It’s something every parent fears. Your child lies about where they’re going. They end up at a party. The next thing you know you’re getting a call from an emergency room that your child has binged on alcohol and is receiving treatment.
As a therapist for teenagers, I see a good deal of adolescents who have had problems related to alcohol. I’m going to list the most common problems I see:
- Lying to parents. It is rare that teenagers are forthcoming with their parents about their behavior with alcohol.
- Sexual assault. I have worked with COUNTLESS numbers of teens who have been sexually assaulted. While these clients are normally female, a handful have been males. In 9/10 cases there was alcohol involved. This is particularly true of the victim.
- Theft. It is not that easy for an adolescent to get alcohol. They usually have to steal it. The most common way they steal the alcohol is from their own parents’ liquor cabinet or refrigerator. However, it is often stolen from the store as well.
- Drunk driving. I know you’ve had this talk with your teen multiple times. You’ve talked to them about how incredibly dangerous this is, and that they can call you for a ride home. Your teen has promised to never drink and drive, or to get in a car with someone who is drinking. Unfortunately, in the party situation this isn’t what happens. Teens ride home with someone who has had a drink or two, and they usually aren’t sure what their DD was doing during the party. Many teens I work with think they are being a responsible DD if they “only smoke weed.”
- Other drugs. Adolescents are more inclined to try other drugs when they are drunk. They’re less inhibited.
- Hook-up. This in not sexual assault. It is consensual. Teenagers are sexually active with friends and even people they don’t know when they’re under the influence of alcohol. They might not be willing to do these things in another circumstance.
- Hang out with people they don’t know very well. Teens will get into cars with people they’ve barely met. This is kind of a problem with teenagers anyhow, but it is more common if they’ve been drinking.
- Underestimate the seriousness of a situation. This is the one that scares me tremendously as a counselor. I have heard numerous stories from teenagers in my counseling office that go something like this: My friend Jenn was so wasted. She wasn’t responding and she wasn’t throwing up. I was a little tipsy but I took care of her. It was fine.
As a therapist these types of stories are incredibly alarming because I’m hearing about an adolescent who likely has alcohol poisoning and nobody has the awareness to get the teen to a hospital. They certainly won’t call 9-1-1 because they’re so afraid of getting in trouble.
- Fear of getting in trouble. This fear causes teens who have ended up in compromising positions not reach out to an adult for help when they should have. They are so worried their parents, coaches, teachers, etc. will know they got drunk that they don’t tell anyone about an assault, dangerous binge drinking situation, or even the need for a ride home.
- Fighting. Men’s testosterone levels are raised when they have alcohol. They are much more likely to fight when drunk.
As a therapist who has heard most everything by this point, I encourage you to believe your teens, but to be suspect too. Read between the lines. A lot of times they’ll tell you most of the truth about alcohol. However, they might omit details so you don’t become alarmed. Keep them informed, and be a good example with alcohol yourself. The above listed problems are not unique to adolescents. They pay attention to you.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT