Is my teenager a high functioning alcoholic?

What is a high functioning alcoholic? We review the signs and symptoms of high functioning alcoholism and offer practical steps for parents here.

minute read

It’s often expected that teens will experiment with alcohol and possibly get into some trouble here and there. However, when teens become addicted to alcohol, it can derail an otherwise bright future.

Parents who are concerned about teen alcohol abuse generally watch their kids closely, looking for the telltale signs of drug and alcohol abuse: slipping grades, losing friends, lack of interest in school or hobbies, and so forth. Nonetheless, many parents don’t realize that there are a growing number of high-functioning teen alcoholics that display none of these symptoms. So, if you’re wondering, “Is alcohol is a danger for my teen?”… you’re in the right place.

What is a high functioning alcoholic?

Contrary to the popular stereotype of an out-of-control drinker who puts everything aside to imbibe, high functioning alcoholics manage to hide their addiction and maintain relationships at school, work and home. While we still don’t really why why some people become alcoholics and others don’t, most parents equate being an alcoholic with being a failure. However, high functioning alcoholics defy that definition.

Symptoms of high functioning alcoholism in teens

There are several symptoms that parents can watch for in their teens to determine whether or not they may be a high functioning alcoholic. The main symptoms of the effects of alcohol and possible alcoholism can include:

  • blackouts and memory loss
  • demonstrates extreme remorse when caught drinking
  • drinking before age 15
  • family history of alcoholism
  • hiding and sneaking their drinking
  • impulsivity and emotionally driven
  • mental health disorder like anxiety or ADD/ADHD
  • obsession over alcohol
  • often sets up self-reward systems (if I do this, then I reward myself with this)
  • surrounds themselves with friends who like to drink

Teen alcohol abuse is not a new problem that today’s parents face, but recognizing a high functioning teen alcoholic can be tricky for parents who don’t know what signs to look for.

What Parents Can Do

Parents who suspect that their teenager is a high functioning alcoholic must take the necessary steps to ensure that their child gets the professional help they need to overcome the addiction. High functioning alcoholics often realize that their drinking is a problem and usually bargain with themselves over the years to quit, then suffer relapse after relapse. The desire for alcohol has such a strong hold over them, yet they often live in denial that they need professional help in order to quit.

5 actions you can take to help an alcoholic teen

Here are 5 things that parents can do to help their high functioning alcoholic teenagers:

1. Let them know how much their drinking hurts the family and any negative consequences that have resulted.
2. Overcome the teen’s denial and provide both facts and feelings when confronting the teen alcoholic.
3. Share drinking assessment tools, tips on stopping, treatment referrals and statistics on drinking.
4. Arrange for interventions by professionals if needed, to show the teen alcoholic the consequences of their drinking.
5. Get professional help to assist the teen to quit drinking, which may involve medications, alcohol counseling and specialized treatment programs.

High functioning alcoholism is difficult to ID

Parents need to remember that high functioning alcoholics are usually not recognizable as such. Teens who are doing fine in school and have plenty of friends can still disguise their drinking while functioning in society. Once parents learn that the high functioning teen alcoholic is adept at concealing their problem from themselves and others, they will know what to look for in order to provide desperately needed help.

Questions about teen alcoholism

Do you still have questions about alcoholism as it relates to teenagers? We invite your questions in the comments section below. In fact, we try to respond to all legitimate inquiries with a personal and prompt response.

About the author
Tyler is a freelance writer/journalist, with past experience as the head content writer and outreach coordinator for HelpYourTeenNow. His areas of focus include: parenting, education, social media, addiction, and issues facing teenagers today.
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