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What Should You Do If You Find Out Your Teen Drinks Alcohol?

 There are so many potential ramifications of teen drinking. When teens drink, it can put them at a greater risk of being in dangerous situations. For example, teen drinking is linked to a higher risk of sexual and physical assault. 

Teens who drink may be more at risk of getting into a deadly car accident. Even without alcohol, the potential for accidents is high among young, inexperienced drivers. If your teen consumes alcohol, they may be at risk for legal trouble, and it can impact their developing brain. 

Teens who drink when they’re younger, especially if they engage in binge drinking, are more likely to develop a substance use disorder. Alcohol use can also affect mental health, contributing to depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and general mood changes. 

If you find out your teen drinks alcohol currently, as a parent, it can be devastating. It’s easy to feel out of control, but there are steps you can take that will potentially help the situation, including the following. 

Understand the Whys

Sometimes as a parent, we think about the consequences of what our children are doing more than anything else. By taking the time to understand why teens do what they do, it can help us approach the situation more rationally. 

You can observe to try and figure out why your teen might be drinking, or you can go directly to them and ask. 

Common reasons include environmental influences, such as social media, peer pressure, or as a form of self-medication for an underlying problem. 

Teens may want to feel independent or older than they are, or you might not have set appropriate boundaries for them. Teens test limits, but even so, they need to understand what’s acceptable and what isn’t. 

If through conversation and observation, you’re able to figure out why your teen is drinking, you may be able to work with them on the underlying problem. For example, if your teen is struggling with depression and trying to mask that with alcohol use, you can discuss options like therapy. 

Have a Conversation with Your Partner or Spouse

Before you approach your teen about a sensitive subject like underage drinking, talk with your co-parent, partner or spouse first. You want to be a united front here, as it’s a complex situation. It’s stressful for the entire family, and you want to make sure you’re both unified in how you approach it. 

Begin Setting Boundaries

Once you find out your teen is drinking, you want to begin creating more formal boundaries and expectations. Wait until you’ve calmed down if you’re angry initially. Before you get deeper into your conversation, start by proactively outlining boundaries. 

You may, if you’ve already caught your teen drinking, consider punishments as well. You need to be empathetic but also firm in whatever the punishment is going to be. Don’t be ambiguous, and don’t shame or blame. Be to the point about why you’re punishing your teen. 

Tips for Talking to Your Teen

In general, if you’re talking to your teen about a difficult subject like alcohol use, remember the following:

  • Stay calm and honest, but also assertive. Don’t shy away from the conversation. 

  • Talk to your teen about why it’s not okay for them to drink. 

  • Ask questions, and be an active listener, even if you don’t necessarily want to hear the answers. 

  • Let your teen know that the lines of communication are open. 

  • Ask open-ended questions. 

  • If there’s anyone in your family with an addiction or alcohol problem, talk with your teen honestly about what that’s looked like. 

General Tips

Finally, the following are some general tips to deal with a teen who is already drinking:

  • Get to know the parents of your teen’s friends. By knowing the parents of other kids in their circle, you’ll be able to learn more about what they’re doing when they aren’t home, and you can all work together on monitoring behavior and making sure they’re on the same page with you. 

  • Monitor your teen’s behavior. Yes, your teen deserves some privacy, but you should explain that if they’ve been caught drinking, there will be limits on this. 

  • Encourage your teen to do other things, like getting involved in more extracurricular activities. Having healthy interests is good for self-esteem and building resilience. 

If the situation feels like more than you can handle on your own, you can enlist outside help from a counselor or therapist. Sometimes teens deal better with talking to an independent third party than they do their parents.

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