Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Teens will abuse alcohol for a variety of reasons, but how can you tell if your teen is at risk? What sort of warning signs should you look out for?

Although any teen is susceptible in abusing alcohol, there are certain groups of individuals that may be at more risk than others.

  • Teens who have a family history of alcohol abuse – Teens who have close relatives that abuse alcohol are at a higher risk of developing this problem themselves.
  • Teens suffering from depression or other anxiety disorders.
  • Teens who feel the need to “fit in” or who easily succumb to peer pressure.
  • Teens who suffer from low self-esteem.
  • Teens who have close friends that abuse alcohol
  • Teens who have suffered any childhood trauma

Teens who are experiencing a problem with alcohol abuse will tend to exhibit many similar warning signs. Teens will typically show some of these signs under normal circumstances. For this reason, it’s best to keep the communication lines open with your teen to help distinguish between normal teen behavior and a possible alcohol abuse issue. Signs can be either related to physical changes or can be socially/emotionally related.

Physical Signs of Alcohol Abuse

  • Red/blood shot eyes
  • Persistent cough
  • Increased fatigue/sleep problems
  • Changes in weight (increase or decrease)
  • Unexplained injuries (could be caused by accidents that occur while drinking)
  • Frequent headaches, nausea, sensitivity to sound (especially in the morning due to hangover)
  • Other drug use, including cigarette smoking
  • Slurred speech/unable to communicate effectively
  • Lack of concentration
  • Blackouts – unable to account for specific periods of time

Social/Emotional Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse

  • Withdrawal from family – spending more time alone away from family members and less communication.
  • Loss of interest in previous hobbies/activities
  • Depression
  • Mood Swings – including irritability, quick to anger and overly defensive
  • Change in the choice of friends/peer group – not introducing new friends to you
  • Problems at school – falling grades, complaints from teachers/staff, reports of cutting class and absences (may be harder to detect)
  • Problems with the law
  • Goes out with friends a lot/attends many parties (may be harder to detect)
  • Secretive behavior – hiding things from you, locking bedroom door, not telling you who their friends are or where they are going
  • Lying
  • Running away

There may be other clues that your teen may be abusing alcohol that are not directly related to their physical/social/emotional well being. For example, be aware of your own personal supply of alcohol if you have any at home. Teens may not have the funds to get their own alcohol, so any missing alcohol or any missing money are signs to watch out for as well.

If you witness any of the above mentioned warning signs and believe your troubled teen has an issue with alcohol, be sure to get help as soon as possible. Even if they don’t have a problem with alcohol specifically, they may have other issues that need addressing. Since teenagers don’t always like to divulge too much information to parents, see if they will open up to another close family member or to your family doctor/mental health professional. Alcohol abuse can quickly turn into alcoholism so they need to get help before it turns into a much bigger problem.

Warning Signs of Teen Alcohol Abuse Sources:

  1. drugfree.org/Intervention/Articles/Signs_Someone_Is_Using
  2. warningsigns.info/drugs_warning_signs.htm
  3. niaaa.nih.gov