Your Teen Drinks Alcohol or Does Drugs? Now What?

It’s natural to panic if you discover that your teen drinks alcohol or uses drugs. Our first reaction as parents is to do something, anything, to deal with the problem. And to do it now. That’s a great danger because doing the wrong thing can create serious problems.

teen drinksIt would be more accurate to say that it’s natural to panic when rather than if  your teen drinks or uses drugs. That’s because almost all teens experiment with alcohol. The vast majority experiment with using drugs illicitly. That’s completely natural and normal. The good news is that very few experience any serious or long-term negative consequences.

Maia Szalavitz is the well known author of articles and books about teens and their problems. She suggests that parents first try to put things in perspective. So, you discover that your teen drinks. You’re not alone. Take a deep breath. Don’t take any action until calming down. Think about all your options. Carefully consider the potential consequences of each choice.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. But it’s essential not to over-react. Have your son or daughter’s grades suddenly dropped? Attitudes changed? Had problems with the law? Remember that adolescence is a time of great personal change and emotional turmoil. Are these problems the result of drinking or drugs? Or are drinking or doing drugs an expression of adolescent struggles?

Szalavitz highly recommends that we carefully consider the potential consequences of any potential action. We could have them arrested as an expression of our ‘tough love.’ But what are the likely results of their arrest record? It might bar them from entering professions such as law, criminal justice, education, and others? It might prevent them from getting federal or state loans for college. Deprive them of scholarships.  Prevent them from entering the college of their choice. The arrest record could also increase their risk of alcohol or drug problems in the future. That’s because graduating from college lowers those risks.

If your teen drinks or does drugs, that does not  cause later problems. Such problems are a result of earlier pre-existing personal characteristics. For example, behavioral psychologists have observed the play of pre-school children. From this, they have been able to predict accurately which would drink at an earlier age and have later problems in life. So simply consuming alcohol at an early age is not a reason for panic.

And there is no evidence that if a teen drinks in moderation, it has any negative affects on the brain. There is substantial evidence that it has no negative effects on the human brain. To the contrary, drinking in moderation reduces cognitive decline as we age.

Sending a teen to a retreat or rehab program is probably the worst choice a parent could make. These facilities usually use the 12 steps. They teach people that they are alcoholics and drug addicts. That they are powerless over these substances. That they must submit to God or a Higher Power. And that they can never drink any alcohol for the rest of their lives. For an actual example of the negative effects of such a rehab, visit Underage Drinking: What NOT to Do.

Help if  Your Teen Drinks to Excess

Young people can usually either moderate or abstain. They don’t benefit from being sent away to an expensive alcohol/drug retreat or rehab to live among troubled strangers. That almost certainly does more harm than good.

Good alternatives for use at home are these, among many others.

HAMS (Harm reduction, Abstinence, and Moderation Support).

Life Process Program.

LifeRing Recovery.

Moderation Management.

Rational Recovery.    

SOS (Secular Organizations for Sobriety).

SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training).

In the very unlikely event that a rehab is necessary, there are a number of non-12-step retreats. About 25% of rehabs are non-12 step. Make sure it is fully accredited. It should be able to provide medical detoxification services if needed. And it should accept health insurance in payment. These are all minimum qualifications.

Learning Resources if a Teen Drinks to Excess

Brain Science Research Findings Misrepresented and Distorted.

Dissenting Ideas on New Brain Science.

Does Beginning to Drink at an Early Age CAUSE Later Alcohol Abuse or Other Problems?

Drinking Alcohol at an Early Age (Early Onset of Drinking) and Later Alcohol Problems: New Research.

‘Drinking Alcohol Damages Teenagers’ Brains’

Early Onset of Drinking (Early First Drink of Alcohol) and Later Problems.

Early Puberty Predicts Early Alcohol Drinking and Intoxication

Genetics and Early Age of Drinking.

Maia Szalavitz is a  leading neuroscience and addiction journalist  She has contributed to Time, the New York Times, Scientific American Mind, the Washington Post  and many other publications.  Her three books include Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids. She has received prestigious awards from the American Psychological Association and the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.


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