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The majority of teenagers experiment with drugs and alcohol. As a parent, you might consider this a common rite of a passage, or a phase that will eventually fizzle out. In some cases, however, teenage drinking continues to progress over time until it has transformed into a full-blown alcohol use disorder. How can you tell whether your child is at risk of alcohol addiction? What steps can you take to ensure seemingly harmless teenage drinking doesn’t turn into something more sinister down the road?

At Guardian Recovery we understand that alcohol use disorders can develop in anyone, regardless of age and upbringing. Even teenagers who come from supportive and structured households are susceptible to substance use. We know it can be easy to place the blame on yourself, questioning what you could have done differently and whether or not your parenting skills were really up to par. Despite your best efforts, it can be difficult to control or predict what your teenager will struggle with, and why. Rest assured that there are steps you can take to ensure the appropriate measures are taken before the problem has become unmanageable. Continue reading to learn more, and reach out to us directly for more information on getting help for your teenager or young adult. 

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Underage Drinking: The Scope of the Issue

Underage drinking is a serious and widespread concern. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “In 2019, about 24.6 percent of 14 to 15-year-olds reported having at least 1 drink.” During the same year, 7 million young people between the ages of 12 and 20 reported that they drank a significant amount of alcohol over the course of the past month. People in this specific age group consume about 4 percent of all alcohol consumed in the U.S. Many adolescents and young adults engage in binge drinking, and many suffer significant consequences as a direct result of their alcohol consumption. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, “Excessive drinking is responsible for more than 3,900 deaths and 225,000 years of potential life lost among people under age 21 each year. Underage drinking cost the U.S. $24 billion in 2010.” If your teenager has been drinking and you are concerned about the implications, there are steps you can take to prevent the problem from worsening in severity. One of the most effective steps you can take towards prevention is openly discussing alcohol misuse and alcoholism with your teenager. 

 Talking About Alcoholism with Your Teenager

Teenagers who drink alcohol are more susceptible to accidents and injuries, more likely to be victims of violent crime, and are more inclined to develop alcohol use disorders later on in life. Openly talking about alcoholism with your teenager can make a significant impact. There is a definitive reason why 21 is the legal age for alcohol consumption — drinking before this age can have a lasting effect on cognitive function and makes a person significantly more likely to develop alcohol dependence during adulthood. Even though your teenager might act dismissive and disinterested when you ask them to sit down and have a conversation, parents do have a monumental influence over the choices their children make. 

How to Talk a Teen About a Drinking Problem

Clearly, opening the line of communication is crucial. But how do you know what to say? It is a good idea to speak to your teenager as your intellectual equal. Avoid scorning or condemning; instead, share factual information and personal experiences. Maybe you started drinking early on and you had an unpleasant experience with drinking that you can open up about. Being honest and anecdotal will make your child more willing to open up about their own life. In order to keep a healthy dialogue flowing, avoid asking “yes” or “no” questions. For example, rather than saying, “Do you know how dangerous it is for kids your age to be drinking?” Try saying something along the lines of, “Drinking at your age can be pretty dangerous. What about drinking alcohol could be risky?” Do what you can to control your emotions during your conversation, even if you hear something you weren’t expecting. Avoid reacting with anger or punishing your child if they do open up to you about something. Finally, remember that respect begets respect. If you make it clear that you acknowledge and respect the viewpoint and opinions of your teenager, they are more likely to listen willingly and respect where you are coming from. 

Effective Tips for Prevention 

Several effective tips for alcohol misuse prevention include:

  1. Keep dialogue open. Make sure your teenager knows that they can come to you with any questions they may have. Let them know that you are always around to listen, and they won’t “get in trouble” for asking you about alcohol. 
  2. Spend one-on-one time with your child. Introduce them to a range of fun, sober activities they can turn to in lieu of drinking. 
  3. Avoid criticizing behavioral choices. Lend an open ear and meet your child where they’re at. Recognize that this is a time of development and experimentation, and it is important for young adults to feel like they fit in and belong. 
  4. Set appropriate boundaries. You certainly don’t have to condone underage drinking in order to approach it with an open mind. Make sure you have laid out appropriate consequences, and maintain the boundaries you set. 
  5. Respect the need for autonomy. It can be difficult to accept that your child is growing up and making their own decisions. Recognize that you can help guide your child down a healthy path while making space for individualism. 

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Does Your Child Need to Attend Alcohol Rehab?

How do you know if your child needs some degree of professional help? Keep an eye out for the following warning signs:

  • Your child has recently changed friend groups, and is spending an ample amount of time with children you don’t know. 
  • Your child stays out late and makes up excuses about why they were out late when they come home.
  • You can frequently smell alcohol on your child. 
  • Your child engages in more secretive and withdrawn behavior. 
  • You notice a decline in your child’s ability to keep up with personal responsibilities like schoolwork and chores.
    Your child starts neglecting extracurricular activities that were previously enjoyed. 
  • Your child experiences seemingly unexplainable changes to mood, usually marked by an increase in agitation and irritability. 

If your young adult is struggling with a mild, moderate, or severe alcohol use disorder, there is help available. At Guardian Recovery we offer age-specific treatment options for younger adults. Contact us today to learn more. 

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Consult With a Guardian Recovery Treatment Advisor Today

Helping a teenager or young adult who has been struggling with an alcohol-related issue can be difficult, especially when you aren’t sure where to turn for help. At Guardian Recovery we have experienced Treatment Advisors standing by to offer support and guidance as you navigate the initial steps of the recovery process. All you have to do is contact us, either directly over the phone or through our website, and you will be connected with someone who can help. 

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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