naturally depend on the severity of the broken family rule, whether or not this is the first time the rule has been broken, or whether this is a repeat infraction.
Remember that you have to be ready to enforce any punishment that you have clearly spelled out for breaking the rules. Then, enforce it.
But you won’t be able to change your teen’s behavior simply by carrying out the punishment for rule breaking with respect to alcohol, tobacco, or drugs. You may also wish to consult a trained counselor who’s experienced in dealing with teens who use alcohol or drugs. You could also talk with your family physician or your teen’s school counselor for a recommendation. There may be an outpatient treatment facility nearby that specializes in treating teens experiencing problems with alcohol or drugs.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that your teen has a serious problem. He or she may just need to talk with a professional who can help him or her realize that this type of behavior is not healthy, and not acceptable. Furthermore, a counselor can help your teen to learn better ways to cope with peer pressure, stress, and to develop a healthier lifestyle that does not involve the use of alcohol or drugs.
And if your teen does need treatment, it may benefit everyone if you and other family members also participate in what’s called family treatment. If there are things going on in the home environment that may be contributing to your teen’s use of alcohol and/or drugs, these things (or behaviors) need to be changed in order for your teen to be successful in steering clear of alcohol and drugs in the future. Many times, parents feel that it’s not their problem, that they haven’t done anything to cause heir teens’ alcohol or drug use. This isn’t a matter of blame. It’s a matter of understanding the family dynamic and how parents and other family members can support their teen’s efforts at maintaining sobriety after treatment.
Above all, if your teen has begun experimenting or regularly using alcohol or drugs, it doesn’t mean that he or she is doomed to a life of alcoholism or drug addiction. Get the help that your teen – and you – need to turn the situation around. It will take some time, but the effort is certainly worth it in the long run. After all, you’re talking about your teen’s entire future.
Treatment and Resources
There are successful treatment options for teens who drink and develop problems with alcohol. You can find out about alcohol treatment programs for teens from your family doctor or by checking for treatment facilities using the Treatment Facility Locator maintained by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). There is also a toll-free Helpline available 24/7 at 1-800-662-HELP that can provide information, support, treatment options and referrals to local drug and alcohol rehab centers.
Other helpful resources include:
- Alateen, 1-800-334-2666, is a recovery program for young people that helps families and friends of alcoholics recover from the effects of living with a problem drinker.
- The National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACoA), 1-888-554-COAS. This is an organization whose mission is to advocate for all children and families affected by alcoholism and dependencies on other drugs.