It is common for parents to feel concerned about their children’s alcohol use. In spite of this, there are ways to support your teen when they experience pressure to drink and help them make better choices.
The Dangers Of Underage Drinking
When you discover that your teen or child drinks alcohol, it’s normal for you to feel upset, angry, and concerned. There are serious consequences associated with underage drinking that may not be apparent until later in a child’s life. Young teens using alcohol may experience problems with their brain development, disrupt their sleep patterns, delay puberty, have difficulty concentrating at school, and even suffer from liver and heart disease, high blood pressure, or cancer.
Moreover, underage drinking has an emotional and behavioral impact. In addition to altering a teen’s mood and personality, alcohol can lead to depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and increase risky behaviors such as driving under the influence, having unprotected sex, fighting, stealing, and skipping school.
The likelihood of children and teens binge drinking and developing alcohol problems is greater than that of adults. According to experts, this may be due to the pleasure center of the brain maturing before the decision-making capacity of a teen’s brain. As a result, they feel pleasure from alcohol before they are capable of making the right decisions about drinking when and how much. Their actions can be embarrassing at best and life-threatening at worst.
In spite of the fact that parenting an adolescent can be challenging, you can still have a significant impact on their choices, particularly when they are preteens and early teens. You can use these guidelines to help your child make smarter choices in the future by talking to them about alcohol and addressing any underlying problems and addressing any underlying issues.
Why Kids And Teens Drink
There can be great upheaval during the adolescent years. During this time of hormonal and physical changes, kids can experience emotional ups and downs as they try to assert their independence and establish their own identity. US government statistics indicate that by 15, nearly 30 percent of kids have had at least one drink, and by 18, this number jumps to almost 60 percent. In other countries, similar patterns have been reported.
Teenagers often experiment with alcohol out of curiosity or to rebel or defy their parents, but there is no single reason why they drink. By understanding the potential causes of underage alcohol use, it will be easier for you to discuss the dangers with your child and identify any warning signs.
Teenagers drink for several reasons, including:
- Influence of Peers
Underage drinking is commonly caused by this reason. Kids’ choices become more and more influenced by their friends as they enter their teens. When their friends drink, kids are more likely to drink as a means of fitting in and being accepted. A sudden change in a peer group may be contributing to your child’s drinking, so it could be that their new friends are encouraging the behavior.
- Influences From The Environment
The media makes it appear that every teenager who is “cool” and independent drinks. Advertisers also emphasize the positive aspects of alcohol, positioning their brands as desirable lifestyle options. Children often feel inadequate about themselves when they are not drinking or feel that they’re missing out, especially due to social media influence. You can help your teenagers by pointing out how social media portrays people’s lives on a distorted scale and not in a realistic way.
- Coping With an Underlying Issue
It is not uncommon for teens to turn to alcohol as a misguided method of dealing with teen problems like stress, boredom, pressure to do well in school, feeling out of place, or having problems at home. Self-medicating with alcohol will only make things worse since alcohol is a depressant. There may be a serious underlying issue that your child is struggling to deal with if they regularly drink on their own or during the day.
- To Appear Older And More Independent
Teenagers often feel as if they are no longer a child. Consequently, if drinking is only allowed for adults, they will do so. Additionally, they may try to emulate your drinking habits to act more mature. Rather than listening to your words, your child is likely to emulate your actions as a parent. Your teen may follow your lead if you reach for a drink at the end of a stressful day, no matter what you preach about the dangers of underage drinking. You may want to change your own drinking habits if you are concerned about your child’s alcohol use.
- Parental Boundaries are Lacking
Teenagers need boundaries, discipline, and structure more than ever, regardless of how tall or mature they appear. The rules you have won’t be as strict and rigid as they used to be when they were younger, but your teens may feel confused and overwhelmed with no boundaries. Despite the fact that teens will test boundaries, you should make clear what is and is not acceptable behavior.
Talking To Your Teenager About Alcohol
Talking to a teen is rarely easy, as most parents know all too well. You can feel discouraged when you make an attempt to communicate and are met by a sullen gaze, an incoherent grunt, or a door slamming. Or maybe your teen displays constant anger or indifference toward you. If you want to prevent your child from drinking in the first place or curb their current drinking, finding a way to talk to them about alcohol is essential.
If your child uses alcohol early in life, they’re more likely to encounter problems later in life, so starting the conversation as early as possible is always a good idea. Here are some strategies you can use to open communication with an adolescent while avoiding conflict:
- Pick the Right Time
Talking about drinking to a teen while they’re watching television, texting, or in the middle of an argument won’t be productive. You should schedule this conversation when your teen hasn’t been drinking and both of you are calm and focused – and turn off your phone, so you don’t get distracted.
- Establish a Common Ground
If you jump right into a discussion about drinking, you’re likely to end up in an unpleasant situation. Finding a shared interest such as sports or movies would be a better strategy. It may be easier to discuss alcohol use with your teen once you have established a common interest.
- Instead Of Lecturing, Have A Conversation
Your teenager should be allowed to express his or her thoughts and opinions, and you should listen to them without being critical or disapproving. It’s important to withhold blame and criticism even when you don’t agree or like what they’re saying.
- Identify Reasons To Refrain From Drink Alcohol
It may be impossible for preachers to discourage underage drinkers from using alcohol because teens often feel invincible — that nothing bad will ever happen to them. You should instead talk to your teens about how too much alcohol can contribute to bad breath, a bad complexion, and weight gain. Also, you can explain how drinking can lead to embarrassing behaviors, such as peeing or throwing up.
- Be Sure To Emphasize The Dangers Of Drinking And Driving
Teens who choose to drink at a party are making a mistake that they can correct. The mistake they make when driving after drinking or if they get into a vehicle driven by a drunk person could be a fatal one. If they can’t get home on their own, ensure they always have an alternative method of transportation, whether it’s a taxi, a ride-sharing service, or phoning you.
- Main The Line Of Conversation
Talking to your teen about drinking is not a single task to tick off your to-do list but rather an ongoing discussion. Things can change quickly in a teenager’s life, so keep making the time to talk about what’s going on with them, keep asking questions, and keep setting a good example for responsible alcohol use.
Identify Ways To Help Your Child Cope With Peer Pressure
When children are in their teens, they’re likely to encounter alcohol in social settings, such as parties or friends’ homes. Teens may find it difficult to decline alcohol when all their peers drink. Despite how important fitting in and being accepted are to them, you can still support them in declining alcohol.
A child can better cope with peer pressure and resist the temptation to drink if they have strategies planned ahead of time.
- Give them reasons for not drinking, such as “I am not a fan of alcohol,” “I have to finish my homework,” “I have to be up early for a game,” “My parents will pick me up,” or, “I will get grounded if I drink again.”
- Make sure they know what’s in the beverages they accept.
- If they feel uncomfortable around people drinking alcohol, make sure they have an exit strategy in place. This may involve sending a text to you, making a signal to a friend, or preparing an excuse for leaving.
- It will be easier for them to resist spending all night drinking if they have alternate plans, like seeing a movie or watching a game.
Supporting A Teen Who’s Already Drinking
The fact that your teenager has been drinking may be upsetting, but it should be kept in mind that many teens try alcohol at some point, and that doesn’t mean they automatically abuse alcohol. You should aim to discourage future drinking and promote better decision-making.
Whenever you confront your teen, remain calm and ensure everyone is sober. Clearly express your fears and explain that they are based on love. You need to make your child feel supported and that they can confide in you.
- Get to know your teen’s friends—and their parents
If their friends drink, your teen is more likely to as well, so it’s important you know where your teen goes and who they hang out with. By getting to know their friends, you can help to identify and discourage negative influences. And by working with their friends’ parents, you can share the responsibility of monitoring their behavior. Similarly, if your teen is spending too much time alone, that may be a red flag that they’re having trouble fitting in.
- Monitor your teen’s activity
Keep any alcohol in your home locked away and routinely check potential hiding places your teen may have for alcohol, such as under the bed, between clothes in a drawer, or a backpack. Explain to your teen that this lack of privacy is a consequence of having been caught using alcohol.
- Talk to your teen about underlying issues
Kids face a huge amount of stress as they navigate the teenage years. Many turn to alcohol to relieve stress, cope with the pressures of school, to deal with major life changes, like a move or divorce, or to self-medicate a mental health issue such as anxiety or depression. Talk to your child about what’s going on in their life and any issues that may have prompted their alcohol use.
- Lay down rules and consequences
Remind your teen that underage drinking is illegal and that they can be arrested for it. Your teen should also understand that drinking alcohol comes with specific consequences. Agree on rules and punishments ahead of time and stick to them—just don’t make hollow threats or set rules you cannot enforce. Make sure your spouse agrees with the rules and is also prepared to enforce them.
- Encourage other interests and social activities
Some kids drink alone or with friends to alleviate boredom; others drink to gain confidence, especially in social situations. You can help by exposing your teen to healthy hobbies and activities, such as team sports, Scouts, and after-school clubs. Encouraging healthy interests and activities can help to boost their self-esteem and build resilience, qualities that make teens less likely to develop problems with alcohol.
- Get outside help
You don’t have to tackle this problem alone. Teenagers often rebel against their parents, but if they hear the same information from a different authority figure, they may be more inclined to listen. Try seeking help from a sports coach, family doctor, therapist, or counselor.
Alcohol Use Disorder in Teenagers
You may smell alcohol on your child’s breath and find bottles of alcohol hidden in their room. You’ve noticed their schoolwork dropping off steeply, their behavior changing abruptly, and their loss of interest in former hobbies. If you notice any of these signs, your child may be abusing alcohol.
It can be heartbreaking as well as frustrating to see your child struggling with alcohol addiction (also known as “alcohol use disorder”). Often, teens fall behind in school, are disruptive in the home, and even steal money to fund their addictions or get into legal trouble. The good news is that you are not alone in your struggle. Every family in the world faces drinking problems, regardless of their background.
Your patience, love, and support can play a vital role in your child’s recovery, even if you cannot do the hard work of overcoming a drinking problem.
Alcohol Poisoning And Binge Drinking
Typically, binge drinking occurs when the amount of alcohol consumed in a short period of time (about two hours) reaches the legal limit of intoxication. In most cases, that means three drinks or more at a time for kids and teens. In addition to missing classes at school and falling behind on their schoolwork, binge drinkers are more likely to damage property, sustain injuries, and become assault victims.
Due to their bodies’ inability to process alcohol, teens get drunk faster and stay drunk longer than older drinkers.
When underage drinkers binge drink, they’re at greater risk of overdosing on alcohol or developing alcohol poisoning due to their naiveté about their body’s limits with alcohol. Teenage impulsiveness, mixing drinks, and taking shots may all lead to binge drinking and alcohol poisoning.
There is a wide range of symptoms associated with alcohol poisoning, including nausea, vomiting, confusion, impaired judgment, slow or irregular breathing and even loss of consciousness, a drastic drop in body temperature, low blood sugar levels, and even death.
How To Deal With Alcohol Poisoning In Teenagers
Being a parent and seeing your teen’s after-effects of binge drinking can be extremely distressing. You should seek medical attention for your teen if they appear unconscious or semiconscious, have slow breathing, clammy skin, or have a strong odor of alcohol.
- Be sure not to leave them alone while they “sleep it off.”
- It is important to turn your child on their side in case they vomit, so they do not choke.
- For medical assistance, call the emergency services number in your country (911 in the U.S.).
The Teenage Years Aren’t Forever
In the situation of an alcoholic teen, it’s easy to judge yourself or make negative comparisons with others. But remember that adolescence doesn’t last forever. If you guide and support your child, they can develop a responsible attitude towards alcohol as adults and resist underage drinking at a young age.
What To Do If You Are A Teen With The Problem
You should speak with an adult you trust if you have concerns about your friend’s drinking or your own. In some cases, you might be able to speak to a friend, older sibling, or school counselor. You can also call one of the helplines below if you do not feel comfortable talking to a parent.
U.S: You can call the SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357.
Australia: Family Drug Helpline at 1300 660 068.
UK: Drinkline at 0300 123 1110.
It is neither a sign of weakness nor a character flaw to acknowledge that you have a problem with alcohol. Admitting your problem and deciding to face it requires a great deal of strength and courage. Alcohol is often used by teenagers to cope with the challenges and stress of their teenage years. Whether you’re facing difficulties right now or you want to change them in a healthy, more effective way, there is help available. Reaching out is the first step.
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