For many teenagers and young adults, experimenting with marijuana and alcohol are actually the norm. However, there is a huge distinction between experimentation and abuse. Most teenagers will be peer pressured into trying a beer or two at a high school party, or will be convinced to try smoking pot with their friends while playing hooky from school. It is completely normal (and expected) for teenagers to go through a brief rebellious stint. However, those who go beyond simple experimentation into the realm of alcohol abuse are setting themselves up for a wide range of serious issues later on in life.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH) underage drinking is a serious and widespread problem throughout the United States. Alcohol is the most commonly abused chemical substance among teenagers, and many who abuse alcohol during their formative years will go on to struggle with severe alcoholism in adulthood. The NIH reports that roughly 30 percent of all teenagers have had a drink by the time they are 15. By the time they turn 18, over 60 percent of all teenagers have had a drink, and over 7 million teenagers admitted that within the past month they had consumed a significant amount of alcohol (based on a 2018 study).
The NIH also confirms that binge drinking is extremely common among young adults aged 12 to 20. People in this age group actually consume about 11 percent of all the alcohol nationwide. An alarming number considering that the legal age for alcohol consumption in the US is 21 – still, even though adults do consume significantly more alcohol than their underaged counterparts, when they do drink they tend to drink a lot more. Binge drinking is classified by males drinking five or more drinks within one hour and females drinking four or more drinks within one hour. In 2018, 4.3 million young adults admitted to binge drinking within the past month. Nearly 900,000 young adults reported that they had engaged in binge drinking for over five days within the past month. Clearly, teenage alcohol abuse is a huge problem. But how do you know if your teenager is abusing alcohol, and if they are… which steps should you take to help them quit?
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Teenage Alcohol Abuse – Symptoms
There are several symptoms of teenage alcohol abuse to look for if you believe that your son or daughter might be drinking to excess. Keep in mind that it is relatively normal for teenagers to experiment. If your teenager comes home from a party smelling like beer once at the end of their senior year of high school, throwing them into alcohol rehab probably won’t be the most efficient course of action. If your teenager has an apparent (and to your best judgement, a mild) run-in with alcohol, we recommend that you sit them down and have “the talk.” Explain to them that drinking – even in moderation – is especially dangerous during their formative years. When they are young and their brains are still developing they are far more susceptible to doing long-term damage. Explain the effects of alcohol on teenagers, not just physically but also psychologically and emotionally. Being a teenager is difficult enough as it is. Remind your teenager that while peer pressure is undeniably prevalent throughout high school there isn’t anything “cool” about doing what everyone else is doing just because they’re doing it. If you have the talk and you’re starting to notice red flags – signs of serious alcohol abuse – then it is probably a good idea to take some more serious steps.
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If you think that your teenager is struggling with alcohol abuse or alcoholism, there are several signs and symptoms to look for. Signs might include (but are not limited to):
- The smell of alcohol on your teenager’s breath on a regular basis
As previously stated, smelling alcohol on your teenager’s breath once or twice isn’t necessarily cause for alarm. But smelling it on his or her breath regularly and at strange times of the day is a good indication of alcohol abuse.
- Bloodshot eyes
Bloodshot eyes are a good physical indication of alcohol abuse.
- Changes in sleep patterns
Teenagers who are abusing alcohol will experience changed sleep patterns. They may sleep in much later than normal and go to bed significantly later (possibly because they are staying out late with friends and attempting to sneak into the house early in the morning).
- Time spent with different friends or doing different activities
Old friends and old activities are discarded for new ones – ones that revolve around drinking.
- Rapidly deteriorating personal hygiene
Another good physical indication of alcohol abuse is a change in personal hygiene. Fewer showers, less attention paid to overall appearance, unwashed hair, etc.
- A decline in school grades
Grades that sharply decline in a short amount of time are a good indication of an alcohol use disorder.
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- The building of a tolerance over time
This means that more alcohol will be required in order for the same effects to be produced. If your teenager starts drinking alcohol in greater and greater amounts, an alcohol abuse disorder is likely.
- Alcohol missing from your refrigerator or liquor cabinet
If you notice that alcohol is going missing on a regular basis, this is a clear sign of alcohol abuse. Look for missing beer bottles and draw thin line markings on your bottles of liquor so that you can see whether or not any has gone missing.
- Changes in mood, like irritability or aggression
The biggest sign that a teenager is struggling with alcohol abuse is mood swings – beyond what is normal. Teenagers tend to be moody as it is, seeing as they’re going through significant hormonal changes. But when a teenager is abusing alcohol he or she will be even more emotionally distraught. In many cases, teenagers will abuse alcohol as a means of self-medication. They might begin drinking in order to combat stress or cope with symptoms of an underlying mental health condition like anxiety or depression. If you believe your teenager is struggling with alcohol abuse it’s important that you reach out for professional support. Properly dealing with a young adult can be tricky when it comes to substance abuse and dependency. Remember that addiction never has anything to do with bad parenting – it is not a reflection of you at all. At Immersion Recovery Center we understand how frustrating and overwhelming it can be to try and deal with an addicted loved one… an addicted teenager can be an entirely different story. For this reason, our dedicated and compassionate staff is available to help in any way that we can.
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Alcohol Abuse – Effects on the Family
Teenage alcohol abuse has devastating effects on the family as a whole. When someone in your immediate family is grappling with a severe substance abuse disorder, it quickly changes the whole household dynamic. It feels as though there’s a constant dark cloud hanging over everything, and if you don’t have the proper support it might feel like nothing will ever be the same again. At Immersion Recovery Center we know how difficult it is and we want to do everything in our power to help your family heal as a whole as quickly as possible. For more information on teenage alcohol abuse or to learn how we can help you to stage a professional intervention and get your son or daughter into alcohol addiction treatment as quickly as possible, give us a call today.
Reviewed for accuracy by :
Serving as the Inpatient Clinical Director at Immersion Recovery Center, Susan will work directly with staff members, clients, and family members to ensure the clinical program remains as effective and individualized as possible. Susan is no stranger to the fields of behavioral health and addiction. She has over 25 years of experience, working in an inpatient setting, an outpatient setting, acute stabilization and nearly all other settings in the realm of addiction recovery.