Teenage alcoholism

By Drum Digital
30 March 2014

You might think alcoholism is something that only affects adults, and your children are definitely too young to suffer from this affliction. But experts agree that teenage alcoholism is on the rise and urge parents to arm themselves and their teens witih knowledge on the topic.

The teenage years are challenging for both parents and and their teens. Boundaries are often explored and rules broken in an attempt to understand the world. But what if innocent experimentation with an occassional drink becomes a serious problem?

Janice C, public outreach coordinator for Al-Anon, a support group for loved ones of alcoholics, explains alcoholism is an aggressive disease, which may start with social drinking. “Alcohol is a mind-altering substance,” Janice says. She explains that it doesn’t affect everyone equally and may have a more profound effect on those genetically predisposed to alcoholism.

“You can only help someone who is willing to be helped,” Janice says. With regard to treatment, she adds if the teenager is underage, a parent can obtain an interdict to put them in rehab.

Peter* had his first beer when he was just 16 years old. “I had a beer with friends, and soon one can of beer became two, two became four, four became eight, and before I knew it I was mixing my drinks, drinking vodka, whiskey and other liquor.” He began drinking for pleasure, but it soon turned into full-blown alcoholism.

“My father and grandfather were regular drinkers, but they didn’t drink excessively. I didn’t realise the moment when drinking started controlling me. I just thought I was emulating them,” he says.

Due to his drinking, Peter faced a divorce and lost custody of his two sons, now aged 14 and 12. “Alcoholism made me powerless; I had no tools or measures to control it at the time,” he says. He’s now a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, an international mutual aid fellowship, where he volunteers. Peter has been sober for four years.

Janice explains that alcoholism causes a noticeable change in personality. “Some people become quiet, others display violence, and some become the life of the party.” It varies from teenager to teenager, but parents should be on the lookout for personality changes such as the following:

Look out for these signs

  • You notice your teen drinking more frequently.
  • There’s a change in your teen’s personality.
  • You see puffiness in your child’s face and redness in their skin.

Note that these signs aren’t always exclusively related to alcoholism.

“The only thing you can do is to guide your children. You can reprimand them, take their drink away or ban them from leaving the house, but you cannot control them. You can only help them if they want the help,” Janice says.

Peter believes values and morals are of utmost importance when raising children. “The more love you show to your teenagers, the more understanding, tolerance, awareness and communication you share and the greater your chance of avoiding such an issue.”

How to deal with teenage alcoholism

  • Educate yourself on alcoholism as a disease.
  • Talk to your teen about alcoholism and explain to them how the disease progresses.
  • Keep open the lines of communication with your teen.
  • Get help if you suspect a problem! Call Al-Anon/Alateen on 0861-252-666. It’s a 24-hour helpline.

*Name has been changed to preserve anonymity

-Megan Bursey

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