Alcohol Abuse in Teens and Young Adults

While legal for anyone above the drinking age, most teens consume alcohol illegally, and the dangers kick into high gear when binge drinking is involved. Furthermore, alcohol abuse is a serious condition that can lead to the destruction of lives. Some teens drink to feel better, as a form of self-medication. Others drink too much in the company of others, causing havoc in their lives. Some teens are physically addicted to alcohol and can’t stop drinking.

Because teens are still developing physically and emotionally, alcohol use early on in life (especially around the age of 12-15) drastically increases the risk of alcohol addiction later in life. If you know a teen who abuses alcohol on a regular basis, it’s important to get them help.

What Does Alcohol Abuse Look Like?

  • Most teens who first get started drinking alcohol away from parental supervision start off binge drinking. This is very dangerous, as binge drinking often implies reaching a point where decision-making is impaired, risk-assessment is gone, and mayhem can occur. Thousands of teens die of alcohol poisoning every year due to binge drinking.
  • If used regularly, alcohol dependency can become an issue. Alcohol is a physically addictive drug, causing serious (and even life-threatening) withdrawal symptoms, powerful cravings, and psychological problems during sobriety and recovery.
  • Persistent alcohol abuse can also cause serious negative health effects, including: liver damage, internal bleeding, anemia, cancer, and a number of other serious health issues.  It can also disrupt normal development of the body, brain, and endocrine system related to proper puberty and development. In connection with behavioral risks, people often put themselves in harm’s way when they’re abusing alcohol, including catching or spreading sexually-transmitted diseases and causing fatal accidents.
  • Alcohol abuse commonly puts teens into dangerous situations caused by the risky behavior that occurs while drinking.  Teens often don’t generally have an awareness of how drunk they might be and may downplay their drunkenness (or may simply be ignorant as to how much is too much). Alcohol poisoning can cause a coma, and death.

What Causes Alcohol Abuse?

Early use – teens that start drinking too early are more likely to get addicted to alcohol. While it’s unlikely that a teen is going to enjoy the taste of their first drink very much, getting drunk early in life can quickly alter a teen’s brain and eventually lead to them to take to booze much faster than any of their peers. While being aware of drinking and its risks early in life is important, parents should supervise their teen’s first drink and give them no more than a sip, if at all. It’s normal in some cultures for parents to give their children some alcohol at a certain age, as a rite of passage, but it’s important not to give them enough to get drunk.

Trauma and abuse – Teens who have gone through something traumatic or have survived a history of abuse may struggle with deep-seated emotional and psychological issues that they do not know how to handle. Alcohol can help temporarily relieve the pressure from these thoughts and issues in a way never previously imagined for someone who has lived with them for most of their childhood. This can quickly lead to a dependence on alcohol as a form of ‘medication’. Similarly, teens with mental disorders may turn towards alcohol if their disorders are left untreated.

Genetic predisposition – some teens are more likely to get addicted than others, even if they only use alcohol ‘casually’, like their peers. Alcoholism may run in the family, and if your family has many relatives struggling with an addiction to booze, it’s important to teach your kids to treat alcohol with a greater degree of respect and beware its dangers more so than their peers might.

How Can I Help My Teen with Alcohol Abuse?

Seeking out treatment resources together – the sooner addiction is tackled as a medical issue, the sooner you and your teen are going to see progress. Addiction is not something we can solve with a pill – rather, it takes a holistic approach. Different recovery resources can help a teen with the various challenges they face after going sober. Therapists, addiction specialists and psychiatrists can all work together to help you and your teen formulate a treatment plan that tackles why your teen started drinking, what they need to stop drinking, and how they can live their life while maintaining sobriety.

Work with family and friends to support their recovery – what your teen needs from you and the rest of their loved ones, above all else, is dedicated support towards their efforts at recovery. This can come with some level of frustration, especially as a teen continues to struggle with their addiction to some degree, but in the long run it is going to be your support that helps out the most. Therapists work hard to help teens survive the initial early recovery, but after a certain point, it’s a teen’s loved ones who take on the job of understanding and listening to them, and working with them to avoid temptations, survive cravings, and lead a successful sober life.

Build up your trust – Trust is hard to come by for someone with addiction issues. Either others don’t trust them, or they find it difficult to have faith in others. But if you want to help your teen through their problems with alcoholism, then helping them trust you can go a long way. Most teens with addiction issues are scared to tell their parents about their drug use, let alone the fact that they can’t stop. But once it’s all out and in the open, you need to make it clear to them that if they ever drink again, or if they think about drinking, they need to come to you straight away. Don’t threaten them with punishment or judgment. What they need is help. Addiction is a medical issue, a brain disorder that takes many hard months and years in some cases to completely conquer – and even then, for some, the cravings persist, and the thoughts of drinking again linger. Teaching your teen to rely on you and tell you how they feel will take some time.Video Player

What Type of Teen Alcohol Abuse Treatment is Available?

Teen alcohol abuse treatment begins with the detoxification process, then leads into rehabilitation, recovery programs, and long-term help through recovery resources like self-help books, podcasts, online groups, group meetings, local clubs, sober living homes, sober groups, and more.

Withdrawal Treatment – Withdrawal from alcohol can be dangerous, depending on how severe the alcoholism has become. In some cases, people have died due to their alcohol withdrawal symptoms. But by going through withdrawal in a medical facility or drug rehab facility, you ensure that your teen is always under professional and medical supervision while the body metabolizes and takes care of the alcohol in the system.

If someone has overdosed on alcohol (alcohol poisoning), then the contents of their stomach are pumped, and they’re given emergency treatment with oxygen therapy, careful monitoring, and an IV drip with important nutrients, essential electrolytes, and water to prevent dehydration. Sometimes, hemodialysis is necessary (filtering blood through a machine and pumping it back into the body, to remove toxins present in the bloodstream).

Residential Treatment – After initial withdrawal symptoms, teens will go through a series of psychological and physical symptoms sometimes referred to as post-acute withdrawal syndrome. In other cases, teens will simply experience cravings and emotional shifts. Residential treatment can help them maintain their sobriety by remaining in a drug-free environment, while working through these issues with a professional and medically-trained staff.

Talk Therapy – Talk therapy, either one-on-one or within a group, is the foundation and the backbone of successful addiction treatment. It’s ultimately up to a teen to overcome their addiction. The brain heals very slowly over time, and the changes made during addiction do go away, although the memories always remain. But that process takes time and relapsing always adds more time to the clock.

Therapy can help a teen find ways to avoid a relapse and continue to lead a satisfying life while completely sober. Sometimes, this also means addressing underlying issues that kickstarted the addiction to begin with.

Helping Teens with Alcohol Abuse at Paradigm Treatment

Getting sober is the first step in treatment – but that isn’t possible if a teen isn’t ready to get treated. It may take an intervention with several family members to convince a teen that their drinking habits are unhealthy and dangerous, and that professional help is necessary. Because teen drinking is illegal, they might also often hide or deny their behavior.

But once a teen is ready to accept teen alcohol abuse treatment, it’s important to know where to go. Paradigm Treatment can help teens with every step of the way, from going through withdrawal to finding alternative ways to cope with life’s stresses, deal with related mental health issues, and lead a normal life after addiction.

A Holistic Approach – Since alcohol abuse is often related with other environmental and behavioral patterns or habits, time away from a person’s every-day environment can be extremely helpful in making the initial steps toward recovery. A residential treatment approach also makes it easier for professionals to fully tackle a teen’s addiction from every angle, focusing not only on one factor, but on a host of different factors to determine when the addiction started, how it progressed, and what kind of treatment approach would be most promising. Often people have an easier time recognizing their own behaviors, the consequences thereof, and the underlying reasons that cause them to abuse alcohol, when they have some space from their day-to-day responsibilities.

In a Group Setting – Paradigm Treatment treats several teens with different conditions at once, making use of the positive effects of a healthy group dynamic to promote effective treatments. Group therapy and support groups are often very helpful resources for people who are struggling with alcohol abuse, especially for teenagers who are so dependent upon and motivated by their peers.

During teen alcohol abuse treatment, therapists work with teens not only concerning their behaviors related to alcohol use, but also the underlying stresses that may be leading them to drink. Teens need to understand why they drink and identify the emotions and feelings that might lead them to drink again, and finally, find ways to cope with these feelings without drinking.

Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol Abuse

What if I drink just for fun?

Unfortunately, the problem is most teens do drink just for fun. There is no medical benefit to drinking. While humans have been drinking socially for countless generations, this isn’t necessarily a healthy habit – and it’s especially damaging to a young teen, who may use drinking as a way to prove themselves in a crowd, gain the attention of others, or test their own abilities. This leads to dangerous consequences, ranging from accidents and car crashes to unwanted pregnancies and crimes.

We understand that teens don’t mean to cause trouble with their drinking – at least not the kind that is life-changing and fatal in some cases. But that’s one of the problems why drinking for fun is a big problem – teens are often not aware of the risks of drinking and what they truly mean. Teens are more likely to ignore consequences despite intellectually understanding what they are, due to the way teen brains are wired.

What if a teen I know is abusing alcohol, but won’t admit it?

This can be a challenge with people abusing alcohol, regardless of age. When it comes down to it, you might not be able to get the person you’re concerned about to admit, or agree with you, that he or she is in trouble. Most people are more comfortable with denying their habit has become a problem.

That being said, teens can often be extremely insistent about things they’re unsure about and may further back themselves into a corner if threatened with negative consequences. To a teen, being told they’re an addict is an attack they need to vehemently oppose, despite the available evidence.
A good starting place is always to try to have an honest, open conversation with the teen. Don’t come from a place of intended punishment or judgment. Frame the conversation in such a way that the ultimate goal is properly represented: helping a teenager turn their life around, and not destroy it irreversibly.

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