Young adults use a number of ways to obtain alcohol illegally:
- They take it from open liquor cabinets at home.
- A parent lets them have it.
- An older sibling or friend obtains it for them.
- They use sophisticated technology to create fake IDs.
- They frequent bars and liquor stores that don’t check IDs.
- They get it at parties.
- They steal it.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that 72% of teens who manage to get alcohol underage get it for free–an alarming statistic. This means that simply using tighter ID requirements at retail establishments, clubs and restaurants isn’t sufficient to prevent underage alcohol consumption.
How Can You Keep Alcohol Away from Them?
Clearly, checking for age identification, while a necessary and helpful measure, will not completely prevent young adults under the age of 21 from obtaining alcohol. There are steps you can take individually to help prevent the teens in your care from getting their hands on liquor:
- Keep alcohol at home under lock and key.
- Be a good role model around teens: don’t let them see you overindulging and don’t offer them liquor.
- Keep track of your kids. Don’t allow them to go to school parties, and when they’re out with friends, make them check in by voice (not text). Set and enforce curfews.
- Talk with teens about alcohol abuse and how to respond to peer pressure.
- Talk to neighbors, schoolmates’ parents and school officials about watching for alcohol use and abuse.
What Are the Signs of Teen Alcohol Abuse?
If you suspect a young adult in your life is abusing alcohol, there are signs you can look for to support your suspicions:
- Neglecting responsibilities at home, school or extracurricular activities.
- Changes in appetite or sleep habits.
- Changes for the worse in physical appearance.
- Suddenly needing money without giving a reason why.
- Lying about whereabouts.
- Suddenly changing their group of friends.
- Physical evidence, such as bottles, smell of liquor, or even encounters with law enforcement.
What Should You Do If a Young Person Is Abusing Alcohol?
If you suspect or know for sure a young person in your life is abusing alcohol, your course of action depends on the age of the abuser. If the child is yours and a minor, you can mandate treatment. However, if the person is between 18 and 21, they are legally an adult and cannot necessarily be forced into treatment without legal process.
It’s better in all cases if you can convince someone who is abusing alcohol to seek treatment willingly, preferably at an inpatient facility. An inpatient alcohol treatment facility can offer professional rehabilitation in a setting without distractions or temptations, thereby reducing the risk of a relapse. There is also support for family members and for patients once they rejoin the outside world.
Blame, threats and anger will be counterproductive in convincing someone to enter into rehab. Instead try to persuade the abuser that you are looking out for their best interest, and let them know the consequences of not following through with treatment: loss of driving privileges; discontinuation of tuition assistance; removal from sports teams; etc. Never confront an underage drinker about their problem when they are under the influence; always wait until they are sober, and you can have a rational discussion.
Many teens resist inpatient treatment (or treatment of any kind) because of fear of the unknown. It helps if you have pamphlets about a proposed facility or can meet with representatives to answer questions and assuage their anxiety.
The good news about young abusers of alcohol is that they often have good motivators to encourage them to finish treatment and to stay on track. Their patterns are not ingrained for years or decades, and new ways of thinking are more easily achievable. They do not yet have the health issues of older abusers that can make quitting more challenging.
If you or someone you know is abusing alcohol, don’t wait to seek help. The sooner treatment begins, the sooner recovery and a healthier life is possible.