The Signs of Alcohol Abuse in Teens

Alcohol is used around the world to relax, celebrate milestones and achievements, and to have a good time with family and friends. Consuming alcohol in moderation (one standard drink daily) is considered healthy. However, drinking excessively to deal with stress, pressure, and avoid problems is not. Alcohol dependency in youth can have devastating effects on a family. In teenagers, alcohol problems may be combined with drug use and risky behavior. Risk factors for developing an alcohol problem include age, a family history of alcoholism or alcohol dependency, and the amount of alcohol consumed at once.

Teen Alcohol Use Statistics

While teenagers are susceptible to other forms of addiction, such as drug addiction, alcohol ranks as the most commonly used illicit substance among teens in the US. Statistics show that:

  • Nearly 50% of children in junior high school and high school drink each month
  • In 2009, over 10 million adolescents and young adults drank “more than a little” alcohol
  • In 2014, about 140 million American teens drank alcohol
  • By age 15, at least 50% of children have tried drinking
  • By age 18, nearly 75% have experimented with alcohol
  • In those aged 12 and older, almost 25% call themselves “binge” drinkers, and 6% classify as “heavy drinkers”

Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse is usually diagnosed if teens exhibit certain emotional and physical symptoms. Teens who have frequent cravings or urges to drink, drink more than other people, and take awhile to recover after a period of drinking may have an alcohol-related problem.

At home, neglecting chores, backing away from social activities, and fighting with family members is another sign of a problem. Parents of children with an alcohol dependency might notice that something is “off” with their children. This can be accompanied by a sudden withdrawal from family and friends or having a new group of friends that are never introduced to parents. Teens may seem unusually anxious, irritable, or depressed. If the problem becomes serious, a teenager might start stealing money or valuables from family members.

At school, their grades, performance, and motivation might suffer. They may start skipping school or claiming that they are too tired or sick to go. Teens might also lose interest in after-school hobbies and activities.

Diagnosing a Problem

If an alcohol problem is suspected, parents can ask their teens several questions to determine if their child needs help. Key questions to ask, say authors at Psychology Today, are:

  • Have you ever felt the need to cut back on your drinking?
  • Have other people noticed (and commented on) your drinking habits?
  • Do you feel ashamed or powerless over the volume or frequency of your alcohol intake?
  • Do you ever use alcohol in the morning to steady your nerves or “cure” a hangover?

Answering “yes” to one of these questions means that there might be a problem, and answering “yes” to more than one means it’s likely that a problem with alcohol abuse exists. However, a teen can also be struggling with alcohol abuse even if he or she answers “no” to those questions.

How Can Parents Help?

With adolescent alcohol abuse, early intervention is essential. Stopping the problem as soon as possible can prevent physical harm and risky behavior that alcohol abuse often leads to. It can also reduce a teen’s likelihood of developing a co-dependency like drugs.

If parents suspect that a child has a problem with alcohol use, the first step to addressing the problem is simply sitting down and talking with the teen. Parents can start by presenting the facts about alcohol use and the dangers associated with excessive drinking. They can also express serious concerns that they have about the teen’s well-being and the effects that the child’s drinking has had on the entire family. It’s important to note that this conversation should have a helpful and supportive tone and not be critical or judgmental. Taking a negative approach may only make the teen more upset and less likely to seek or accept help. Finally, parents may need to consult a professional for assistance.

From affecting school performance to disrupting family life, teen alcohol abuse can have many far-reaching and long-lasting negative effects. Since teenagers are in their formative years, addressing and ending an alcohol problem is essential to reduce the likelihood of the child developing life-long problems. If talking to a child has not helped, consider consulting the expert staff at Centered Health in Malibu, CA. In a safe, caring, and nurturing environment, teens can attend a residential treatment program for alcohol abuse. Mental health and behavioral health treatments are also offered.