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.
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;
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.
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.
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.
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.
First, begin the conversation in a calm state of mind. This may mean telling the 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”.
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 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 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.
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.
You can also visit Teen Addiction Anonymous for information regarding Teen Alcoholic Anonymous.
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