While it’s not something most parents approve of, many teenagers do experiment with alcohol at some point during their adolescence. These early uses of alcohol should be discouraged, but a determined teen will find a way to try out different behaviors, including drinking. As a parent, it might be difficult to know at what point simple experimentation has crossed the line into a substance abuse or addiction. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you decide when to seek teen alcohol addiction treatment for your child.
When Teens Break Boundaries
Although many teens will try alcohol, it’s important that you set strong boundaries and make your feelings on the topic known. Let your teens know that you expect them to comply with the law, which prohibits drinking in most cases until after their 21st birthday. Outside of religious ceremonies and practices that might involve alcohol, have a strict policy. Set appropriate consequences for your teen if you find out they’ve had alcohol or drugs.
Along with giving your teen boundaries, give them an out. Come up with a plan so your child can call or text you if they are in a situation that makes them uncomfortable. If they are at a party or another location that has a lot of people drinking, they might not feel comfortable calling you for a ride, but something like an X-plan will give them the option to have you call and arrange to pick them up.
A teen who has clear boundaries like these and doesn’t follow them might be to the point that teen alcohol addiction treatment is needed.
Look for Behavioral Changes
When an addiction begins to take hold, it’s likely that you’ll notice some behavioral changes in your teen. No longer just something to experiment with occasionally as the opportunity arises, alcohol becomes a larger part of your teen’s life. Here are a few behavioral changes you might notice if you teen is developing an alcohol addiction:
- One of the most common signs is a change in their peer group. Rather than hanging out with the friends your teen has spent time with for the last few years, he or she might begin to gravitate toward a different set of friends. Generally, it’s one that is not associated with a sports team or another extracurricular activity. These are the friends who are encouraging and enabling your child to drink.
- Your teen might stop caring about his or her appearance.
- Their grades might plummet and they might lose their part-time job or their place on a sports team.
- They might skip school and skip out on family activities, instead preferring to spend time drinking with their new friends.
- Some teens will come home obviously under the influence; others just won’t come home at all until the effects of the alcohol have worn off.
- They might get into trouble with the law.
- You might notice that your teen is more jovial or more angry than usual, depending on how the alcohol affects them.
When Compulsions and Cravings Form
Many adults and teens think that addiction is a type of moral failing. They wonder why the addicted can’t simply decide to stop using their chosen substance. What they don’t understand is that addiction affects the brain and is not something that its victim can control. Most people will use alcohol at some point, but only some people will become addicted. When a teen experiences this addiction, it’s time to seek treatment.
The reason has to do with dopamine release and how this affects the brain. When a person drinks alcohol or uses drugs, they experience the release of dopamine, a “pleasure hormone.” Over time, and with increased use, the brain builds up a tolerance and it takes more and more of the substance (in this case, alcohol) to produce the desired effect. At some point, the alcohol will stop creating pleasure, but the brain remembers how it used to make the body feel. That’s when compulsion comes in; this compulsion, combined with strong physical cravings from the brain, causes the person to continue using the substance. If your teen is using more alcohol than before because they are building up a tolerance, teen alcohol addiction treatment is warranted.
Even after recovery, the brain does not forget those cravings or the conditioned response to alcohol. That’s why so many people relapse even years after they have gone through the recovery process. Of course, if your teenager is experiencing a relapse after having gone through treatment, they need to go through a treatment program again.
What to Do If Your Teen Is Reluctant to Go to Treatment
Sometimes, a teen will approach his or her parents and ask for help with an addiction. This is a clear and literal cry for help and you should get your teen into rehab as soon as possible. Most of the time, however, teens will deny that they have a problem, insist that they can stop at any time, and try to refuse to seek help.
One way to encourage your teen to cooperate is to take him or her to the family doctor or pediatrician. Often, people will listen to medical professionals more than they will listen to their family members. The doctor can talk privately to your teen to screen them for an alcohol addiction. Sometimes blood tests will also be done. At that point, the doctor can refer him or her for the appropriate teen alcohol addiction treatment, which might include a stay at an inpatient addiction rehabilitation center.
A confrontational intervention such as what you might see on television is not usually a recommended approach to take with teenagers. It’s best to have a trusted medical practitioner or a mental health specialist help to convince your teen to seek treatment during a private meeting. Keep in mind that even if you force your teen to go to rehab, they have to want to stop using alcohol.
After You Seek Teen Alcohol Addiction Treatment
It can be difficult to know when to seek teen alcohol addiction treatment; follow the suggestions above to help you determine when it’s the right time to seek professional help. After treatment, you can improve the chances that they will be successful by considering these tips:
- Remember that after your teen is done with the intensive phase of rehabilitation, your (and their) work is not over. Your teen will be considered a recovering alcoholic for the rest of his or her life. Relapses are common, so be aware of the signs. They include many of the same signs that led you to suspect an addiction in the first place.
- Support your teen in making new friends and also continue with support such as counseling, group therapy, and a support group.
- While you are supporting your teen, you should also seek support for yourself; parenting an addicted teenager is difficult and you will need the camaraderie of other parents who have gone through the process. Talk to your teen’s mental health specialists to find a parent support group for yourself.
Going through your teen’s addiction will not be easy, but as his or her loving parent, you can do it. The first step is talking to your teen and encouraging them to cooperate by seeking help. Once you get your teen in the door of a doctor’s or addiction specialist’s office, you will be on your way toward helping your teen overcome his or her addiction.