Teen Alcoholism

What is alcoholism?

Alcoholism is different than alcohol abuse. Some teens will only drink occasionally and will be able to control their drinking. For some, alcohol can be very addictive. According to NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism), “40% of those who start drinking before the age of 15 meet criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives.” 1 For those teens that become addicted, it is a battle they will have to face for the rest of their lives.

Alcoholism involves the following:

  • Excessive consumption – drinking to the extent where it impairs both physical and mental functions.
  • Physical dependence – Despite having negative effects on their mental/physical health, the user will not be able to stop. Their body has developed a physical dependence on the alcohol.
  • Increased tolerance – more alcohol will need to be consumed in order to have the same effects.
  • Withdrawal symptoms – Will occur when an alcoholic tries to stop drinking. Symptoms may include nausea, sweating and increased anxiety.

Signs of teen alcoholism

Teenagers may exhibit different signs of alcoholism. Some signs may be quite obvious. Others may be harder to see if the teen is skilled in keeping their alcoholism a secret. Teenagers will exhibit some of these signs for other reasons, but when they occur together with drinking alcohol, they might have a problem. You know what is normal for your teen, so any behavior that seems out of the ordinary should be watched.

  • Sleep problems/fatigue
  • Depression
  • Withdrawing from others – spending more time alone
  • Drop in grades/Problems in school – skipping school/missing classes
  • Behavior problems – not getting along with others, quick to anger
  • Changes in appearance
  • Continuous partying/getting drunk – feeling that it’s necessary to get drunk in order to have a good time.
  • Hangovers
  • Blackouts – not being able to account for specific periods of time
  • Denial – if your teen is drinking excessively and feels they don’t have a problem, this is a major sign of alcoholism.

How can we prevent teen alcoholism?

Probably the most obvious, but least used form of prevention is education. Although we may not want to bring this subject up to our children, it is important to start teaching our teens at an early age about the negative effects of alcohol and alcohol addiction. We cannot assume that they know about the lasting impacts that it will have on their lives.

For teens that use alcohol to help cope with their problems, helping them with their key issues can help curb them from turning to alcohol as a “cure”.

Treatment for teen alcoholism

Treatment for alcoholism can come in many forms and will vary depending upon your teen and the severity of their drinking problem. If you suspect that your teen might be an alcoholic, consult your medical or mental health professional as soon as possible. They will be able to help you determine which type of treatment will be best. If your teen is addicted to alcohol, proper medical treatment will need to be given to help control withdrawal symptoms. Treatment might be either in an inpatient or outpatient setting. Some examples are as follows:

Residential Treatment Centers (RTC’s)

  • Short to long term treatment
  • 24 hour supervision
  • Licensed doctors on staff at all times

Support groups

  • Include Al-Anon/Alateen, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
  • Involve group sessions with peers and/or family members

Recognizing the symptoms of alcoholism and getting help as early as possible is extremely important in preventing adult alcoholism down the road.

Teen Alcoholism Sources:

  1. niaaa.nih.gov/AboutNIAAA/NIAAASponsoredPrograms/underage.htm
  2. oas.samhsa.gov/nhsda/2k2nsduh/Results/2k2Results.htm#chap3
  3. al-anon.org
  4. alcoholics-anonymous.org
  5. alcohol-abuse-information.com/teen_alcohol_abuse_statistics.php