Alcohol and Your Teen – Identifying Alcohol Abuse

by Polaris Teen Center | Jan 20, 2016 | Mental Health, Parenting Tips, Resources, Substance Abuse

Substance Abuse

Underage drinking is a serious health issue in this country. When it comes to teens, alcohol is the most commonly abused substance despite the legal drinking age being set at 21. In 2015, more than 30% of teens reported they had consumed alcohol in the last month.

What is alcohol abuse?

Alcohol abuse is defined as the habitual, or routine, misuse of alcohol. Addressing illegal teen alcohol consumption is important, as teens are most at risk for developing problematic behaviors such as binge drinking or engaging in patterns of substance abuse.

Risk factors for teen alcohol abuse   

MMoving from adolescence to young adulthood is a difficult time for most teens. During this challenging time, many will experiment with alcohol at some point. Yet, some are more likely than others to develop an alcohol problem. Risk factors that might increase your teen’s chances of abusing alcohol include:

  • Genetics – alcoholism can run in families, making it far more likely for children of alcoholics to develop a problem with drinking.
  • Trauma – research shows there is a strong correlation between alcohol abuse in teens and childhood trauma. Childhood trauma includes physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, along with experiences of witnessing violence.
  • Attitudes around alcohol – teens whose parents or primary caregivers hold permissive attitudes around alcohol, including lenient rules regarding alcohol use, are more likely to struggle with alcohol abuse.
  • Social pressure – teens whose friends, siblings, or peers use alcohol are more likely to feel the pressure to do so themselves. In many cases, alcohol helps teenagers feel like they “fit in.”
  • Personality – for many, alcohol is a way to feel more comfortable and open in social situations.
  • Mental illness – adolescents and teens who suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses are at an increased risk of using alcohol as a way to cope.

Signs of alcohol abuse in teens

Unfortunately, even if your teen does not have any of the above-mentioned risk factors, there is still the possibility he or she may struggle with alcohol abuse.  If you think your teen may be using alcohol, look for the following signs, as they are often indicators of teenage drinking.

  • Lethargy
  • Decreased performance at school and other activities
  • Erratic behavior
  • Changes in appearance – although it is not uncommon for teens to alter their appearance periodically, noticeable changes such as poor hygiene, significant weight gain or loss, or abnormal skin pallor may point to signs of alcohol abuse.
  • Secretiveness – many teens that are abusing alcohol begin to lie, steal, isolate, and engage in other sneaky behaviors.
  • Sadness, irritability – although it is not uncommon for teens to experience general moodiness, if you notice persistent irritability or sadness, this could be a sign your teen is using alcohol
  • Smell of alcohol on breath or clothing

Dangers of alcohol abuse in teens

It is vital to be aware of any physical, emotional, or behavioral changes in your teen that might point to alcohol abuse. Not only because they may be breaking the law, but also because of the other potential risks and dangers associated with teenage drinking, including:

  • Erratic behavior – teens that abuse alcohol are more likely to flunk out of school, vandalize property, act out sexually, or run away from home.
  • Depression – alcohol is considered a depressant, or a “downer.” Use over an extended period of time can contribute to the development of depression.
  • Self-harm – teens who drink heavily (compared to those who do not) are three times more likely to inflict self-injury.
  • Death – car crashes, homicide, and suicide are the top three causes of death for teenagers. The common (and leading) factor in all three is alcohol use.
  • Brain changes – because the teenage brain is still developing, alcohol use and abuse can cause significant effects. Research indicates alcohol impacts long-term memory and the ability to retain new information.

Substance Abuse Treatment

It is critical to approach any addiction treatment with understanding. In most cases, it is beneficial to seek behavioral therapy, either privately or at a specialized treatment facility. Treatment facilities, such as rehab centers, can be an ideal environment for recovery.

These centers develop personalized treatment plans and offer a distraction-free environment. This ensures the teen can separate themselves from substance abuse triggers and be fully dedicated to recovery. Many treatment centers accept private insurance, provided they have out-of-network coverage.

If your teen is using alcohol, or you suspect they might be, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-HELP to get support and find out about treatment options. We at Polaris offer teen behavioral treatment programs in the Los Angeles area. Contact us to learn more about our treatments and how we can help.

Polaris Teen Center | Website | + posts

Polaris Teen Center is a residential treatment facility for teens and adolescents suffering from severe mental health disorders. Our highly accredited facility is fully licensed and certified in Trauma Informed Care and is a part of the Behavioral Health Association of Providers (formerly AATA).