Although the stereotypical alcoholic is often portrayed as middle-aged to adult, alcoholism among teenagers has always been a huge issue and is growing more and more prevalent. For teens in the United States, meaning adolescents between the ages of 12-17, alcohol is the substance used most regularly. About half of junior high and senior high school students drink alcohol on a regular, monthly basis while around 14% of adolescents have been under the influence at least once in the last year. Around 8% of teens admit that they binge drink approximately five or more drinks in a row. In addition to this, teens will often use alcohol in combination with other substances, often marijuana. These statistics are terrifying, and brings home the fact that teenage substance abuse remains a grave issue.
Many teens find themselves turning to alcohol as a means for social acceptance, peer pressure. The instinct to be a ‘part of’ during adolescence is a strong one, and teenagers often find that alcohol is the most convenient substance at their disposal to aid in this. The fact that many adults freely store alcohol in their homes, along with the ease that an adolescent can acquire a fake ID, makes alcohol an incredibly easy substance to come by.
The symptoms of teenage alcoholism are not dissimilar to adult addiction. Overall changes in personality are a clear sign, but this is often difficult to identify, as teenagers are rapidly evolving at that age anyway. The vulnerability of being an adolescent is a huge factor in teen alcoholism. But the need for excessive privacy, and becoming emotionally unreachable are sure indications, as is moodiness, irritability and a general over-sensitivity often accompany early alcohol abuse. Eventually, hiding stashes of alcohol and a preoccupation with keeping a regular supply is the most obvious signal, and by then it’s a severe situation. Other signs include:
- Poor hygiene
- Carelessness in appearance
- Unexplained weight loss
- Change in sleep patterns
- Disinterest in school, as well as extracurricular activities such as hobbies and/or sports
- Defiance of authority – but this is another symptom that is difficult to gauge, as this is a common trait in most adolescents
- Withdrawal from friends and/or family members
- An increasing need for money, as well as an inability to explain spending
Other signs in the household can be unexplained locked doors and a sudden need for increased privacy.
Frequently broken curfew and ignorance of house rules and/or chores.
All of the above problems can be amplified tenfold when teenagers come from broken homes, or households with low parental supervision and communication. Family conflicts, inconsistent or severe discipline, as well as a family history of substance abuse are other key ingredients for teen alcoholism. Statistically, girls who drink, along with teens who start drinking before 14 or have mothers with drinking problems, are more prone to result in alcoholism. Additionally, adolescent alcoholism can begin with the representation of alcohol in the media which romanticizes drinking but ignores presenting the consequences.
The younger the age at which a person begins drinking, the more prone they are to develop a lifelong problem with alcohol. Alcohol addiction in teens also increases the risk of lethal car accidents, an elevated school dropout rate, more suicide attempts and often leads to the use of other drugs such as marijuana, cocaine or heroin.