Teen Alcohol Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Does your teenager drink alcohol? While it’s illegal in the United States, many teens do occasionally have a drink or two when they are with their friends. Do you know the difference between occasional or casual use and teen alcohol addiction? Teenage alcohol addiction can lead to a lifetime struggle with alcoholism, so it’s important that you are aware of the signs of alcohol abuse and that you step in quickly to intervene. Check out the following information on the symptoms, effects, and treatments available for teen alcohol addiction.

Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse in Teens

Whether or not you are aware that your teen uses alcohol, it can be difficult to tell the difference between casual use (which should be discouraged) and an alcohol addiction. Particularly when use is transitioning into abuse, you might think that it’s just “adolescent experimentation.” It should be noted that even casual experimentation should be highly discouraged. Not only is it against the law but it also can lead to car accidents, addiction, poor grades, and other serious problems.

The signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse in teens include

  • Drunkenness. Glassy eyes, stumbling, looking disheveled, flushed skin, slurred speech, uncoordinated movements, alcohol on the breath. These are all signs that alcohol has been consumed in excess recently and can be present even if your teen doesn’t have an addiction.
  • School problems. These can include a decline in academic performance, loss of a job, being kicked off of a sports team, getting in trouble at school, skipping classes, and not doing homework.
  • Changes in behavior. Your teen might be more argumentative or passive than usual. They might get into fights with friends or stop participating in activities that they have previously enjoyed.
  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns. Insomnia, oversleeping, and a smaller appetite than usual are all possible with alcohol abuse.
  • Loss of interest in personal hygiene. Your teen might stop showering regularly and might not be interested in their appearance.
  • Lying and sneaking. Your teen won’t want you to know about his or her alcohol use, so they will probably lie about where they have been and what they have been doing. They might be in denial that they have a problem and will insist that they don’t drink very much or that they can stop any time they want to.

Effects of Teen Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol abuse and teen alcohol addiction can lead to some serious and severe effects in teens. First, remember that their bodies and brains are still growing, so using any substance like alcohol can lead to physical and mental health problems. Also, issues like depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues can lead to alcohol use, so the alcoholism can mask these conditions and cause a delay in diagnosis and treatment. As far as physical problems, alcohol poisoning can lead to liver problems, brain damage, or even death.

Alcohol abuse can lead to driving under the influence or while intoxicated. This can lead to arrest and a criminal record; it can also lead to the severe injury or death of your teen or of other people.

Teens who abuse alcohol often do not do well in school and might drop out. Dropping out of high school is associated with early parenthood, crime, and a lack of earning potential.

Risky behaviors can increase. Your teen might have unprotected sex (leading to sexually transmissible infections and pregnancy). They are at risk of drowning, as alcohol and swimming do not mix. Teens who drink might also be more likely to try other drugs that are much more dangerous than alcohol.

What You Can Do at Home

If you want to prevent your teen from drinking and he or she is not showing signs of alcohol addiction, setting strong boundaries with consequences can help. Insist on knowing where they are, who they are with, and what they are doing. If you need to, you can install an app on your teen’s phone that will show you where they are. While this is not generally recommended when there are no behavioral issues, taking a step like this will show your teen that your trust needs to be earned back.

If you have been allowing your teen to drink, now may be the time to put an end to the practice. It is a myth that allowing teens to drink will cut down their chances of abusing alcohol in the future; in fact, there is some evidence that early drinking is more likely to lead to addiction later. Discuss your concerns with your teen and ask him or her to stop drinking socially.

Professional Treatments for Teen Alcohol Addiction

Teenagers who have developed an alcohol addiction need professional treatment to get on the path to recovery. Treatment takes a multi-pronged approach in most cases and might include a combination of medication, individual counseling and therapy, group therapy, support groups, and even family counseling.

Some medications that have shown promise in helping to stop alcohol addiction include Naltrexone, Ondansetron, and Acamprosate. These work by either stopping the craving for alcohol or eliminating the “high” that is achieved. They are not always used in young people under the age of 18; talk to your teen’s addiction specialist about the risks and benefits.

Various types of counseling can include cognitive behavioral therapy, art therapy, counseling for co-occurring mental health disorders, and so on. In addition, group therapy sessions often help addicted teens discuss the issues that are contributing to their addictions. Family therapy is usually necessary because family members and close friends are very important to the recovery process. Continuing support group meetings can help keep teens accountable.

Recovery from teen alcohol addiction is a long and difficult process, but with your support and excellent medical care, your teen can achieve sobriety, do better in school (or go back to school), make new friends, get a good job, and enjoy a fulfilling and productive adult life.