Teenage alcoholism does exist, and is a real problem. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.
Can teens be alcoholics? Unfortunately, yes. Usually, when we think “alcoholic,” we really don’t picture teenagers. We think they’re too young to have developed a dependency on alcohol. We assume it’s not really that easy for them to get ahold of alcohol, so how could they have a need to drink on a daily basis?
Most of the time teenagers are not daily drinkers, if they drink at all. If they do have alcohol with their friends, they’re occasional party-situation drinkers. Still, if you ask your teenager, they can all name one or two other teenagers who has a reputation for “always” being drunk.
Can Teens Be Alcoholics? Teen Blackout Drinking
These are the teens I worry about as a therapist. These are the teens who come back to school each Monday and tell everyone else about how they were “so f***ed up this weekend” that they can’t remember anything. They don’t realize this is blackout drinking. Blackout drinking has a very, very high correlation with future alcoholism.
These are the adolescents who don’t know how to stop. Every single time they drink, the only thing that stops them is their body. Oftentimes, they either start vomiting, or they pass out. Otherwise they are continuing to take shots, sip a beer, or have a some sort of mixed drink. When we ask, “Can teens be alcoholics?” we can all think of someone we knew in high school who was like this. Did they become an alcoholic? The girl I’m thinking of did. Thankfully, she’s now thriving in recovery, but her 20s were tough.
The Adolescent Who Needs Alcohol to Socialize
The teenagers who often develop alcoholism are the ones who don’t know how to be at a social gathering without alcohol. If they go bowling with friends, they bring something in a waterbottle. Likewise, if they go to a school dance, they mix rum in their cokes at the restaurant before the dance (One of my best friends in high school did this. Sadly, he ended up with an addiction problem). In addition, they also know where the after party will be held. They are completely convinced they are just being social, but they are actually developing a frightening alcohol dependency.
Most people who becomes daily drinkers start with binge drinking weekends while they are teenagers. Eventually, they binge drink every weekend. Moreover, they look for a “kickback” or party during the week from time to time. Before they realize it, they might steal just a few sips of mom and dad’s alcohol to relax at the end of a hard day. Finally, they are drinking daily.
When Is It Teen Alcoholism?
Teenagers can be completely dependent on alcohol. They can have physical withdrawals just like an adult can. Also, they can be addicted enough to need a physical detox under the supervision of a medical doctor. As with adults, teens can need rehab for alcoholism in some cases.
It’s really important to keep an eye on your teenager. If you notice they want to party all the time and seem restless when there isn’t a party, it’s reasonable to worry a little bit. If all the friends surrounding them use alcohol and have a cavalier attitude about it, it’s another reason to be concerned. Despite how easy it is to look the other way and just assume teenagers party, you can’t afford to be naive. Most teens that do party really only use alcohol once a month or so. Even then, those that do rarely drink to the point where they are throwing up or passing out. That tends to be reserved for the adolescents who are at high risk of addiction.
If this describes your child, I imagine you must feel very scared. Chiefly, it seems like all your efforts to control their behavior are fruitless. It is really overwhelming. Oftentimes this is the point at which getting professional help for your teen (if they will cooperate) and for yourself (especially if your teenager doesn’t comply with treatment) can be really important. There is a National Help Line for addicts and families of addicts. Find out more at https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline.
So, can teens be alcoholics? Sadly, yes they can. If you are facing this with your child, my heart goes out to you. But also know, there is always hope.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Why Have Better Study Habits? To Lower Homework Stress!
Hi Teenagers, better study habits equals reduced homework stress! Who doesn’t want lower homework stress?
Are you completely burned out and sick of forever doing homework? Does it seem like a never-ending pile of pointless worksheets, essays, math problems, projects and labs? How I remember those days! Sometimes I had so much homework that I spent an entire Sunday just trying to catch up. On really, really bad days I remember staying up until I crashed, and then waking myself up at 3 or 4am to work on it again before going to school. Yuck!
The good news is if you work hard now, it pays dividends later. Once you finish school and have a job, you generally get to do your work at work. Home is for just being home. This isn’t always true as there are lots of jobs that require some extra stuff to be done at home, but for the most part you’re workday ends when you leave work.
However, being that you’re probably at least a few years of high school and several years of college away from no more homework, let’s talk about some things to do now to ease the burden. This information was given to me by a friend who tutors AP Physics students, and teaches at the high school level.
4 Tips For Lowering School Stress
1. Take the appropriate classes:
Challenge yourself and do your best. However, you don’t have to take every possibly AP class that’s ever been offered. For some of you, this raises your stress to a level where you don’t perform. Some of these classes assign so much homework that you come to hate them. It is important to learn that sometimes lower homework stress can equal better quality work.
Besides, even if you’re trying to get into a top notch university, that doesn’t guarantee your future success. What college you attend doesn’t actually mean very much a few years out of school. As a result, don’t over-focus on this. What is important is how well you do at whatever college you do attend. You will need to get to know the professors, and collaborate with one or two of them on projects and studies. This makes you a stand-out whether you attend community college or Harvard. So, for now, take classes that get you where you want to go, but stop there. Know your limits. There is more to life than just academic success.
2. Work while your working:
Part of the reason adults don’t have homework is because they work while they’re at work. When you sit down to do homework, focus on getting your work done. If you don’t allow your mind to wander, phone to distract you, or TV to entertain you, you really do get things done A LOT faster. You can probably read a page out of your history book each minute or two if you are really reading it. Also, you will absorb more of it so you won’t have to study as hard later.
3. Work smarter:
So many students don’t know how to study efficiently. It’s important to study what you don’t know, and just browse over what you do know. Skim read when you can, and read in depth when you need to.
4. Study regularly:
Cramming doesn’t work. It also inhibits your sleep. You perform better if you’re well rested.
This resource from UNC is excellent for learning how to study effectively in college. Thankfully, you don’t have to wait! Many of these ideas and techniques can help you now!
From the perspective of a therapist, following my friend’s advice can really help you reduce your stress. I want nothing more than for you to live a life you can enjoy, while still learning how to work hard. I want to see you mature into an adult who can withstand some pressure, but doesn’t create extra pressure because of bad work habits. School is an opportunity to learn how to work smart, and manage stress.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
If you’ve recently discovered your teen is self-harming, you have to be wondering, “Why do teenagers cut themselves?” Cutting seems like a somewhat recent phenomenon. It’s been around for a long time, but it has grown in notoriety and popularity. The majority of teenagers I work with who have tried cutting mostly did so because a friend told them about it, or they hear about it on Tik Tok. They wanted to try and see if it was a helpful way to cope with emotional pain. Most find that it isn’t, and do not continue to cut.
By contrast, the teens who cut more seriously and regularly give us great concern. For example, when I see a teenager in my office who cuts frequently and/or deeply, I worry. Firstly, we immediately begin the discussion of the teenager completing an evaluation with a psychiatrist (We have several referrals we can offer, including Oak Health, Progeny Clinic, and Mind Health Institute, among others) having the teenager see a psychiatrist for an evaluation. This is not cutting for attention as much as a deep emotional disturbance. Oftentimes medications are needed in these situations.
Why Do Teenagers Cut Themselves: Where On the Body Tells a Story
When considering why teenagers cut themselevs, it is also important to note is that teens cut in a variety of places. The most common location is the inner forearm of their non-writing hand. So, if they write with their right hand, the cuts are on the soft side of their left forearm. Also, there are other common locations such as the inner thighs, and the stomach. Usually, cutting on the thighs and stomach is done to avoid detection. By contrast, teenagers who cut on their arm often want to be found out. This is particularly true if they cut and then wear short sleeves.
Cutting as a Coping Skill
Importantly, why do teens self-harm? There are of course a variety of reasons. Cutting is not a one size fits all venture. However, the best explanation I’ve ever heard was by Richard Bautzer, MFT. He told me he believes teens cut as a coping skill to control their pain. You would naturally ask, “Why would they inflict more pain on themselves as a way to control pain?” This is because there is some emotional stressor that feels uncontrollable to the teenager. This stressor really could be anything. For example, the teen who is cutting might be managing the stress of parents going through a divorce.
Another Reason Why Teenagers Cut Themselves: Cutting to Control Emotional Pain
Cutting to control pain works like this: A teen can control when they cut, for how long, with what device, and how deeply. This is untrue of emotional pain. For an adolescent, emotional pain often seems random and unmanageable. Also, many teen clients have explained they can see the blood, which represents the inner pain. Somehow, it’s more tolerable to have tangible pain than invisible emotional pain.
Steps to Take if Your Teen is Cutting Themself
What do we hope you take away from this discussion as a parent? The most important thing is that cutting is serious. If your teen is self-injuring, then they might be suicidal. Self-harm, whether done for attention or something deeper, is abnormal. Your teenager needs an evaluation by a professional. Call a therapist, school counselor, pediatrician or psychiatrist. Whatever you do, call someone. While it is tempting to hesitate if your teen tells you they can stop, my experience tells me you cannot assume this is something you should handle on your own.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is one type of counseling commonly used to help teens who are cutting. It teaches tolerance of uncomfortable emotions as your teen explores why they’ve been using self-injury as a coping skill. DBT helps a teenager recognize emotions, consider their cause, and then permit themselves to have those feelings instead of trying anything to neutralize them (i.e. cutting, lashing out, drugs, etc.). DBT also explores why teenagers cut themselves so that it is easier to find healthy alternatives. While most Teen Therapy OC therapists are comfortable with DBT, Jazmie Albarian has taken the extra step of becoming certified in DBT. It is worth calling her to find out how DBT can help your teen.
A Final Thought on Teen Cutting Behavior
A final thought for parents who have children that self-harm: It is terrifying. I realize that finding out your child, whom you love more than words can ever express, wants to inflict pain on him or herself is one of the scariest things you’ve dealt with. Don’t hide this from everyone because you feel ashamed. Talk to one or two close, trusted people so you can have support. You have to make sure you’re not spending a lot of energy and time blaming yourself. Instead direct that energy toward finding a solution.
Also, don’t blame yourself. You need all your emotional resources available to confront and control the problems your teenager is facing. You will eventually have time to dig in to what you want to change, but that comes a little later.
All in all, finding out your teen is self-harming is beyond overwhelming. From one parent to another, my heart goes out to you. As a therapist, I want to walk alongside you through this incredibly difficult time.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Attachment theory has been around for a long time. It is based on research originally done by Mary Ainsworth. It was an advancement of a theory created by John Bowlby’s observations. But really, you probably don’t care as much about the names as you do about what it means for you. So on to the point: There are several styles of attachment. These describe the relationships babies/toddlers develop with a primary caregiver (usually the mother).
1) Secure Attachment: Seeking out a parent/caregiver for comfort when distressed. Feeling safe to explore the environment because trust exists that the caregiver will be there as a safe base. 2) Resistant Attachment: Children who are very nervous around strangers and show a lot of distress when a parent/caregiver leaves, but refuse to be comforted when the parent returns either. 3) Avoidant Attachment: The young child is disinterested when parent/caregiver leaves, seems equally at ease with strangers as anyone else, and seems to show no preference for the parent/caregiver over a stranger when needing comfort.
Securely attached teens are the happiest teens. They really play out the role of a toddler on a larger scale. Your teenager will think of you as a homebase and check in sometimes. Your teen is comfortable exploring their world knowing you are there whenever they need to reset or take a breath. If something upsetting is happening, you are who they go to to sort out what to do next.
If you do not have this type of relationship with your teenager, don’t be hard on yourself. Just start from where you are. First try and think of the things in your home that might prevent this. Are you meaning to lovingly give correction but actually coming off as critical? Is your teen punished when he or she comes to you with a situation where a bad choice was made? Is there a lot of yelling and chaos in the home? Even if this doesn’t reflect your heart towards your child, are you coming across as indifferent by not listening well? Maybe you are on your phone too much or often preoccupied with work?
The first step in building a secure attachment with your teen is non-judgmental listening. Let them talk without you interrupting or giving an opinion. Thank them for sharing with you. If you feel advice is needed, ask if they want it. If your teen says no, try to remember that your highest priority right now is building a securely attached relationship, which means taking the longer view on every conversation for now
I know this is hard. I had a teen counseling client years ago from Newport Beach who came for anxiety therapy. Even still, this teen had a secure attachment with mom. Mom was really good at listening without judgement. It provided safety and in the long run allowed her to give input into the daily details of this client’s life. I want that for you and your child too.
Also, as a mom, I can tell you that you won’t do it perfectly everyday, and that’s okay. There is a lot of grace where there is a lot of love.
With permission, I pass on words of wisdom from a client. This person wants all of you to know that she wasn’t attentive in how she stored her medication, which led to it being ineffective. She said she kept it in her car so she could conveniently take it each morning as she left the house. She said she wants everyone to know that it got too hot in the car, which wasn’t good for her meds. For those of you taking meds, she encourages you to pay attention to the temperatures suggested on the label. She says once she began storing it properly, it worked better.
Now onto comments from two different teenagers dealing with extreme loneliness at school. There are many, many of you reading this who suffer from loneliness. Not having one or two good friends in your life is devastating at any age. For a teen it’s even harder because it’s so noticeable. You walk around your school campus and have nobody to sit with at lunch. You don’t know where to go at break. Even if you have a place to sit at lunch, you’re not included in activities outside of school hours. You might be “okay,” but without friends you’re probably not thriving.
My heart aches for you. We are wired to belong to someone. There are a few of us who genuinely don’t need people, but that is not most of us. Most of us need someone to belong to and we need someone to belong to us. This innate need is deeply ingrained. If you don’t belong to anyone at school and nobody belongs to you, please tell your parents. I know that discussion might be awkward, but your outlook on your entire life can change if you are given some tools to rectify the loneliness.
Sometimes loneliness is really hard to fix. Sometimes you have no insight into why you aren’t building connections with others. We always work on that in therapy because I have come to see it as a basic human need. Not having someone underlies at least half of the cases I see when a teen is refusing to go to school. It is also present in a high percentage of those I see who come in for depression and anxiety.
One of the first things to consider is going where you’re wanted. Some of you who are lonely do have people who like you, they just aren’t the people you have your heart set on. Usually these people are kind but maybe not as “fun.” Trust me when I tell you that these people are worth putting time into. Being in the popular crowd is far less important than having a place where someone is glad to see you each day.
Some of you don’t really have anyone you can identify as a place you can go. This is trickier, but not impossible. It becomes important to start looking around for who else needs a friend instead of who can meet your needs. It’s a change in mindset, but it does start the process of resolving the loneliness.
Finally, there are some of you who have enough social anxiety that you cannot bring yourself to do or say the friendly things necessary to get close to others. Give us a call in that case; counseling and/or group therapy can be of temendous benefit in those cases.
Hooray! We now have in-person group therapy! This has been a long time coming. Many teens benefit from hearing what their peers have to say (when an adult is present to moderate). This is such a nice option to offer for your families because some teens have things to work on in a more social setting, the cost of therapy is lower for group therapy, and sometimes it’s easier to learn from listening to someone else walk through a struggle than to be on the spot about your own struggles.
Hello, I’m Lauren! If you notice your teen struggling, you might be feeling helpless, hopeless, frustrated or concerned as a parent. Try to remember, there is hope. I want to help your adolescent feel better. My hope is for them to enjoy their life again. I want them to feel confident they can handle whatever situations arise.