The Growing Problem with Alcoholism in Teenagers

Problem drinking can set young people up for a lifetime of addiction, poor health and a dangerous lifestyle. When teenagers become addicted to alcohol, the drug takes a firm hold on their brain and body. People who become alcoholics as teenagers have a much more difficult time trying to get sober than people whose problem drinking started in their adulthood.

  • People who reach 21 without developing addictions are more likely to avoid addictive drugs and behaviors for the rest of their lives.
  • By the time they graduate, almost 75% of high school students have used alcohol. 37% of eighth graders have.
  • Alcoholism and depression are linked in teenagers, with many underage drinkers and alcoholics attempting suicide.

Why Do Teenagers Drink?

Before the problem of alcoholism in teenagers can be addressed, it is important to know why teenagers drink and what parents can do to help alleviate or avoid these situations.

  • Emotional and social disorders. Teenagers with hyperactivity, behavioral problems, depression or anxiety are much more likely to use alcohol. Their reasons vary: for instance, a teen with ADHD may be excited by the inherent risk in drinking, while a teen with depression may want something to alleviate feelings of sadness or hopelessness. Addressing behavioral or psychiatric problems in your teen by talking to them or seeking counseling for them can help prevent alcoholism or help them quit drinking if they have already developed a problem.
  • Home environment. Teenagers who grow up with parents who regularly drink and who present drinking in a positive light often expect drinking to be fun and pleasant. These beliefs have a drastic influence on whether or not a teen eventually chooses to drink. Teens who have positive impressions of alcohol are much more likely to try drinking than teens who have a neutral or negative impression of it. In addition, teens who regard drinking alcohol as a fun experience drink more than teens with neutral expectations.
  • Higher tolerance for alcohol. Teenagers experience delayed effects when drinking, and they can drink more than adults can before they feel drunk. Teenagers also feel the positive effects of alcohol more intensely than adults do, feeling more relaxed and at ease in social situations and experiencing relief from the stress of personal and social problems. Many teenagers who drink have binge drinking episodes where they consume more than eight drinks in an evening. This is partly due to their higher tolerance and sensitivity.
  • Genetic factors. Teenagers with alcoholic parents are between five and ten times more likely to become alcoholics than people without alcoholic parents.

When teenagers use alcohol as a way to avoid stress and sadness, to relax in social situations or as an exciting risk, their minds begin to associate its use with escape from negative feelings. They begin to feel that alcohol is an acceptable way to relax and have fun, and for teenagers with social or personal problems, it may be the only outlet they feel is available to them.

The lives of teenagers are more stressful than ever, because of competition from other students for academic achievements and college advancement. Economic stressors are also an issue, since teens see the effects of a stagnant economy on their parents. Many teenagers turn to drinking to relieve their stress only to find that it becomes another source of stress as their dependence on alcohol becomes stronger and stronger.

Symptoms of Alcoholism in Teens

Teenagers are often good at hiding problems like alcoholism. Parents are usually aware that there is a problem of some kind when their child’s behavior starts to change, but they may not be aware of the source of the problem.

  • Withdrawal. Teens with alcohol problems often avoid family members entirely, staying in their bedrooms and avoiding contact with parents or siblings. As their social circle changes to include the friends they drink with, they may stop spending time with certain friends whom they were previously close to. These friends may not approve of their drinking or may not have access to alcohol.
  • Delinquent behavior. Alcoholic teenagers often become angry and abusive toward others, especially when they cannot get a drink. Alcoholic teens also break curfews and lie to hide their alcohol use from their parents. They may skip school because of hangovers or because they want to drink. Their academic performance usually suffers because of skipping school or because they simply do not do their schoolwork.
  • Poor self-care. Alcoholic teens may stop caring about their appearance, neglecting to shower or wearing dirty clothes.

Teenagers with drinking problems also frequently take up smoking or using other drugs. Parents may not be aware of their teens’ substance abuse until evidence of other drug use appears or until they smell alcohol on their teens’ clothing or breath.

Teen Alcohol Use Statistics

  • Teen drinkers account for nearly 12% of all alcohol use in the United States. Over half of teens who drink say they drink at another person’s house, while about 30% drank in their own home. 21% of teen drinkers say they get their alcohol from their family members.
  • The younger the person is when they start drinking, the more likely they are to develop an addiction to alcohol at some point in their life. A teenager who starts drinking regularly before they turn 15 is five times more likely to become an alcoholic than someone who does not start drinking regularly before they turn 21.
  • Eighth-grade girls with drinking habits harm themselves and have more suicide attempts than girls of the same age who do not drink.
  • Teen drunk driving deaths make up 13% of all deaths from drunk driving. Alcohol-related injuries are the leading cause of death for teens and young adults ages 12-20.
  • 300 teenagers commit suicide every year while under the influence of alcohol.

Although these statistics are grim, the situation for a teen with an alcohol problem is not hopeless. It is important that parents take action immediately when their teen children show signs of depression or alcohol use. Teenage alcoholism requires treatment and counseling. There are almost always underlying issues when a teenager has a drinking problem, so it is unlikely the teen will simply grow out of their phase. For a teen to get sober, they will need their parents’ support and guidance. Inpatient rehab may be necessary for more serious cases of alcoholism, since rehab facilities can make sure that teens are unable to get alcohol while they are in recovery.

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