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? 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.
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.