Help! My Underage Teen is Drinking! What Should Parents Do?

It’s better to help your child learn how to address the underlying reasons for why they abuse alcohol…than to punish them for underage drinking. More on what to do if your teen shows signs of drinking issues…here.

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My Child Is Drinking Excessively

Teen alcohol abuse rates are continuing to rise, and there is nothing more upsetting than the discovery that your child is drinking excessively. While you may be tempted to restrict them to the house for life, the truth is that it is better to help your child learn how to address the underlying reasons for why they abuse alcohol.

Although every child is different, you can use this list of eight common causes of teen alcohol abuse to begin to understand what is driving your child’s behavior.

8 Common Causes of Teen Alcohol Abuse

1. Peer Pressure 

Peer pressure is a powerful force that often causes teens to do things that they would never do on their own. At this stage of your child’s life, fitting in is everything, and they may worry that not going with the flow could cause them to be shut out of their social group. Always stay involved in your teen’s life and get to know their friends. While you might not always know what goes on at school, you can get a decent idea of who your kid’s friends are by inviting them over for dinner or family game night.

2. Struggling With Social Anxiety 

Teens sometimes use alcohol as a social lubricant, just like adults do at special occasions. However, teens lack the self-control and maturity that they would have as an adult. For this reason, they may be tempted to indulge in too much alcohol at occasions such as parties or on dates where they feel the need to be social beyond their capacity. While some shyness is normal among teens, you should be concerned about social anxiety if your teenager is excessively quiet in social situations or avoids them completely. Social anxiety is a treatable mental health condition, and learning proper coping skills helps teens stop needing to drink before spending time with other people.

3. Trying to Feel Mature 

Although you know why people must be a certain age before they can legally drink, your teen simply associates alcohol with adulthood. After all, teen drinking is often portrayed as a rite of passage for college kids who go to parties. Your teen is especially susceptible to this cause of drinking if they frequently hang out with an older crowd or have always tried to be mature beyond their years.

4. Following an Adult’s Example 

As a parent, one of the hardest things to face is that you or someone you love may teach your child negative habits. However, teens often model the adults around them, and they may follow your example if they see you drinking after work or on the weekends. Keep in mind that even if you drink within the normal guidelines, your teen may not be able to stop themselves once they start. Your teen may also try to emulate other adult figures such as their favorite actors and musicians. Stay aware of the adults that your child looks up to so that you can initiate conversations about responsible drinking as needed.

5. Being Curious About Drinking 

Teens are known for being experimental, and the same curiosity that causes them to try out a new hair color can also lead them to drink. Make sure to talk to your teen about alcohol so that it is not mysterious and intriguing. Encourage them to ask you questions about drinking as they arise so that you can dispel any rumors they hear that glamorize alcohol.

6. Attempting to Self-Medicate 

Mental health conditions tend to show up more during the teenage years, and your teen may lack the experience or self-knowledge to seek help when something is wrong. Depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders all create symptoms that your child may try to cover up with alcohol. For instance, teens with depression who feel tired may drink before school in an attempt to liven up. Alternatively, a teenager may discover that drinking too much temporarily helps them escape from their problems. Self-medication is one of the most dangerous reasons for a teen to drink too much because it is a major risk factor for addiction. Drinking can also exacerbate the symptoms of mental health conditions such as bringing out more anger, which places your child at risk for getting into serious trouble at school or with the law.

7. Rebelling Against Your Rules 

Parents often set rules to keep their kids safe, and you should have defined standards that you expect your child to live up to. However, kids also try to test their boundaries, and your teen may have started drinking out of an act of defiance. While some kids try out drinking once or twice, others end up being unable to stop once they start. Observe your teen’s behavior for signs that they are being defiant. Often, breaking other rules such as coming home late for curfew is a strong sign that they are also ignoring other restrictions regarding drug and alcohol use.

8. Dealing With an Addiction 

Similar to other addictions, alcohol abuse often starts with just an occasional urge to indulge. Your teen may have simply tried a drink with their friend to see what would happen, but then decided to do it again when they were alone. Over time, your teen’s drinking habit may have escalated to the point that their body now craves the alcohol, and your teenager may need more to achieve the same effects. Once tolerance develops, your teen may already have a serious addiction to alcohol. Make sure that you know the signs of addiction such as hiding bottles, drinking alone and promising to stop but continuing to do so. This way, you can seek professional help for your teen before they experience long-term issues from their drinking habits.

What To Do? Seek Professional Help

Figuring out why your teen abuses alcohol gets complicated since there can be multiple underlying causes affecting their actions. So what can you do?

Simply, get help. Serious mental health issues are best addressed with professional care. Be sure to arrange for your child to have a consultation with a professional addiction counselor at the first sign of excessive drinking so that they benefit from care that targets the issues that affect their ability to stay sober.

About the author
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY17766), a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist and a Certified Youth Residential Treatment Administrator. Dr. Nalin is the Founder and Clinical Director of Paradigm Malibu and Paradigm San Francisco Adolescent Treatment Centers. He has been responsible for the direct care of young people at multiple institutions of learning including; The Los Angeles Unified School District, the University of California at San Diego, Santa Monica College, and Pacific University. He was instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
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