Although the legal drinking age in the United States is 21, it is common for teenagers to have access to and consume alcohol much earlier. While statistics show that the use and subsequent abuse of alcohol have been declining in recent years, it is still a major problem as teens get together to socialize. As social interaction is a very important part of adolescence, it is inevitable that at some point your teen may be exposed to alcohol and tempted to consume it at one of these parties. According to a 2017 survey, 19.7% of teens age 12 to 20 reported drinking an alcoholic beverage within the past 30 days. This equates to about 7.1 million young people who use and are at risk of alcohol abuse.
As our children turn into teenagers and young adults, we envision that their parties and gatherings stay the same. However, the days of Princess parties and Superhero action figures are long gone and the things that children once thought were fun have changed. Unfortunately, as many adults like to enjoy an alcoholic beverage when they get together, teens are feeling the need to spice up their parties with alcohol and more often than not, drugs as well.
Responsible parents, those who supervise their teenager’s parties, will say “no, not at my house”. Teens, on the other hand, will find a way to obtain and consume alcohol if that is what they want, even if it is right under their parent’s nose. Joseph A. Califano Jr. of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University states that “one in three teen partygoers have been to parties where teens were drinking alcohol while a parent was present.”
The reality is that even if parents are present, and if teens are determined, they will find a way to sneak alcohol in and drink it. Now other parents may look down their noses with accusatory comments and remarks, believing that the parents who ‘allow’ alcohol are irresponsible and negligent. Certainly, ‘allowing’ is not the case. Of course, in no way are we condoning teenage drinking at parties, but the point is that even the most responsible, involved, apprehensive parents may have the wool pulled over their eyes.
You may be asking, how do teens consume alcohol at a party where the parents are present and in fact, supplied the non-alcoholic beverages? Teens are clever and will be creative when it comes to alcohol. You know that you bought water, soda, and iced tea. Yet, teens somehow got drunk at your house. How is this possible? Again, teens will go to great lengths to drink, resorting to a variety of “tricks”. For example, a teen may bring in their own water bottle filled with a “clear” liquid or a flask concealed within their clothes. Some teens have even been known to use a “tampon holder” as a flask or even one that looks like an umbrella. Who would question a teen who walked in with an umbrella during a rainstorm?
No matter how they bring it to the party, underage alcohol use is a serious problem for both teens and parents. Let’s first look at some of the reasons why teens may be enticed to drink at a party.
Why Teens Drink at Parties
- The feelings that alcohol arouses are generally pleasant and therefore, if a teen is familiar with this feeling, it is tempting to drink at a party where alcohol is readily available. They like that “warm and fuzzy” feeling at first and want to experience it again.
- A party may be an occasion to celebrate and teens who may have seen adults drink during celebrations could associate this same behavior with a teen party. Someone’s birthday? A good time to drink. The end of school? A perfect time for a party.
- Teens are enthralled with the idea of being “grown” and drinking at a party may make them feel older and “grown-up”.
- Peer pressure is certainly a huge factor in teen partying and drinking. With teens sharing their adventures all over social media, teenagers who are not invited may feel left out, isolated and abandoned. So that when they are invited, they feel that they must drink to “fit in”.
- As teens begin to experience life and its challenges at a young age, they may believe that partying and drinking, which frequently go hand in hand, will make their problems go away, even if temporarily.
- Curiosity DID kill the cat! Of course, young people are curious about what this forbidden substance is and if it is made available to them at a party, many are tempted to try it simply to see what they have been missing out on or what the big deal is.
Although none of these is an acceptable reason to drink at a party, the reality is that the majority of teenagers will at some point try alcohol possibly for the first time at a party. What they do not understand is that what they may believe is an innocent party, “just one drink”, or that they may “do it just this one time”, their vulnerable bodies and brains don’t necessarily agree.
In the short-term, a night of partying may include a night of “fun” and a day of a hangover. However, in the longer-term, partying and drinking can have many repercussions and consequences affecting their overall well-being and health. One “innocent” drink at a party may lead to the brain’s desire for more, leading to a constant need for alcohol. At the point that the occasional social drink turns into cravings and an uncontrollable need to consume alcohol, a teen has now crossed over to alcohol abuse. This is not to say that every teen who drinks at a party is going to have a mental health disorder. However, the frequency of drinking at teen parties can certainly lead a teen down this path.
As an adult, you may be thinking “we all did it”. You, yourself may have consumed alcohol at a party at a young age and your partying did not evolve into alcohol abuse. However, it is important to remember that your child is NOT you and the effects of alcohol on the vulnerable developing brain have now been studied for years. While it may be a fact that you drank when you were young, this is not a path that you want your child to go down. Knowing what you know today about mental health and drinking, what would you tell your younger self?
It is now known and proven that there are many dangers, tendencies, and facts associated with teen alcohol use and abuse including:
- The inability to focus and pay attention
- Difficulties with memory
- Males who consume alcohol tend to leave school earlier than those who do not
- Alcohol is to blame in nearly one-half of teen deaths
- Alcohol abuse may be a symptom or result of another serious mental health disorder such as depression
- The consumption of alcohol may lead to other risky or dangerous behavior such as unprotected sex
- Teens who begin drinking at a young age are more prone to develop a problem with alcohol later in life
- Teens who abuse alcohol are more likely to commit suicide
As a parent, you certainly know the detriment of teenage drinking as well as the likelihood that they are drinking at parties. However, are you aware of some other problems associated with teen partying and alcohol abuse? Do you know how your teen’s alcohol abuse may impact you and your life?
Aside from the obvious struggles of having a teenager with a mental health disorder, alcohol abuse and partying can lead to serious legal and financial troubles for you and your family. Before we go into some of these, it is important to note that if you suspect that your teen has a problem with alcohol, you must seek the medical advice of their pediatrician. After a brief consultation, they will then be referred to a facility such as Beachside Treatment Center where they will receive the guidance and support of trained mental health professionals.
Now, let’s look at some of the problems that teen parties and alcohol could bring your way.
Teens who come into your home are by law your responsibility. If they consume alcohol under your “watch”, you may be held responsible for anything that happens to them or that they may do in a state of intoxication after leaving your home. Even if you are unaware that alcohol is being consumed in your home, underage drinking is still illegal and parents are held accountable in the eyes of the law since they are in fact minors.
- Although each state has its own regulations and this is not meant as legal advice, some states impose severe financial penalties to the parents in a home where alcohol is being served whether the parents are aware or not.
- In the event of an accident, altercation or incident, parents may be held criminally or financially responsible to victims.
- Even if parents are not home and a teen decides to throw a party at which there is underage drinking, parents may be brought up on charges if something happens.
This quick reality check is not meant to scare you or by any means accuse you of any inappropriate behavior. On the contrary, the intention is to bring awareness to the severity of teen partying and its implications for you as a parent as well as the possibility of it leading to alcohol abuse in your teen. You must understand that while teens want to spread their wings, to feel grown-up and experience alcohol, many consequences may come out of what they believe is innocent fun.
Protect Yourself and your Teen
Alcohol abuse is a very real mental health disorder. For some teens, they become incapable of stopping their destructive behavior and they will require medical attention and mental health counseling to help them through withdrawal symptoms and to help them manage life without alcohol. The trained professionals at Beachside Treatment Center can provide this for your teen.
Long before teen parties become a “thing” in your child’s life, you must have open, honest and regular conversations about the dangers for both of you. Even if those parties are not in your home, explain to your teen the severity of going to a party where there is no direct parental supervision and where alcohol may be served. Help teens to understand how easily a small gathering of teens may mushroom into a large party as word spreads quickly through social media and word of mouth. What was an innocent get together at a friend’s house whose parents are out of town could easily escalate into a large crowd where alcohol and drugs are present.
The teen brain is not yet developed enough to understand the possible challenges and consequences of partying. While partying does not necessarily lead to alcohol abuse, it certainly impacts the availability and exposure to alcohol that many teens may not have otherwise. If you are unsure as to how to speak to your teen about alcohol abuse, its effects and damage that it can cause, contact a professional at Beachside Treatment Center to learn how to have this very important conversation with your teen.