How to Help a Teenage Alcoholic

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If you’re the parent or guardian of a teen, you may be surprised what they’re exposed to. Despite your best efforts, shielding your teen from access to “adult” substances like alcohol, tobacco, and drugs may not be possible. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 29% of high school students said that they consumed alcohol within the last 30 days.

Here’s what to do when you suspect that your teen is struggling with alcohol use and abuse.

Learn the Signs and the Risk Factors

The signs of alcohol abuse in teens can look similar to the same behavior in adults, but teens may have fewer ways to hide it, especially when they live with you. Some signs that a teen is developing a drinking problem are:

  • Shifts in behavior and mood
  • Frequent tiredness and reports of feeling sick
  • Sudden onset of lying, hiding money or alcohol, and staying out later than usual
  • A new, unfamiliar group of friends
  • A drop in school performance or reliability with sports and other extra-curricular activities

Find Common Ground When You Educate

Teens often think they know better than anyone else around them, and as such, they may be difficult to reach with messages about the dangers of abusing alcohol. To communicate with them in a way that they may be more receptive to, find common ground. This may mean starting the conversation with a story about your own experiences with underage drinking, or talking about a personal family member who has struggled with alcoholism and the negative consequences that followed.

This may help a teen listen to what you’re telling them in a more real context, rather than something they have no personal attachment to. This allows you to educate them on the dangers of drinking, including:

  • The long-term health impacts of frequent “binge drinking” — defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as drinking enough to bring the blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) to .08 or higher.
  • The dangers of driving while under the influence
  • Resources and facilities dedicated to helping patients of all ages recover from a wide range of substance abuse issues

Provide Multi-Dimensional Support

Because teens are technically “children” and don’t have the same control over their lives as many adults, it becomes the responsibility of the adults close to them to ensure that a teen with a substance abuse issue has the best possible chance of recovery.

This can mean a few different things, including:

  • Making sure triggers are mitigated or removed entirely
  • Addressing underlying mental or emotional health concerns that may be covered by alcohol abuse
  • Setting boundaries to ensure that they have structure in their life — a curfew, a mandate to be home for certain time periods, or rules about where they are, who they’re with, and when to check in

And of course, helping them get access to the professional help they need so that they can get through a difficult time and come out on the other side healthier and happier. If you or someone you know has a teenage child showing signs of alcoholism, the time to intervene is now. Contact Baystate Recovery Center and talk to one of our addiction recovery experts about the best way to provide support to a child in need.

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