Being a parent often means that you worry about your child. This is present from a young age, through adolescence, teen years and adulthood.
Alcohol is the most prevalently used substance among teenagers in the United States, and underage drinking poses serious health and safety consequences. If you have a teen who you feel may be drinking too much, there are resources out there to help you. For more information on teen alcoholism, please click the link.
Parents who find themselves concerned about teen drinking can use their Pediatrician or Family Care Doctor as a resource on how to proceed. There will likely be two actions that follow:
· You (the teen) will be asked a few questions and undergo a brief physical examination (perhaps blood will be taken). Then, if it is deemed that you have a concern with drinking, the doctor may advise you to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and maybe to attend some kind of counseling/therapy.
· You (the teen) will be asked a few questions and undergo a brief physical examination (perhaps blood will be taken). If the doctor concludes that you have a more serious drinking problems then he or she will refer you to a specialist for further tests on your liver etc, may prescribe medication and will advise you to enter a treatment facility. A treatment facility that will more than likely (there's an 85% chance) adhere to the 12 step method, which means that, after your four or five weeks of very expensive treatment you will be expected to attend AA meetings.
In short, the great majority of doctors think that attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous is essential for anybody who thinks they have a drinking problem. Meetings are viewed as a place where you can learn about addiction, learn the similarities between your story and others, gain sober support and have accountability.
One thing to note is that Alcoholic Anonymous meetings do not have the highest success rate when we look at the research. Of course, there are many variables that go into the success rate such as the number of participants in the study, readiness to change and follow through with changes needed for a healthy recovery.
Because of the low success rate, many feel that there are other options to consider. Other meetings such as Smart Recovery, also an international fellowship of mutual-support groups, may be a better fit. Nonetheless, try out a few Alcoholic Anonymous meetings and see if you can find one that is a good fit for you. Look for a group that has individuals who have something you want; this could be a family, successful job or even confidence in oneself.
Identifying youths at greatest risk could help prevent bigger problems before they even develop. Thus, Teens and adolescents are often referred to Alcoholics Anonymous by courts, counselors, doctors, priests, youth leaders, family members etc. While this may be an appropriate recommendation for some, not all teens who drink are alcoholics. As a result, they may not see a benefit in attending meetings which can lead to a sour taste regarding meetings down the road when they may actually benefit from attending them.
There are several meetings why you should exercise caution when having your teen or adolescent attend a meeting, however we will talk about two of the main ones. These would be that:
1. They, the teens, are labeled as alcoholics.
2. A teen in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is easy prey for the unscrupulous and criminal.
What follows is a discussion of these two issues.
Teen Alcohol Treatment and AA: Labeling
When a teen goes to a meeting, they will find that meetings begin by introducing yourself as:
Hello, my name is Charles, I am an alcoholic
As mentioned above, this is a label that does not fit many teens. Many teens struggle with binge drinking and other behaviors associated with drinking, however this does not mean that they are an alcoholic.
In a room where the expectation is to identify oneself as an alcoholic will likely lead to the teen taking the label of an alcoholic when they introduce themselves. Accepting the label as an alcoholic can be harmful for a teen if it is not addressed properly.
A teen may be worried about being judged negatively by others if becomes common knowledge that they attend meetings. They could worry about their peers judgements, team mates, coaches, teachers and other important people in their life.
Of course, there are times when a teen does develop full-blown alcoholism, though, this is a relatively rare occurrence. Complete our Alcoholism and Teenagers Test to determine whether you are alcohol dependent.
The second concern mentioned above regarding a teen going to an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting is that they could become the target for some poor behavior.
It is quite unfortunate that there are some individuals who attend meetings for the wrong reasons. There are also those who attend meetings because they are required by different authority figures such as work, court or their employer.
Recognizing that not everyone at the meeting will be a good influence is an important conversation to have with your teen if they are going to a meeting. Talk about the concerns that could come from gravitating towards individuals who are still drinking and/or are impaired at the meeting. It is never too early to begin talking to your teen about underage alcohol use. Through that, you could help give your child the support and guidance he or she needs to make good decisions.
Some parent’s find that they are more comfortable attending the first meeting with their child. This would be possible for an open meeting, however closed meetings are only for individuals who have a desire to stop drinking. Keep in mind that if your child does continue going to meetings, it would be best for them to go in alone. They may be more likely to participate without having a parent in the room.
Teen Alcohol Treatment: Counseling Options
There are several levels of care that may be available for your teen. That being said, there are criteria regarding their use of alcohol and physical symptoms that would qualify them for the varying levels of care. Attending all levels of care may not be appropriate for your teen, and that is okay.
Detoxification usually occurs in a medically supervised facility. This would be appropriate if your teen is experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms as alcohol withdrawal can lead to death. The use of drugs and/or prescription medications could also impact your teens need to detox while supervised by medical professionals. Some low risk detox’s are able to be done on an outpatient basis. This would be a level of care that not many teens meet criteria for.
Inpatient Treatment Programs are a common recommendation for individuals who do have problematic drinking behaviors. For a teen to meet the criteria required for inpatient programs, they would have to be drinking a larger quantity frequently. Their drinking would have had a negative impact on their schooling and relationships with family and friends. It is important to note that you are more likely to see individuals in their late teens (17-19 y/o) referred to an inpatient program compared to younger teens.
Outpatient Treatment Programs could be a better fit for teens. Outpatient programs tend to involve both group and individual therapy. Some programs offer a Young Adults group which is designed specifically for teens who have drinking and/or substance abuse concerns.
Individual Counseling would likely be a good place for your teen if they do not meet criteria for the other levels of treatment. Benefits to individual counseling is that there is no addiction program associated with it, so the teen may be more receptive to engage. Some find that groups are an intimidating place to open up, so having a one-on-one session may be the preferred alternative for them. The goal of addiction counselors is to meet a person where they are, and work to find a motivation to stop problematic behaviors. If there is an underlying mental health concern, such as depression or anxiety, individual counseling would be able to address this as well as the drinking concerns.
Either way, your best option would be to discuss your concerns with your child’s doctor and try to find an appropriate path for them.
If you are a parent, and concerned about your teen's drinking, take a look at our page on Signs of Adolescent Alcoholism and then decide if you have something to worry about.
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