Underage Drinking: A Comprehensive Look at Prevention and Repercussions for Teens

Underage drinking isn’t something most parents want to ever confront. Sometimes, parents can fall into the false security that because their teen is an honors student or a top athlete, then their teen will never try alcoholic drinks. Other parents believe that since they don’t drink, their teenagers won’t either, especially if there are religious reasons for not drinking.

But the reality is that many teens will try an alcoholic drink before they graduate high school. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 53.30% of high school seniors drank alcohol in the past year, with 30.20% using it within the last month. The numbers the institute has for high school sophomores and eighth-graders aren’t much more comforting.

Here at Liahona Treatment Center, we have helped teens and their families navigate the realities of underage drinking. To help you prevent your teen from becoming trapped by substance abuse and to assist you in managing the repercussions of your teen drinking, we wanted to share what we have learned over the years.

Why Is Teen Alcohol Use So Dangerous

Some parents and guardians may be tempted to excuse underage drinking, especially if they drank as teens or are struggling with alcohol currently. While overindulging in alcohol at any age isn’t desirable, teens are particularly vulnerable to damage caused by alcohol use.

For one thing, the teenage brain is still developing and will continue to develop until the person reaches 25 years old, which is also referred to as neurobiological adulthood. According to researchers, using alcohol during the brain development period can trigger psychiatric issues, dependency on substance abuse, and reward more risky behavior than normal.

Because of these things, it is best that even when people reach the minimum legal drinking age—which is 21 in the United States—that drinking alcoholic drinks is limited until after the brain finishes developing at 25 years old. Some states do allow for children of any age to drink as long as the parents are present, but considering the dangers of underage drinking, it is best to keep teens alcohol-free.

Signs Your Teen Is Drinking

It can be easy to miss the signs that your teen is drinking, especially if they haven’t acted out previously. However, there are physical and behavioral signs that you can look for, which indicates that your teen is abusing alcohol.

Physical Signs Your Teen Is Abusing Alcohol

  • Change in hygiene for the worse
  • Unexplainable bruises or injuries on your teen
  • Slurred or incoherent speech
  • Appetite changes
  • Sudden use of mouthwash, gum, or breath mints
  • Sleep pattern alterations
  • Finding alcohol containers in your teen’s room or belongings
  • Missing alcohol from your own collection or watered-down alcohol containers
  • Poor coordination
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Redder skin, especially on the face
  • Smell of alcohol on your teen

Behavioral Signs Your Teen Is Abusing Alcohol

  • Erratic behavior
  • Spending more time away from home
  • Hiding in their room when at home
  • Obvious change in attitude or personality
  • Decrease in grades
  • Change in friends
  • Refusal to say where they were or who they were with
  • Guarding of bedroom and backpack
  • Money is missing as well as valuables
  • Lack of interest in previous hobbies, activities, and sports

Not all teens who abuse alcohol will show all of these signs. But if your teen is displaying some of these symptoms, then you may need to investigate and find out if your teen is drinking.

What To Do When You Suspect Drinking

When you suspect your teen is drinking alcohol, but you don’t have any solid proof, it is important that you approach your teen carefully. Some teens, when accused of drinking when they actually haven’t, decide to drink after being falsely accused since they feel if they are going to be judged for a crime, they may as well commit it.

Even if your teen is abusing alcohol, it is essential that you are deliberate and calm as you approach your teenager about your suspicions. Below are some of the things you should do when you suspect that your teen has been drinking.

Have Open-Ended Conversations About Drinking With Your Teen

To start, you will want to have an open conversation with your teen about your concerns. Engage your teen in the conversation by asking open-ended questions. Some things you can ask them about are:

  • “What do you think about drinking alcohol?”
  • “If you were offered alcohol by your friends, what would you do?”
  • “Why do you think the legal age for drinking alcohol is 21?”

Depending on how your teen answers, you can take the conversation from there. As you talk with your teen, try to keep your questions open-ended, so your teen can’t just shut down the conversation with a yes or no answer. Try your best to remain patient and calm, as it will help your teen feel comfortable enough to answer you, rather than becoming defensive and closed off.

Talk About The Dangers Of Underage Drinking

While you may understand the dangers of underage drinking, it is likely that your teen does not understand that there are real potential dangers beyond you being mad. As you discuss the dangers of abusing alcohol to your teen, you may want to cover:

  • That drinking alcohol is illegal under the age of 21.
  • How being cited or arrested for underage drinking can harm their future college and employment prospects.
  • Teens have a lower tolerance for alcohol and can easily become hurt while intoxicated.
  • Sexual assault while under the influence is a real potential danger for both teenage girls and boys.
  • Brain development can be impaired by drinking alcohol before neurobiological adulthood.
  • Drunk driving can result in the loss of a teen’s license. And if someone is hurt or killed by a teen who is driving drunk, the teen can be tried as an adult and serve prison time.

It is highly unlikely that your teen has considered most of these pitfalls of drinking, so it is critical that you talk to your teen about them.

Outline Your Rules Regarding Drinking

Some teenagers will try to pretend that they didn’t know you don’t want them to drink. Just in case your teen wants to try and pull the ignorance card, clearly outline the family rules about drinking.

What these rules are will depend on your family. In some states, drinking alcohol is allowed in the presence of an adult, and in some cultures and religious beliefs, drinking is expected. Whatever your family rules are regarding alcohol consumption, be sure that you are clear with your teen.

Make The Consequences Of Teen Drinking Clear

Along with clarifying the rules, it is important for your teen to know that there are going to be consequences for their actions. Knowing what those consequences are may help your teen turn down alcohol the next time they are offered it.

Grounding and restriction are the common consequences that parents opt for when their teen struggles with underage drinking. If the teen isn’t stealing the alcohol from their parents, then being restricted to the home and other approved activities like school and church are a good way to help remove teens from the tempting influence of alcohol.

No matter what consequences you set up, be sure that you keep them. Your rules will seem negotiable if you do not hold to the consequences that you outline for your teen when you catch them drinking.

Discipline For When You’ve Caught Your Teen Drunk

It is one thing to suspect that your teen is drinking, and it is another thing to be confronted with the evidence.

For instance, say that you stayed up late waiting for your teen to come home from hanging out with friends, and they come in stumbling and smelling of alcohol. It is expected that you would be upset, scared, frustrated, and a host of other negative emotions. Rather than confronting your teen while they are drunk and you are upset, it is best to tell your teen that you know they have been drinking, and you two will talk in the morning.

If your teen is very drunk, be sure they go to sleep in the recovery position—laid down on their side to prevent choking on vomit. In the morning, it is time to talk about the consequences.

In this situation, losing driving privileges and being grounded makes the most sense, as your teen likely drove home drunk and became intoxicated while out with their friends. Along with the loss of these privileges, it is time to pull back your trust. Phone checks, sweeping their room for alcohol, and random searches are how some parents address the first couple of drinking infractions before more serious measures are taken.

Also, there is often a deeper emotional component to why teens drink. Some teens drink out of peer pressure and a desire to fit in. Others indulge in alcohol to self-medicate against feelings of inadequacy, depression, anxiety, frustration, and other emotions that can be tough for teens to deal with in a healthy manner.

So, to help your teen manage their emotions and response to alcohol more appropriately, it makes sense to have your teen start working with a therapist to develop better coping mechanisms.

What To Do When Your Teen Has Been Cited Or Arrested For Underage Drinking

No one wants to find out that their teen has been cited—or worse, arrested—for underage drinking. But if your teen has been cited or arrested, the first thing you need to do is consult with a lawyer. In many circumstances, teens are encouraged to plead guilty to underage drinking; however, that may not be in your teen’s best interest, particularly since the penalties can be high.

Also, if there has been property damage, drunk driving, and other issues associated with your teen’s underage drinking, then a lawyer is essential in navigating the tricky situation.

You should also be aware that if your teen has been found drinking at your home, you may be held liable for your teen’s drinking, depending on your state’s laws. There have been cases where parents were away, and their teen threw a party. The parents were charged for providing alcohol to minors, as well as other associated charges.

So, if your teen has been dabbling in underage drinking, you may want to familiarize yourself with your state laws so that you can protect yourself and your teen.

How To Help Teens With Alcoholic Tendencies And Are Out-Of-Control

Some teens will struggle more with alcoholic tendencies and can engage in other out-of-control behaviors. Often, it is teenage boys who struggle the most, as they are generally not encouraged to show their emotions and deal with them in a healthy manner. To help these teens, a residential treatment center for troubled teens may be the best option.

When your local resources have failed to help your teen recover, residential treatment centers are there to pick up the slack. In these treatment programs, teens receive personalized treatment tailored to their specific needs. This treatment heavily features therapy, both individual and group, as well as other therapeutic practices.

Along with therapeutic help, teens in a residential treatment program will also attend classes. As many teens who struggle with alcoholic tendencies and are out-of-control often have low grades. While in an accredited residential treatment center’s educational program like at Liahona Treatment Center, teens can improve their grades and catch back up with their peers.

If you would like to learn more about our program and find out if your teenage son could benefit from attending, please contact us. We are always ready to answer any questions you may have so that we can help your family through these tough times.

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