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Underage Drinking: Warning Signs Your Teen Is Drinking

Signs Your Teenager Has Been Drinking Alcohol

Underage drinking is a serious public health problem in the United States. Alcohol is the most widely used substance of abuse among America’s youth, and drinking by young people poses enormous health and safety risks.

The consequences of underage drinking can affect everyone—regardless of age or drinking status. We all feel the effects of the aggressive behavior, property damage, injuries, violence, and deaths that can result from underage drinking. This is not simply a problem for some families—it is a nationwide concern.

While many parents of teens don’t think their children would ever drink, the truth is, most teens experiment with alcohol. It’s important to know the warning signs that your teen has been drinking.

Signs Before Drinking Happens

Teens who are planning a party or gathering where they will be drinking usually show several telltale signs. Be on the lookout for:

  • Your teen carrying a duffel, tote bag, or even a school backpack. They may be transporting alcohol from your home to the party.
  • Hushed tones and whispers when your teen uses the phone.  Of course, in today’s world, many teens are communicating via text or social media as well, so monitor your teen’s accounts.
  • Evasive answers to questions about their activities. If your teen hesitates when you ask what they’re doing, it could be a sign they’re trying to think of a good cover story.
  • Asking to spend the night. If your teen insists they want to stay over at a friend’s house, it may mean they don’t want to come home under the influence.

Any of these signals are cause for you to check further by talking to your teen about your suspicions. You can always check with other parents as well.

Signs Your Teen Has Been Drinking

Adolescence is a time of change and growth, including behavior changes. These changes usually are a normal part of growing up but sometimes can point to an alcohol problem. Parents and teachers should pay close attention to the following warning signs that may indicate underage drinking:

  • Changes in mood, including anger and irritability
  • Academic and/or behavioral problems in school
  • Rebelliousness
  • Changing groups of friends
  • Low energy level
  • Less interest in activities and/or care in appearance
  • Finding alcohol among a young person’s things
  • Smelling alcohol on a young person’s breath
  • Problems concentrating and/or remembering
  • Slurred speech
  • Coordination problems

It’s possible for teens to develop serious problems with alcohol. It ​can happen without you even being aware. While these signs could point to another problem, they could also be indicative of a substance use issue.

Behavioral Changes

  • Experiencing school problems, poor attendance, low grades, and/or recent disciplinary action
  • Rebelling against family rules
  • Lying, breaking curfew, or stealing
  • Switching friends, along with a reluctance to let you get to know the new friends
  • Having a sloppy appearance
  • Lacking involvement in former interests

Emotional Changes

  • Exhibiting mood changes, flare-ups, irritability, and defensiveness
  • Having a “nothing matters” attitude

Mental Changes

  • Having memory lapses
  • Having poor concentration

If you see these signs combined with catching your teen drinking, seek professional help for them immediately. Your teen may need outpatient counseling or perhaps, even residential treatment.

By Amy Morin, LCSW, author of 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do
Sources: VeryWellFamily.com and NIH (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)

Have you exhausted your local resources? It might be time to consider residential therapy. Contact us for more information.

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