Warning Signs Your Teen is Drinking Alcohol

As difficult as it may be to acknowledge, it is highly likely that your teenager has tried alcohol at some point. However, many teens manage to successfully hide their alcohol use from parents. Parents may be unaware that their teen is raiding the alcohol cabinet (within their own home or a friend’s house) or having an older sibling purchase alcohol for them. When parents are aware of the warning signs of alcohol consumption, they are better equipped to take action.

Warning Signs of Teen Drinking

When a teen becomes involved in alcohol abuse recreationally there are usually some common signs that a problem might be present. Some of those warning signs include:

  • Problems at school. Their grades begin to drop, they ditch classes or avoid their academic obligations. Whether classes are virtual or in person, your teen’s deprioritizing their academic life could be a sign of more than pandemic burnout.
  • Moodiness. They become more withdrawn, irritable, temperamental, and defensive. They exhibit mood swings, signs of depression or apathy. They begin to have interpersonal problems.
  • Rebellious attitude. They begin to disobey family rules, defy curfews, and acquire a rebellious attitude toward school and family life. They begin to hang out with an edgier crowd, in defiance of parental advice.
  • Secretive behavior. They stay out late without your knowledge and lie about their whereabouts. They withdraw from family and spend more time alone. They hide alcohol in their room, backpack, or car.

What Parents Should Tell Their Teens About Alcohol

The conversation about the dangers of alcohol abuse (and other forms of substance abuse, for that matter) should begin with teens at a fairly early age, such as the pre-teen or early middle school years. It helps to approach your teen in a casual and conversational way. Instead of diving into a lecture, try sharing a current news story of some young people who were harmed due to alcohol poisoning or drunk driving. Discussing the dangers and consequences associated with alcohol should be revisited often, so keep an ongoing dialogue and let your teen know they can come to you with questions. Parents should begin to plant their seeds of wisdom early, before peers start to influence the decisions of their teens.

Here are some important points to make when discussing alcohol use with adolescents:

  • Underage drinking increases the chance of alcoholism later. Teens who start drinking prior to age 15 have a six-fold risk of becoming an alcoholic later in life, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
  • Binge drinking can be incredibly dangerous. Teens and young adults often participate in drinking games at parties. These games can lead to excessive amounts of alcohol being consumed in a short period of time, which can lead to alcohol poisoning or worse.
  • Mixing alcohol with other substances can cause additional problems. Some teens may combine the use of alcohol with other substances, such as over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. These combinations can increase the risk of side effects, such as liver injury.

Keep in mind that teens with mood disorders are particularly vulnerable to alcohol abuse. Have a conversation with your teen about the long-term dangers of using alcohol to numb their feelings. Teach them how addiction to alcohol can develop as a result of self-medicating and encourage them to openly share their emotional struggles with you or a therapist.

Dr. Arastou Aminzadeh is a triple board certified physician in psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry, and addiction medicine, and is the co-founder of BNI Treatment Centers in Agoura Hills, California. Dr. Aminzadeh is a fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and also a fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. A well-respected leader in the field, he also holds an adjunct faculty position at the University of Southern California, Keck School of Medicine, where he completed his residency and fellowship.

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