Adolescent Alcoholism: Symptoms and Intervention

By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited: December 18, 2020 | 4 Sources

Adolescent Alcohol Abuse

adolescent alcoholism

Adolescent alcoholism is a big concern because alcohol is the youth’s drug of choice. A lot of young people are experiencing the risks of drinking excessively, at too early an age.

Thus, teenage drinking is a primary public health issue in this country.

Before we can begin talking about adolescent alcoholism, it is important to discuss the biological changes that occur at this age. Adolescents experience a variety of mental health, physical, social and spiritual changes.

Biologically, adolescents are continuously experiencing hormonal changes between ages 10 and 20. With that being said, you can understand that some of the signs and symptoms of adolescent alcohol abuse mimic what can be described as normal adolescent behaviors.

A valuable tool as a parent is your intuition. There is truth in the statement that you know your child better than anyone else, so be aware of what your gut is telling you. Adolescents do go through phases and their behaviors often change during these times.

Signs And Symptoms of Adolescent Alcoholism:

  • Change in personal appearance; they may appear disheveled
  • Flushed Cheeks, slurred speech, poor balance and coordination
  • Use of gum and/or mints to provide fresh breath
  • Challenging household rules such as curfew
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Distancing themselves from family
  • Being secretive, such as locking doors and having private phone calls
  • Sleeping more than usual or sleeping less than usual
  • Sudden or dramatic weight gain or loss
  • Moodiness and emotional turbulence 
  • Appearing withdrawn and/or quieter than usual
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Skipping school and/or work
  • Reckless driving, car accidents or unexplained dents in the car
  • Having a new peer group

What Happens Next

After reviewing the list, you may be able to note the signs and symptoms that can be associated with normal changes for this age group. Examples would be;

  • moodiness and 
  • emotional turbulence, 
  • challenging rules, 
  • changes in personal appearance and 
  • sleeping more than usual. 

This is where the tricky part of recognizing what you feel is “off” or not expected for your child. It is also not unusual for adolescents to experiment with alcohol at some point. However, excessive use of alcohol is concerning at this age.  The risks of teenage drinking could affect everybody—regardless of drinking status or age.

If you are noticing several signs of alcohol abuse over an extended period of time, it would likely be appropriate to intervene.

An adolescent’s brain is still developing and continued alcohol and substance abuse can have a negative impact on its development. Also, early initiation of alcohol drinking is linked with development of an alcohol use disorder in adulthood.

Please remember that the characteristics above are to serve as a guide, they are not definite signs of alcoholism in an adolescent. A powerful tool a parent can have is healthy communication with their child. Open communication about drinking is important, just as being involved in your child's life.

Adolescents are less likely to discuss their struggles with their parents if they have a fear of judgement, worry of confrontation and potentially severe consequences. If that point has passed, there are some tips you can take into consideration.

Are you a teenager worried about your drinking? Take our adolescent alcoholism test to discover if you need help.

Interventions for Adolescent Alcoholism

First, begin the conversation in a calm state of mind. This may mean telling your adolescent that their behavior is a concern for you, and you would like to revisit this topic after you have had some time to reflect.

Try to avoid using blaming statements and other disappointing language. Examples of this would be “You have terrible friends”,I can’t believe you would do this”, and “How could you be that reckless?”.

One way to avoid this would be to use “I” statements. An example of this would be, “I feel concerned when you drink heavily because alcoholism runs in our family. If you are open to talking to me about this, then we would both be able to express ourselves”.

teen alcoholism

There are several components to an “I” statement. First you start by saying how you feel, followed by the behavior that the other person does to bring about this emotion. The second part of the statement usually involves an opportunity of action for the other person followed by a positive consequence.

This tends to be an effective tool in communication because there is no room for blaming and it focuses on how the person speaking feels. The last portion of the statement also shows the possibility of working together rather than the adult telling the adolescent what they need to do.

Many parents are more comfortable erring on the side of caution. If you can relate to this statement, there are resources that can be of help for you. One option would be to team up with a Mental Health Professional.

You can choose to utilize a school counselor or psychologist if you have one available to you. If you do not have that resource or would like another option, your child’s Primary Care Physician should be able to help you find a Mental Health Professionals in your community.

Some communities may have outpatient addiction programs where you could find a Mental Health Professional. Please note that many outpatient programs require both individual and group counseling.

Research has shown that group counseling is the most effective form of treatment for adolescent alcoholism addiction because it provides an opportunity for the group members to see the similarities between themselves and others struggling with substance abuse and addiction.

A characteristic of addiction is isolation and feeling as though no one would be able to relate or understand your experience. This tends to be a false statement, which is what group treatment works to prove through open discussions.

Similar to adults who struggle with adolescent alcoholism addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous serves as a source of support for adolescents struggling with alcoholism. Some communities have Teen Alcoholic Anonymous, however if this is not available Alcoholics Anonymous can be a good support for your child.

You would be able to attend an open meeting with them, however, closed meetings are only for individuals struggling with addiction and those in recovery.

Get Help For Your Loved One

Adolescents need all the help they can get when battling adolescent alcoholism. If you know an adolescent who needs help, contact a dedicated treatment provider today.

Additional Resources

For more information on using the services of professionals to help you with an adolescent with alcohol problems, read alcoholism intervention.

There is a plethora of information on the internet that can be a resource to you in this journey. The following two websites are some of the many options. Please be cautious when finding resources on the internet. You want to look for information provided from a reputable source such as a medical journal, specialists in the field or government websites.

National Institute on Drug Abuse

National Institute of Health

You can also visit Teen Addiction Anonymous for information regarding Teen Alcoholic Anonymous.

If you found this page helpful, then the following may be of interest to you:

Return from Adolescent Alcoholism to Teen Alcohol Abuse 

Return to Alcoholism Help Homepage

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 


I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More


National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Underage Drinking. January 2006.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Underage Drinking. October 23, 2020.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Underage Drinking. May 20, 2021.

Medline Plus. Underage Drinking.

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