Alcohol & Health
Helping Alcoholics
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Updated on April 18, 2022
8 min read

Teen Alcohol Rehab

Kelly Brown
Dr P. E. Pancoast, MD
Written by 
9 Sources Cited
Kelly Brown
Written by 
9 Sources Cited

Dangers of Teen Drinking

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:

  • Emergency room visits, usually due to alcohol poisoning
  • Altered brain development
  • Reduced academic performance
  • Risky sex behavior
  • Reduced decision-making ability
  • Fatalities

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.


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Why Do Teens Drink?

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:

  • Are curious and want excitement, which causes them to seek out new and potentially dangerous situations
  • Expect drinking to be pleasurable because of what they’ve heard from society, family, and peers
  • Are physically able to bounce back faster than most adults after a binge, so hangovers aren’t usually a concern
  • Have friends who drink
  • Have mental health issues, including antisocial or aggressive behaviors, depression, or anxiety
  • Are the child of someone with substance use disorder (SUD) or alcohol use disorder (AUD)
  • Were exposed to media that condones and/or promotes drinking

Teen Drinking Statistics

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:

  • About 25 percent of 14- to 15-year-olds reported having had at least one drink of alcohol in their life2
  • Seven million young people ages 12 to 20 reported that they drank alcohol beyond “just a few sips” in the past month1,3
  • Over 4 million young people reported binge drinking at least once in the past month and 825,000 young people reported binge drinking on 5 or more days in the past month1,3

Signs of Teen Alcoholism

Many of the signs of teen alcoholism are the same as adult alcoholism. These include:

  • A need to drink alcohol despite adverse consequences
  • Drinking more alcohol than they had planned
  • Mood changes, including irritability, anger, and depression
  • Change in peer groups
  • Declining hygiene and self-care
  • Increased rebelliousness
  • Problems at school and neglecting other responsibilities
  • Issues with focus and attention
  • Slurred speech
  • Motor coordination problems
  • Memory problems
  • Worsening mental health issues
  • Signs of missing alcohol, including diluted and/or missing bottles of alcohol
  • Expressing a desire to stop drinking but not being able to do so without rehab
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How to Talk to Your Teen About the Dangers of Alcohol

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.

Key Talking Points

You can build a healthy relationship with your teen and ensure they feel comfortable confiding in you about alcohol. 

Do this by:

  • Establishing open communication and a policy of honesty
  • Showing you care about their well-being by spending time with them and taking a genuine interest in their lives
  • Setting clear expectations for behavior with rules
  • Demonstrating an accepting attitude without criticizing or teasing your teen
  • Understanding that your child will likely make mistakes, but your job is to help them avoid those mistakes in the future

It’s also important to discourage drinking and make sure your teen knows it is not acceptable. 

Do this by:

  • Periodically discussing the dangers of alcohol use
  • Responsibly drinking or abstaining from alcohol around your child
  • Supervising parties or requiring adult supervision at all parties
  • Getting to know your child’s friends
  • Encouraging participation in positive activities that do not include alcohol
  • Periodically discussing life and stress
  • Spending quality time with your children and being involved in their favorite activities
  • Being a positive role model
  • Establishing limits that are not overly demanding and restrictive

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Teen Alcohol Rehab Options

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:

  • Time away from school and other responsibilities
  • Home environment
  • Cost
  • Location
  • Ability to travel to and from appointments

Support Groups

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.

Tips for Talking to Your Teen About Rehab

If you want to talk to your teen about substance abuse, the following tips can help:

Encourage Open and Honest Communication

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. 

Ask Open-Ended Questions

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. 

Control Your Emotions

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.

Aim for Win-Win Conversations

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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Updated on April 18, 2022
9 sources cited
Updated on April 18, 2022
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