If your teen or another adolescent loved one lacks focus, seems disoriented, has lost interest in usual activities, seems more inhibited than usual, and has more trouble in school, it might be time for a face-to-face conversation. These are just a few potential symptoms of a drinking problem.
When Is Behavior “Just a Phase” vs. an Actual Concern?
Without question, navigating the moods and behaviors of any young person 12–18 years old requires a lot of patience. Hormonal fluctuations create vast differences in how your teen acts and reacts. You might have noticed that one minute they’re laughing over a text but exactly 60 seconds later snarling at you for not buying orange juice.
Psychotherapist Amy Morin notes in VeryWellFamily that as frustrating as this behavior can be, most of the time, it’s normal. “As teens mature, they commonly experience increased irritability, intense sadness, and frequent frustration due to the chemical changes occurring inside their brains,” she says. “Establishing independence also causes teens to experience a variety of emotions. They may feel sad, scared, and lonely about the future while simultaneously feeling excited about their budding freedom. These intense emotions can lead to a variety of mood swings.”
So when are mood swings and behavioral changes cause for concern? The signs of teen drug and alcohol abuse often vary depending on the substance and an individual’s personality. Some aspects you might notice with excessive alcohol consumption include:
- A glassy-eyed expression or bloodshot eyes
- Lack of care in personal hygiene or appearance
- The smell of alcohol seeping through their pores or on their clothes
- Being sick more often
- Unsteadiness or lack of coordination
- Memory loss and trouble concentrating
- Slurred speech or difficulty having conversations
- Being more argumentative than usual or, conversely, more compliant
- Diminished interest in school or problems at school, such as fighting, absenteeism, or missed assignments
- A change in friend groups or withdrawing from friends
- Lack of interest in usual activities
Even if you notice these symptoms for just a couple of weeks, it’s time to have an open conversation with your teen about drinking.
Ask Important Questions—and Listen Closely
The Partnership to End Addiction provides some helpful steps to create better dialogue with your teenager:
- Find a good, quiet time for both of you so it’s not a surprise, and request that electronic devices are put away.
- Remain calm, respectful, and objective, as this provides a safe space for both of you to be more receptive.
- Ask questions that are more open-ended and encourage more detailed responses, rather than simply “yes” or “no.”
- Have your teen explain their interest in drinking—sometimes it’s simply curiosity or to fit in, but there might be other reasons, such as to cope with stress or avoid certain issues.
- Reflective listening and “I” statements help your child feel heard and understood, so form your phrasing carefully, such as “I’m hearing that balancing school with your part-time job feels like too much, and drinking helps take your mind off things. Is that correct?”
- Without judgement, explain the negative impact of alcohol physically, mentally, and legally, and long-term effects, especially if there’s a history of drug or alcohol abuse in the family.
- Show that you understand how it feels to be in their position and the struggle they might face, and discuss better ways of handling issues without drinking.
- Be kind but firm on the expectations of not drinking and the consequences if your teen continues drinking and doesn’t abide by the guidelines—and make sure to stand behind these actions.
More importantly, take immediate action if your teen expresses challenges involving a traumatic experience, bullying, violence, physical or sexual abuse, mental or emotional health issues, or any other concern. Maybe they talked about something directly, or maybe it was implied—regardless, it requires your full attention.
Alcohol or substance use disorder always has a root cause. It’s possible your teen might need therapy not only for themselves but with your family to uncover the real reasons for their behavior.
Need more tips for starting the conversation or understanding what’s happening with your child? Review these parent stories about teen drinking.
Where to Turn If Your Teen Needs Help
If you and your teenager agree that professional help is the best solution for them to heal from a drinking problem, the qualified staff at our inpatient rehabilitation facility is ready to help.
The Pines at Willingway offers a comprehensive substance abuse treatment program for adolescents that includes detoxification, residential treatment, and partial hospitalization services. Based on the time-proven philosophies of traditional 12-step programs and decades of successful treatment through the adult program at Willingway, this approach to addiction recovery provides adolescents with a robust framework to achieve sobriety and long-term recovery.
Housed in a newly-opened 20-bed unit on the Willingway campus, The Pines is a private campus that includes walking trails, a small pond, and an indoor pool for recreation. As a treatment program for teens ages 14-18, The Pines will work with clients who have chemical dependency or drug use that has severely affected significant areas of their life–family, school, and social relationships. Clients receive 24/7 care and are supported by a team of credentialed recovery professionals.
Let our family help your family—talk to a member of our admissions staff anytime, day or night.