“At first I liked the social network of drinking. When you’re drinking you make all new friends so easily but they aren’t your friends when you’re not drinking. So, you drink the next night. And the night after that. But then the feeling of having a drink every night started to suck. It didn’t matter who I was drinking with anymore I just needed to drink.”
Like Rudy, many young people start drinking before their 21st birthday. Alcohol is easy to access and commonly seen as a rite of passage for High School and College kids. The media portrays alcohol as a way to escape your life, a never-ending spring break with beautiful women, endless possibilities and a new-found confidence.
“You need to talk to your kids about things they may not think about like how much fun it is to throw up in a bush at 3 a.m. because of alcohol poisoning or the visit to Planned Parenthood after a night of regretful sex,” Rudy said.
Long Term Consequences
In addition to these consequences drinking as a teenager increases your chances of a lifetime of addiction. Recent studies show that teen drinking alters a youth’s brain and the younger they start drinking the more likely they are to become an alcoholic. For example, a teen that starts drinking at age 14 has a 47% chance of becoming alcohol dependent (as opposed to 9% after age 21).
As a case manager at Youth Services I recently had a conversation with a group of kids about what being an alcoholic looks like. Most could point out at least one they knew — the friend that shakes in the morning until he has a drink, the mother that has a hard time getting out of the house or the uncle who is a “functional alcoholic.” Obviously no one wants this for themselves; heavy drinking often turns into alcohol dependence slowly over time. This is why the guy who was the life of the party in High School and College and could drink everyone under the table is often a lot less funny ten years later.
The idea that people need to “hit rock bottom” or things need to get out of hand before they enter treatment is a myth. By getting treatment early on, teens like Rudy can avoid a lifetime of addictive habits and start making goals for the road ahead.
“It is easier to get things done when you aren’t drinking all the time. Now, I think more clearly about my life and where it’s going. I have more time on my hands to spend with my younger siblings.”
For the Parents
Rudy* offers some advice for parents who may be worried about their own teens:
“I don’t think it is a good idea for parents to just tell their kids not to drink, because then they might do it to be oppositional. It would be better to explain why they shouldn’t but say something like, ‘If you do drink, be aware of your surroundings and know that you can call me and I will pick you up.’”
Have a conversation with your teens from a place of love and concern about drinking:
- talk about why teens chose to drink
- why they don’t drink
- and the risk of starting when you are young
More Resources on Teens and Underage Drinking
Read more about teen drinking and its effects on the brain and other risk factors to becoming alcohol dependent:
- The Grim Neurology of Teen Drinking
- Alcoholism: An In Depth Report
- Your Parenting Style Influences How Much Your Teen Drinks
*Note: Youth names have been changed to protect confidentiality, and yes she insisted on being called Rudy.