It’s every parent’s nightmare. They are almost blindsided when they learn their child is an alcoholic. They never saw it coming. But it is more common that you think, as alcohol plays a part in so much teenage deaths, either by auto accident, or suicide or homicide. The fact is, alcohol is usually a contributing factor in all three major causes of death for teens and young adults.
The disease of alcoholism doesn’t just happen. There are contributing factors and one of the major ones is the parents. Teenagers are far more likely, some four times more likely, to develop the disease if their parents are alcoholics. It stands to reason. Not only is there a genetic tie, but there is a very strong environmental tie to the disease. Call it the old nature/nurture argument, but alcoholism is both. Mom and dad may have been drinkers for many years, but if a teenager, say a 15 year-old, starts drinking alcohol on a regular basis, not only is that teen likely to develop the disease of alcoholism, but he/she is also likely to try other drugs.
Parents don’t have to be drinkers for their kids to struggle with teenage alcoholism.
Even if the parents aren’t drinkers, kids will be kids and they can cave to peer pressure. Even high school parties may have a keg of beer, and some parents even buy it for their teenager. Of course, not every teenager who takes a drink is going to become an alcoholic, but the percentage of chance for that happening rises when the child is 15 or younger, and conversely it falls if the person waits until 21 to take that first drink.
Teenage brains and alcohol don’t go well together
Teens and alcohol do not mix. Alcohol will dull the senses and impair reasoning, so an otherwise level-headed teen can make some seriously bad choices when alcohol is used. Anywhere there is a teen pregnancy, you can lay odds that alcohol was involved somehow. But there are many warning signs that parents can be looking for.
Kids who might be considered at risk are the ones who may not be sociable or outgoing and tend to be loners. Depression sometimes comes to mind as being a major contributor to a teen turning to alcohol, because when they take that first drink they like they way they feel. Alcohol becomes a coping mechanism for life. Regardless of the reasons for a teen using alcohol, there are signs of things beginning to go badly.
Watch out if their grades start to slip!
An otherwise good student might have a period of time when the grades start to slip for no particular reason. Mom and dad ask why, but don’t really get a straight answer, other than a shrug of the shoulders and the classic and cryptic, “I don’t know” response. Are they losing interest in school, or is the subject matter above their head, or is there a bad teacher to blame? If parents look carefully, they will see that many times alcohol is the culprit, as the dulling of the mind contributes to the lack of enthusiasm for learning.
They may also loose interest in their friends, which is a sure sign of trouble with a teenager. They may neglect themselves physically and not show any interest in clothing trends or proper grooming. Teens are socially conscious, so these are indicators. Teens will often lose interest in sports or other extra-curricular activities, electing to keep more to themselves and not hang with their friends. Another sure sign of trouble is their hanging with an entirely new group of friends, maybe the kids that like to drink, or smoke marijuana.
Teenage alcoholism does have symptoms if you’re watching for them.
As the disease of teenage alcoholism progresses, and understand that teens are very susceptible to it because they don’t necessarily understand that they can’t drink large amounts of alcohol and still function, and they are in jeopardy because their brains are not yet fully matured, a teen might withdraw entirely. They might sleep too much and become lethargic, not make it to school on time, or skip school entirely. The disease consumes adults to the point where the only daily activity that matters is drinking, and so this is amplified in the life of a teenager, who does not have the frame of reference to make choices, the life experience to determine the proper direction to go.
High school kids who get into the drinking habit also run the risk of drunk driving. Adults make terrible choices after drinking, so teens are going to make terrible decisions. Traffic fatalities amount young people are most often tied to alcohol use. Drunk driving is the biggest cause of traffic deaths for young people 15-20. Imagine the cause of death being drunk driving and they aren’t even of legal age! That age group doubles that of people over 21!
Alcohol producers target teens with their ads!
Teens are pounded by alcohol ads on television and in the print media. Beer ads always feature young people, cool people, enjoying their hip friends. It’s an image that is seared into the teenage brain, especially among males. Drink the right kind of vodka, the right kind of rum, the right kind of wine and you will be cool and have lots of women. Beer and alcohol beverage industry executives know how to sell their product. The big lie is that beer companies don’t advertise to children. Who else would buy into the message that drinking a certain beer will improve their lives?
Robs everything from alcoholic
Teenage alcoholism is a dreadful disease that robs a person of his/her humanity and shreds what should be happy and productive chapters in a person’s life. Granted, only one in nine will become an alcoholic after prolonged exposure to the drug, but it is a drug that causes so many other physical ailments and maladies. Alcohol gets into every pour of the body and does damage. While there is no cure, despite the claims of some, alcoholism can be managed through treatment and recovery. This is a difficult process with teens because they do not fully understand what is happening and the ramifications of the disease.
Parents MUST understand the disease of teenage alcoholism to help prevent it.
But parents need to understand the disease, its impact on their child and the necessary steps to getting that child into treatment. Left unchecked, the disease will ruin the life of a once promising teenager, but the upside to treatment and recovery is hopefully a long, healthy and productive life.