Signs your teen may be abusing alcohol

May 05, 2016 | by Justin Wolfe, LCPC, CADC, CRC

As heroin and marijuana have dominated the national drug conversation over the past few years, it can be easy to forget something: Alcohol is the most common drug used today. And if we overlook that fact, our teens may not recognize alcohol for what it is.

Teens are bombarded with the message that alcohol is exciting and risk-free. They see commercials of friends drinking together. They see family members raising a glass to celebrate the end of a hard workday or a special occasion. Their friends tell them how fun it is to drink, and they see party photos on social media that reinforce the same idea.

It’s vital that we educate our children about the risks of drinking alcohol, especially if there is a family history of addiction. For many parents, this can be challenging. What do I say to them? Where do I even begin? Get 6 tips for talking to your teen about alcohol and drugs.

It’s also important to recognize if your teen may have an alcohol addiction. We often hear parents say, “My kid doesn’t have a drinking problem. Other kids, sure. But my kid wouldn’t do that.” Or, “My child is just going through a rough time. It’s normal teen behavior.” We can’t help our children until we first acknowledge the problem.

We also see parents who recognize there is a problem but are afraid to confront it. Some parents fear their child’s drinking problem means they are bad parents. This just isn’t true. No matter how well we raise our kids, their brains are still developing well into their 20s. Teens are humans. They can and will make bad choices at times just like adults. Other parents focus on being their teen’s friend or worry they won’t be liked. It’s OK if your child doesn’t like you 100 percent of the time.

Some parents may not realize what a big problem drinking can be for teens. They may think, “Well, I did it at their age, and I turned out fine.” Using yourself as a reference point is dangerous because each person reacts differently to certain substances.

When we turn a blind eye, we give our teens permission to continue destructive behavior. It’s up to us to help them get back on track before the problem gets worse.

Notice signs your teen may be abusing alcohol

The signs of alcohol use in teens are often the same as they are for other substance abuse problems. While it can be uncomfortable for parents, you must address problems when you see them. But how do you start? Here are some signs your teen may be abusing alcohol:

  • Problems in school: This tends to be a big red flag. When As and Bs turn into Ds and Fs, it could be a sign your teen doesn’t understand the material — or it could be a sign of something else. If your model student is suddenly called to the dean’s office, or if teachers call you because they have noticed a change in your teen’s behavior, that’s also a red flag.
  • Hanging out with a new group of friends: It’s normal for teens to make new friends and to drift away from friends they had throughout childhood. However, a drastic change may indicate trouble. They may not want to introduce you to their new friends or invite their friends to your home. If your child goes to the same friend’s house every weekend, it may be because the parents allow drinking in their home.
  • Change in behavior: If you notice your formerly outgoing teen has suddenly become moody or withdrawn, you should investigate. Along with substance abuse, this also could indicate depression or an anxiety problem. It’s not necessarily normal teenage behavior. You also may notice your teen sleeping more, or feeling ill the morning after a night out with friends. Another telltale sign is giving up things they used to enjoy doing.
  • Lying, stealing or hiding things: You may find your teen starts lying to you about who they are spending time with or where they are going. They may start hiding alcohol bottles in drawers or bags in the back of their closets or in ceiling tiles. If you notice things are missing, such as money or pills, don’t make excuses that you misplaced or miscounted something.

If you think there is a problem, the first step is to have an honest conversation with your teen. Communicate what is acceptable behavior and the consequences if bad behavior continues, such as limiting access to a car, restricting social media access, placing stricter curfews or missing social functions.

If alcohol use is impacting your teen’s health, education or family relationships, it’s time to have your teen evaluated at a treatment facility. A licensed counselor will talk with your teen, get an understanding of the situation, and recommend next steps for care.

Start by scheduling a one-on-one assessment for your teen online or call 630-305-5027.

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