Teens and Alcohol: How Family Therapy Can Help

Beware: Alcoholism and substance abuse is not an adult problem. Teens can also fall victim to the lure of alcohol. In fact, teens may be particularly vulnerable, since the teenage years is a trying and confusing time. There is the added pressure from peers and the need to be accepted and to “look cool”.

Alcohol is a teenager’s substance of choice. Teenagers often have the misconception that being able to handle one’s alcohol makes one more “grown up”. Alcohol is also attractive since teens like the way alcohol makes them feel – invincible, fearless and happy. According to statistics, 14% of teenagers have experienced being drunk at least once in a given year. In addition, around 8% of adolescents have tried binge drinking, or drinking five or more alcoholic drinks in a row.

Parents should not disregard signs of alcohol abuse, thinking that this is just a phase where the teenage child is experimenting. Rather, there are strong indications that early experimentation of alcohol can result in adverse consequences for the child’s future.

According to a study made by Dr. Avshalom Caspi and Terri Moffitt of Duke University, preteens who regularly indulged in substance abuse, especially alcohol and drugs, are more likely to experience:

– Unwanted pregnancies (with a high probability of getting pregnant before a teenage girl reaches 21 years of age).
– Failing grades and behavioral issues in school
– Contracting a  sexually transmitted disease, including HIV
– Conviction of a criminal act
– Drug dependency

This is regardless of whether the teen comes from a home where members also indulged in substance abuse or not. In addition, teens may be addicted to alcohol and other substances more easily than adults. The younger a person starts drinking, the higher the possibility they will develop alcohol abuse problems.

Aside from the possibility of alcohol addition, the use of alcohol during the teenage years may result in:

– Problems with concentrating and remembering
– The propensity of abusing other substances (i.e. marijuana) along with alcohol
– Indulging in risky behavior that may put the teen and others in danger. Statistics indicate that more than 2,000 people ages 21 and below die annually in car crashes caused by underage drinking and driving.
– Higher probability of suicide attempts
– Higher risk of indulging in risky sexual behavior (.e. having sex with multiple partners, having unprotected sex, having sex with strangers)

Challenge for the Parents

The challenge is for the parents to act accordingly to prevent their teen from being addicted to alcohol. The family setup and environment can do a lot to keep a child on track (such as going for Utah counseling) or to enable the child to veer off towards alcoholism. Preventing alcoholism or recovering from teenage alcoholism will require efforts not just from the teen but from the whole family as well.

Here are some things you can do:
– Preventing alcohol use. Parents can help minimize the harmful effects of alcoholism by:

o Having close communications with the teen. This includes discussing how alcohol can negatively affect him and how he can deal with the pressure peers may exert for him to try drinking. Parents should also discuss expectations with regards to alcohol use. If your child has the sense that you will tolerate alcohol use, chances are, he will be more likely to give it a try.
o Supervision. Parents should supervise the teen and be aware of his activities and whereabouts. Parents should also do well to get to know their child’s friends.
o Keep the teen occupied. Simply saying “don’t” is not enough. Parents should also give alternative activities to keep the child busy. This can include being involved in sports, the arts, or programs in church.

– Recognize the red flags. There are some warning signs that point towards alcohol abuse in your teen and it will be useful to recognize these signs early on so that you can take appropriate action. Here are some signs:

o Problems at school. This includes truancy, discipline problems and falling grades.
o Changes in peer group and hang-outs. The teen may shift to a peer group that shares this propensity to abuse alcohol and other substances.
o Changes in activities. The teen may give up activities that he used to enjoy and that used to be important to him.
o Problems with the law
o Physical symptoms, including dilated pupils, slurred speech, red, bloodshot eyes, rapid weight loss, memory lapses and lack of physical coordination. The teen may also complain of headaches in the morning. Other symptoms include lethargy and pasty, dull skin.
o Changes in habits and behaviors. The teen may become more careless with his hygiene and may disregard his appearance. Other symptoms also include breaking house rules, such as the curfew, borrowing (or stealing) money from you or from friends, lying and having alcohol-related paraphernalia. The teen may also prefer to spend more time inside his room, rather than socializing with the rest of the family. He may also have mood swings, appear sullen, or even verbally or physically abusive.

– Admit that there is a problem.Acknowledging that there is a substance abuse issue is a big and difficult step for parents to make. This is especially true if the parents’ behavior may have also contributed to and sustained the problem. However, recognizing the problem will lead towards helpful and productive steps, such as going to a Utah substance abuse counselor.
– Going for Family Therapy. Since the problem will need the cooperation of all the family members, it will be helpful to seek family counseling in Utah. This will help the teen make the necessary steps towards recovering. In addition, the family will also be able to recognize enabling and denying behaviors that may actually have made the problem worse.

Indeed, the help of an experienced Provo substance abuse counselor will first assess the family dynamic and help each member cope and deal with the problem appropriately. You see, even after a teen recovers from his substance abuse problem and has made the necessary changes for the better, the family may not be equipped to act and react in a way that will support the teen’s recovery. Family counseling in Provo provides the tools needed for the entire family to make healthy changes.


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