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Blurred Lines: Teen Alcohol Abuse, Mental Health and Behavioral Issues

teen alcohol abuse

Blurred Lines: Teen Alcohol Abuse, Mental Health and Behavioral Issues

Teenagers who start drinking young may argue that drinking alcohol is normalized socially by people who are of legal drinking age. Teenagers are more likely to drink for different reasons than adults and tend to drink more heavily with the intention of getting drunk. One reason teenagers may develop a negative relationship with alcohol early on is that they are denied access to information about how to drink responsibly as they are expected not to drink at all. Their perception of social norms around drinking also may be overestimated in order to justify their own substance abuse. Teen alcohol abuse is associated with self-medicating underlying emotional issues, sensation-seeking, identity exploration, and social learning more so than adult substance abuse, therefore requires a different approach considering developmental differences.

Normalization of Alcohol Use

Alcohol is the most commonly used substance in the United States. By age 15, around 30% of teenagers have had at least one drink. By 18, this number has doubled. Although young people may drink less often than adults do due to access and availability during the week, they make up for it by binge drinking on weekends. Alcohol use is common among teenagers for its role in unstructured socializing. Teens drink for liquid courage, lowering anxiety, social bonding, and recreation. While adults may drink while doing something fun, teenagers are more likely to drink for fun.

Unlike drug use, moderate alcohol use is considered acceptable in most adult social circles. Teenagers see their parents enjoying a glass of wine with dinner and going out to bars to drink beer and associate alcohol use with fun and relaxation. Even if parents model a healthy relationship with alcohol, teenagers process alcohol differently from adults. They are sensitive to the effects of alcohol, require less alcohol to become intoxicated, and are more likely to become dependent if they start drinking either. Alcohol affects the body and brain’s development, particularly in areas related to decision making, motor control, and pleasure.

Signs that Your Teen’s Drinking is No Longer “Normal”

Many parents of today’s teenagers grew up before the drinking age was raised from 18 to 21, so their attitudes towards alcohol were different. It was more common for teenagers to drink socially in high school as many seniors were able to purchase alcohol for their friends. As laws regarding purchase and possession have become stricter, teenagers who see underage drinking as a rite of passage have resorted to sneakier ways to access alcohol, including stealing from parents, getting involved with older friends, and buying fake IDs. Today’s teenagers are resorting to higher risk behaviors in order to continue to party like previous generations were able to, which can lead to quicker accumulation of negative consequences from drinking. The rise of substance use in teenagers is also associated with raising the drinking age, as buying drugs does not require proof of identification. For many teenagers, they drink to appear more mature, independent, or confident.

While many parents try to talk to their kids about the dangers of drinking irresponsibility and the role of peer pressure, they may also allow their teenager to drink in the house or when they are around. Teenagers may feel they get a lot of mixed messages about alcohol use from friends and family and are likely to cover up the fact that their drinking may be causing problems.

Examples of alcohol abuse interfering with your child’s mental health and daily functioning include changes in mood, academic decline, changes in groups of friends, not following rules at home, skipping curfew, problems with memory and concentration, incoherent speech, less interest in activities they used to enjoy, and lower energy levels. For teenagers struggling with mental health issues, alcohol abuse may intensify their symptoms of depression, anxiety, impulsivity, and paranoia.  

How ViewPoint can help

ViewPoint Center is a short-term residential Crisis and Assessment Center for adolescents ages 12 to 17 that helps stabilize and assess teenagers struggling with alcohol abuse and emotional and behavioral issues. As alcohol abuse tends to cover up other underlying issues, many of our patients are admitted with inaccurate diagnoses. We use a holistic approach to create a treatment plan that will better help your teenager transition to the next stage of their recovery. Unlike other residential programs, ViewPoint offers detox services for students who may be physically dependent on alcohol, but also focuses on the intersection between addiction and independent mental health disorders.

For more information about how ViewPoint Center handles issues related to teen alcohol abuse, contact us today at 801-825-5222!