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Teens usually don’t drink as often as adults, but they tend to consume more alcohol during the times they do drink. These high-volume drinking sessions are called binges or binge drinking.
Even if teens do not binge, they still face a higher chance of harm from alcohol than adults do. They are less likely to have developed alcohol tolerance (both from physical coordination and mental functioning). As a result, teens are more likely to engage in and be injured from risky or dangerous behaviors.
Teen drinking poses many risks, including:
These are risks associated with all irresponsible drinking behavior, but teens tend to experience these things at a higher rate than adults. Their lack of life experience, developing bodies and brains, and peer pressure combined with alcohol consumption creates severe risk.
Also, adults who regularly drink alcohol become more tolerant of its effects than do teens who don’t have regular supplies of alcohol.
Teens drink for many reasons.
Some want to have new experiences, while others do so out of rebellion. Some teenagers drink alcohol because their friends do, and they want to fit in.
In cases of mental health issues, some teenagers drink to cope with academic or social pressure. This is known as self-medicating.
Unfortunately, drinking doesn’t improve any of these situations. And, the earlier someone begins drinking, the more likely they are to develop an alcohol problem later in life.
Other potential reasons why teens drink include that they:
Alcohol is one of the most-used drugs among teens.
In part, this is because alcohol is legal for adults. This makes it more easily accessible than illegal drugs like cocaine or crystal meth.
According to data from the 2005 Monitoring the Future (MTF) study, an annual survey of U.S. youth, three-fourths of 12th graders, more than two-thirds of 10th graders, and about two in every five 8th graders have consumed alcohol.
Based on data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) from 2019:
Many of the signs of teen alcoholism are the same as adult alcoholism. These include:
Talking to teens about the risks and dangers of consuming alcohol is challenging.
Teens might view adults who consume alcohol as hypocritical for telling them alcohol is dangerous.
This is why it’s important to talk to your teen about the specific, age-related risks they face with alcohol abuse. You can’t just tell them alcohol is bad, especially if they know you enjoy an occasional drink.
It’s also important to build a trusting relationship with your teen.
Try not to be judgmental, even if your child confides in you that they’ve experimented with alcohol. You want them to feel comfortable asking for help if and when they need it.
You can build a healthy relationship with your teen and ensure they feel comfortable confiding in you about alcohol.
Do this by:
It’s also important to discourage drinking and make sure your teen knows it is not acceptable.
Do this by:
Teen addiction treatment requires a program that follows the same general outline as treatment for adult AUDs.
However, teen programs should be tailored for young people experiencing alcohol abuse. This includes treatment professionals who understand young and developing brains. It’s also important for teens in rehab to be surrounded by supportive peers.
Treatment programs will likely include behavioral treatments such as family therapy, group therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
A teen rehab program that offers dual-diagnosis treatment might also be necessary for those with drug abuse and mental health issues.
There are various treatment program options for teens:
Inpatient addiction treatment is full-time and residential. This means participants live onsite during treatment. They receive medical supervision 24 hours a day and have ongoing access to medication and behavioral therapy.
Inpatient addiction treatment is effective, but it requires a full-time commitment. It is intense and might be scary for young participants. Inpatient addiction treatment isn’t right for everyone, but it can be very effective for some.
Outpatient addiction treatment offers support but allows participants to return home at the end of the day. This is great for teens who are afraid of being in an unfamiliar environment.
Outpatient treatment lasts for a few days a week or daily. For outpatient treatment to be effective, teens must have supportive, sober environments at home.
When choosing an outpatient alcohol rehab for teens, consider:
Support groups are an important part of teen addiction treatment. This is because kids need to know they aren’t alone when it comes to alcohol addiction. It helps for them to understand they aren’t the first or only young person who struggles with alcohol use.
Alcohol addiction is common among teens. Seeking treatment is the only way to prevent it from causing long-term medical problems.
Support groups are also a great option for long-term treatment and relapse prevention. Many groups are easily accessible and free to attend.
Most substance abuse treatment programs refer participants to support groups that help them transition to sober living.
If you want to talk to your teen about substance abuse, the following tips can help:
Listen to your teen without interrupting or judging them. Be an active listener and ask about their concerns and interests. Encourage conversations about a variety of topics, not just substance abuse.
Open-ended questions, as opposed to yes-or-no questions, encourage discussion. Allow your teen to talk, even if they say things you don’t agree with or that don’t interest you.
The goal is to make sure the lines of communication stay open. This also helps you evaluate whether or not they might have mental health or substance abuse issues.
Chances are your teen will eventually say something that surprises or shocks you. Do your best to control strong emotions. Respond genuinely, but don’t lose control.
If they tell you about a peer struggling with drug abuse or express concerns about their own substance abuse, offer support and understanding.
Avoid responding in anger. Be happy your teen felt comfortable enough to confide in you. You can be honest about how you feel but avoid emotional outbursts.
The goal isn’t to lecture your teen about substance abuse or win an argument. You don’t need to tally mistakes or make your teen feel guilty. Be respectful and do not use anything they tell you as an opportunity to tell them you were right.
If you both walk away from the conversation feeling supported and loved, you’ve won.
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