Recognizing the Signs of Alcohol Abuse in Teens #RebuildWithTRV

This post is brought to you by The Recovery Village. All opinions are our own.

Do you know how to recognize the signs of alcohol abuse in teens? It's important for every parent to know. Learn the signs and where to get help.

Do you know how to recognize the signs of alcohol abuse in teens? You should. It’s something every parent needs to think about. It’s something I think about quite often, given my family history. My father was an alcoholic. My grandfather, although he had beat alcoholism by the time I came along, also struggled with it. My son’s father struggles with it to this day.

Alcoholism runs through my son’s genes on both sides. So you bet I think about it. I worry about him succumbing to peer pressure, becoming one of the 22.7 percent of kids aged 12-20 (according to the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) who engages in underage drinking.  I worry that he won’t be able to stop once he starts. I’ve seen what alcoholism can do to a family. I’ve LIVED what alcoholism can do to a family. I made very specific choices to ensure that my son didn’t have to live that life as well. Still, I worry.

Recognizing the Signs of Alcohol Abuse in Teens

I’m going to be very honest with you: I was one of those 22.7 percent of teens who drank.  I was a bit of a troubled teen. If you look at the risk factors for alcohol use in teens, I had every one of them:

  • A history of alcoholism in my family- check.
  • Clinical depression and anxiety disorder- double check.
  • I was an outcast with low self-esteem. My friends drank.
  • I also had a trauma during my childhood that I never talked about, that even my mom didn’t know about until I was much older.

Looking back, I feel like it was through sheer luck that I never crossed the line into addiction, given my family history. I’ve seen way too many friends fall over that line and keep right on going until they’re so deep in that they can’t see a way out. I decided at some point early on that I didn’t want that for my future. I’m not proud of the choices I made as a teenager, but all I can do now is hope maybe they’ll help me know what to look for as my son grows up. Of course, you don’t have to have a troubled past to learn to recognize the signs of alcohol abuse in teens.

Physical Signs of Alcohol Abuse in Teens

The physical signs of alcohol abuse in teens can be difficult to interpret because a few of them can indicate other issues. On their own, most of these signs may point to something else entirely. However, when several signs start coming together, it’s time to consider that your teen is abusing alcohol.

  • Red or bloodshot eyes
  • Problems sleeping or increased fatigue
  • Weight changes- while most people think you gain weight from alcohol, some teens may lose weight
  • Strange bruises, scrapes and other injuries that your teen can’t explain. Alcohol increases the risk of accidents related to falling.
  • Complaints of or signs of frequent headaches, stomach aches and noise sensitivity. Basically, signs of a hangover. These can also be migraines, though, so again, taken alone, it’s not always a red flag.
  • Slurring or inability to speak properly
  • Clear indication of a lack of concentration
  • Forgetfulness indicative of blackouts. Example, your teen can’t seem to remember details about the night before.

Emotional and Social Signs of Alcohol Abuse in Teens

Again, like the physical signs, these signs on their own don’t always point to alcohol abuse.

  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Lack of interest in formerly favorite activities
  • Depression and mood swings
  • Lying or acting secretive. While teens are often secretive by nature, if they get especially sneaky or completely freak out every time you walk in their room, it’s time for a talk.
  • Hanging out with new friends, especially if they don’t seem too thrilled to let you meet them
  • Failing grades and other problems at school, including truancy.

I look over the list and I see a lot of myself during my regular, non-problem teen years! It’s hard sometimes to tell the difference between regular teen angst and an actual problem. The Recovery Village has a really useful tool to help you further assess for alcohol problems. It’s called the AUDIT Alcohol Assessment.

AUDIT Alcohol Assessment and The Recovery Village

The AUDIT Alcohol Assessment is a series of questions that help determine the presence and severity of an alcohol problem. It was developed by the World Health Organization. Ideally, your teen will answer the questions honestly about themselves. If that’s just not going to happen, you can answer them to the best of your ability about your teen. The test returns a score of 0-22, with 0 being the lowest score and indicating that no problem was detected. Keep in mind that this test is not a final diagnosis. It is, however, a great tool to help you recognize the signs of alcohol abuse in teens.

If your teen does have an alcohol abuse problem, knowing where to get help is the next step. The Recovery Village, located in Florida, offers a comprehensive substance abuse and eating disorder treatment plan. Aside from medical detox, they also offer a myriad of other supportive services from inpatient recovery to intensive outpatient treatment and aftercare.

Recovery Village Logo

If your teen is abusing alcohol, it’s important that you get professional help. As the video above tells you, you don’t have to do it alone. In fact, when it comes to alcoholism, you really shouldn’t try to do it alone. When I was a nursing student, we were taught that severe alcohol withdrawal is the only withdrawal that can literally kill if not done under proper medical attention. Those withdrawing from heroin and other drugs may feel like they’re dying, but alcohol withdrawal alone can cause seizures and irregular heart rate. While the severity of withdrawal depends on the severity of the alcoholism itself, it’s best to err on the side of caution with your teen and allow a professional to step in.

By learning to recognize the signs of alcohol abuse in teens and knowing where to turn for help should you detect a problem, you’ll be one step ahead of the issue at all times. I hope none of us ever have to find ourselves asking the question “is my teen an alcoholic,” but knowing that I’m being proactive definitely helps ease my fears a bit. Tools like the AUDIT Alcohol Assessment need to be shared. We all need to know it’s available. As parents, we need to step in and help our teens before their problems get out of control. As I said, I’ve seen the worst sides of addiction firsthand in loved ones. I don’t want that life for my son.

Share the AUDIT Alcohol Assessment tool so others can learn to recognize the signs of alcohol abuse in teens.

Do you have experience with learning to recognize the signs of alcohol abuse in teens? Share your comments and experiences below, if you’re comfortable doing so.

18 thoughts on “Recognizing the Signs of Alcohol Abuse in Teens #RebuildWithTRV”

  1. This post makes me sad but its reality. If people really talk to their children and just be great examples and tell them not to do things because of peer pressure it will hinder them from going down this route.

  2. I think the problem with teen drinking is that most people “let it happen” as a phase. Thinking most kids will “grow” out of it, the teen creates a bad relationship with alcohol. I think there is this unspoken lesson that parents should talk to their kids about rather than just let it happen.

  3. this post is amazing. I have close experience with teen alcoholics. growing up there were several teens in my family and my friends who drank wayy to much. my ex started at 7 and he has a problem with alcohol to the day. this is actually why we break up. thank you so much for this share. it is something that a lot of people don’t know about.

  4. It is so important to get this information out there. Parents tend to put the “not my child” blinders on and often miss the signs. I will have to share this with my friends with kids.

  5. This is such a great article. It’s so important to watch for all these signs. My daughters are only 5 and 7 right now, but I’ll be making sure to watch them very closely as they continue to grow. I’m glad you wrote this post.

  6. Amy Desrosiers

    I had no idea that alcohol abuse was so prevalent in teens. Thanks for sharing these alarming signs.

  7. This is so important. I remember being a stupid teenager, and I know a lot of alcoholics now who were stupid teenagers like me back thing. It’s dangerous stuff.

  8. As a parent of a teen, although I believe that he’s a good boy, I still worry sometimes. I think it’s normal for parents to worry. :) Thank you for this very informative article.

  9. These are all great things to watch for. It’s always good to be aware a possible issue like this as you are rather than to be in denial about it. I’ve seen too many children or adults who were having various issues as a child and their parent was in complete denial about it. Your son is in great hands with you as his mother and will not succumb to this. Kudos to you for being onto of it and aware that it could possibly happen to your child. I really dislike when I hear or see parents who claim, “Oh no, not my child.”.

  10. This is a great article for parents. I read something about a certain percentage of kids experiment with alcohol at a young age. We have talked to my kids about drinking alcohol.

  11. This would be so terrifying to find out about your kid. I hope that anyone who has to find this out catches it early and can help put a stop to it without too much trouble.

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