Navigating underage drinking takes trust and teamwork between teens and their parents. As parents learn to trust their teens’ ability to manage themselves, it can be helpful to establish strong boundaries and guidelines around alcohol. When you work with your teen and communicate openly and honestly about alcohol use, it can be much easier to help your child avoid any suspicious or dangerous behavior.
What Is Underage Drinking?
Underage drinking is when anyone under the age of 21 consumes alcohol. Although it is quite common, underage drinking is dangerous. Consuming alcohol under the legal drinking age can also pose unexpected risks to a developing teen’s brain.
Although there is a greater risk for those who binge drink or consume alcohol regularly, alcohol is risky to consume when you’re underage. The impaired judgment and altered perception that come with intoxication can make your child more prone to accidents and unsafe choices. If you or your child have an alcohol use disorder (AUD), it is important to seek professional help as soon as you can.
Alcohol use can affect your thought process and behavior, making it easier to do things that aren’t wise, such as:
- Engage in unsafe sexual practices
- Getting into legal trouble
- Acting out in class
- Experiment with other substances
- Getting into accidents, fights, and other dangerous or potentially fatal situations
Underage drinking can impair a child’s brain development, causing long-lasting damage to their emotions and behavior. Underage drinking is at an all-time high in the United States, with as many as 40% of youth aged 12 to 20 consuming alcohol, according to a 2019 NSDUH study.
Binge drinking while underage can harm the body and pose great risks to a teen’s health later on in life. As a teen’s body continues to develop, there is potential for excessive alcohol consumption to alter the health of different systems, organs, and functions in the body.
What Would Make My Child Want to Drink?
The risk factors for an underage person’s choice to drink alcohol can be out of a parent’s control. Adolescents face many external pressures as their minds and bodies change before their eyes. These rapid and sudden changes can put a lot of pressure on a young person’s developing mind.
If a teen feels alone or misunderstood, they might turn to substances, such as alcohol, to manage painful thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
Potential risk factors for underage drinking include:
- Stress or trauma
- Peer pressure or social pressure from pop culture
- Proving independence or rebellion
If you suspect your child is drinking alcohol, talking to them directly can help you navigate the situation best. If your child is in a position where they need help, it can be harmful to become too reactionary, despite the distress the situation may be causing you. Finding a way to get through this challenge together can help deepen the bond you have with your child as they embark on their recovery journey.
How Can I Tell if My Child Is Drinking Alcohol?
There are a few telltale signs to help you identify if your child or teen may be drinking alcohol. It can be helpful to note that some of the following symptoms can indicate that something else is going on.
Some critical symptoms of underage drinking include:
- Mood and behavioral changes, generally more angry or aggressive
- Trouble in school
- Noticeable change in friend groups
- Finding alcohol in your child’s room or with their belongings
- Physical or mental health changes, such as poor concentration, slurred speech, withdrawn
Before jumping to conclusions, it’s critical to manage your emotions to have an honest conversation that feels safe for your child to open up. It can be hard to wrap your head around your child drinking alcohol, but they can be using it as a coping mechanism for a deeper problem. It can be helpful to calm your emotions so that you can be present with each other and work on a solution for a healthy, happy, and sober pathway forward.
Getting to the bottom of your child’s drinking habit or other mental health concerns takes great patience and collaboration. If your child is drinking alcohol, there is support to help you and your child get the best treatment and care to overcome alcohol abuse. There are also programs for families to address any dynamics and concerns that may be contributing to the dependency to ensure well-rounded healing.
How Can I Help My Child Say ‘No’ to Underage Drinking?
Learning how to navigate social pressure to drink alcohol takes time and caring guidance. There are a few things that can help you be proactive about addressing alcohol use with your teen so that everyone is on the same page, including:
- Getting to know your child and discussing things openly
- Serving as a positive role model and drinking alcohol responsibly
- Making alcohol inaccessible
- Sharing the potential risks and complications that can come with underage drinking
- Being present and getting to know their friends and parents
Developing a healthy and transparent relationship with your child can help you set clear boundaries around alcohol consumption. Fostering an environment that lets your child feel safe will make communicating your standards and expectations easier.
As a teenager learns to use their voice, it can be helpful to recognize their growing and curious minds. Being honest and present through your child’s adolescent years can help them feel more comfortable with you.
As your teen is exposed to changing hormones, new ideas, and social pressures, it is essential to have a strong bond that helps them stand their ground against these pressures. Sharing the reality of alcohol consumption can help your teen remain mindful about their choices around alcohol while being honest with you.
Underage drinking often comes with branching out into new social settings and experiences. As an adolescent approaches adulthood, there are generally more opportunities to be around different people engaging in risky behaviors. It can be surprising how easy it is to get involved in activities such as underage drinking. Understanding the signs and long-term effects of underage drinking can help you and your teen learn how to navigate these inevitable circumstances together. West Coast Recovery Centers is here to help you and your loved ones prevent addiction. We are also here to help you learn how to support each other through addiction recovery. Reach out to one of our team at (760) 492-6509 to find the right support for you.