Around 30% of all American 10th grade high school students admit to having consumed alcohol over the last year. As teens get older, those numbers increase and more underage drinkers can be classified as binge drinkers. For any parent, these are worrying statistics. Even a teenager who doesn’t display any overt sign of drinking behavior could still be at risk of teen alcohol abuse.
However, when parents become aware of the signs of alcohol abuse, they can help to prevent or address a problem.
Are The Signs Of Teen Alcohol Abuse Obvious?
It isn’t always easy for parents to detect whether their teenager is abusing alcohol. This is because some of the signs which they may display are similar to symptoms of other unrelated issues. For example, if your son or daughter’s weight begins to drop, you may worry about an eating disorder rather than an alcohol problem. If they have started to become very lethargic, spending more time away from the family you may be concerned they’re developing depression when really, they’re abusing alcohol.
If your teenager’s grades have started to slip, you may be worried that they’re being bullied at school while actually, they’re hungover and unable to concentrate. For this reason, it’s very important to be aware of all the key signs of teen alcohol abuse so that you can build up a clearer picture of your son or daughter’s behavior and whether it indicates an alcohol problem or something else.
With this in mind, here are five key signs to look out for.
1. Poor Performance In School
One key sign that your teen may be abusing alcohol is a decline in their performance at school. If your son or daughter has consistently been a high achiever but suddenly their grades begin to drop, this is an indicator that something is wrong. Dropping grades at school can actually fuel the alcohol abuse cycle since it will cause your son or daughter’s self-esteem to take a hit. They will then try to make themselves feel better by drinking to cope with their lack of self-confidence.
2. A Change In Friendship Group
It’s likely that your teenager has had the same friendship group for a long time, so if they’ve suddenly switched crowds and are now hanging around with teenagers who drink, this is a sign that you may need to worry. Peer pressure is very real and friends are influential to teenagers. Therefore, if your son or daughter is hanging around with youngsters who drink, there’s a strong chance that they’re drinking too.
3. A Change In Appearance
The third sign to be aware of is when your teenager’s appearance changes. Usually, it won’t be for the better. Their hygiene may slip, their clothes may be shabbier, they may stop caring for themselves or wearing clean clothing. They may stop taking pride in their looks and may smell strange. You may notice the smell of alcohol on their clothing or their breath and there are other physical signs to watch out for too. Bloodshot eyes, a flushed face, poor coordination, nausea, giggling, slurred or slow speech and a defiant attitude when asked about drinking are all indicators to be aware of.
4. A Change In Attitude
Teenagers are well known for their mood swings and attitude problems, however, if you notice a significant shift in the way your son or daughter behaves and reacts, and you’ve also noticed one or more of the other signs mentioned here, it could be a sign of teen alcohol abuse. Certainly, a teenager who is abusing alcohol will become more secretive.
Of course, if you find bottles hidden in their room or bag that’s a clear indicator of a problem, but usually their secretiveness will be more subtle. It’s more likely that you’ll find out that they’re lying about who they’re meeting, what they’re doing or where they’re going.
Checking up on where your son or daughter actually is, who they’re meeting and what they’re doing when they’re with them may be necessary to put your mind at rest or to confirm your suspicions.
5. Subtle Signs
There are a few other subtle external signs of alcohol abuse in teenagers which can be especially tricky to spot. Many teenagers who abuse alcohol mask the alcohol flavor with sugary, sweet beverages like juice or cola. If your teen is packing countless cans of cola in their bag when they go to friends’ houses, this could be a sign that they are drinking.
It may also be worth taking a look in your own drinks cabinet. If you drink alcohol yourself and have alcoholic beverages in the house, it’s possible that your son or daughter is drinking out of your own liquor cabinet then replacing the missing alcohol with water or colored water. If you’ve noticed your own drinks are weaker, you may well have a teenager drinker in your house.
Teenagers who are abusing alcohol may have bottle caps left in their bags, cars or room or they may have a bottle opener in their bag or on their keychain. They may even have a small flask or thermos in their school bag which they use to carry alcohol with them. Of course, alcohol has a very distinctive odor so you should be able to identify quickly whether they are using the flask for this purpose.
Finding Out About Your Child’s Alcohol Problem
If you think you’ve identified some of the above signs in your teenager but still aren’t completely certain, you may find that talking to your son or daughter’s friends is the best course of action. They are most likely to have a more personal and up-close perspective of your child’s behavior and will be better placed to help you see any signs you may have missed. Of course, it’s possible their friends will feel honor bound to protect their friend but if you approach the issue by saying you just want to help they may be more open to helping you and be more open to revealing the truth.
It’s very important to avoid taking a negative approach at this stage since your child’s friends will be very reluctant to respond in a truthful or cooperative way if they believe you will punish or discipline your teenager. On the other hand, if you approach the subject from a concerned and empathetic viewpoint, their friends are much more likely to give you the answers that you’re looking for.
What Do I Do If I Suspect My Teen Is Abusing Alcohol?
It’s only natural to be worried if you spot any (or all) of these five signs of teen alcohol abuse. However, it’s important to respond rapidly and appropriately. While your gut instinct may tell you to confront your son or daughter immediately and scream at them to stop drinking, this is unlikely to achieve the effect that you desire and could actually worsen the problem. However, that doesn’t mean you should do nothing at all.
Underage drinking is a major problem and could impact severely on your teenager’s well-being and overall health. Not only are they more likely to be involved in a vehicle accident, but they’re also more likely to become a victim of sexual assault and violent crime, and to participate in risky behaviors such as drug abuse or unsafe sex. And of course, that’s all before we consider the fact that underage alcohol consumption is illegal and therefore your child is at risk of getting into trouble with the police – something which could have a lasting impact on their life for many years to come.
Drinking excessively also causes a host of health problems if teen alcohol abuse is allowed to continue in the long term. As well as the risk of alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal, alcohol abuse over time can cause cancer, heart problems and liver damage among other medical conditions. It’s therefore clear that taking action is essential. The key is to determine the best way of approaching the subject with your teenager.
It’s important to have an honest, open and frank discussion with your child completely free from any judgment. While this is very difficult to achieve, it is absolutely essential if you’re to get to the heart of the problem and avoid alienating your son or daughter. If it turns out that your teen isn’t actually abusing alcohol, this is a good time to establish some ground rules when it comes to alcohol consumption and to address any concerns and answer any questions that your child may have on the subject.
Parents who take an active approach when it comes to discussing difficult issues such as alcohol abuse with their children have a much better chance of raising teenagers and adolescents who have an alcohol problem. On the other hand, if your teen does turn out to be abusing alcohol, by having the right supportive and understanding attitude, you will be best placed to take steps together to address it and get them the help that they need to recover.
It’s absolutely essential that you avoid going into denial over your child’s alcohol problem. No parent wants their teenager to be an alcoholic, and it can be very tempting to rationalize their drinking behavior. You may have drunk alcohol yourself occasionally as a teenager and so you may be reassuring yourself that you were just fine in the long run. You may even be classifying your teenagers drinking as simply experimentation and nothing more sinister. However, it’s very important to be realistic.
If you find your teenage son or daughter sipping champagne at a relative’s wedding or even comes home intoxicated after a party one night, that doesn’t indicate a case of alcohol abuse.
But if you’re seeing regular signs of ongoing drinking that indicate your teen is consuming alcohol on a regular basis, you need to take action. Your teenager’s health depends on it.
Does My Son or Daughter Need Alcohol Rehab?
Not all teenagers who drink alcohol need to go into rehab to get over their drinking problem. However, in some cases, it will be necessary. Family support is sometimes all that is required to help a teenager to overcome their drinking but often, trained professionals are needed to intervene. Many parents worry that seeking professional help means that they have failed their child but this is certainly not the case. In fact, getting your child the help that they need is a sign of good parenting since you’re putting your son or daughter’s needs ahead of everything else.
Seeking out a substance abuse counselor or therapist could be a good first step to getting your teen the help they require to get into long-term recovery. If this step fails, further intervention may be required, however, such as outpatient or inpatient treatment to get their alcohol abuse under control.
Spotting The Signs Of Alcohol Abuse In My Teenager
As a parent, it can be very difficult to cope when your child becomes a teenager. Often, your son or daughter’s behavior will change and this will simply be a normal process of adolescence. However, sometimes it will be an indicator of a more serious problem, such as alcohol abuse. This is why it’s so imperative to be aware of all the key signs of alcohol abuse in teenagers so that you will be properly prepared to identify a problem at the earliest opportunity.
The sooner that a drinking problem is spotted and addressed, the more likely your teenager is to recover quickly and to become sober. However, if you remain unaware of the signs or disregard them, you could be setting your child up for many future problems in a host of ways. Having an alcohol problem can affect their physical and mental health and can lead to poor results in school or even a criminal record which can affect them for their whole lives.
Therefore, as a parent, the responsibility lies with you to prevent this from happening by being vigilant and taking appropriate action to address any issues as soon as they occur.
If your child is showing signs of teen alcohol abuse, you need to get them help as soon as possible. Reach out to Beachside Teen Treatment Center in order to find out what our facility can do for your family.