If your teenager is regularly abusing alcohol, it is possible that they are able to keep this part of their life hidden from you. Although addiction can take over a person’s mental and physical health, sometimes it can manifest itself in less obvious ways. Learning more about the indirect symptoms of addiction can help you understand why adolescents abusing alcohol can more easily fly under the radar.
How Teens Can Develop High-Functioning Alcoholism
A person struggling with an addiction can still be highly functioning, which means that they are able to, for the most part, hide their substance abuse from those around them. This sometimes prevents even themselves from acknowledging the reality of their illness.
The following are reasons that symptoms of addiction are more likely to be overlooked when dealing with teenagers:
- Addiction Myths: There are many stereotypes that prevent addicts from receiving the help they need. For example, the myth that only adults can be diagnosed as alcoholics. But addiction is not a disease that discriminates in anyway—not even age.
- Binge Drinking Culture: The “It’s not alcoholism until we graduate!” mindset is prevalent in adolescent circles. With the infamous college years looming before them, teens are being molded to normalize and even idealize binge drinking culture. This mindset affirms the faulty reasoning that if you only drink on the weekend—or say, when the parents are away—then you are not addicted.
- Peer Pressure: Teenagers are often insecure in their identity and values as they are still trying to find their footing. This makes them very easily influenced by others. Peer pressure could look like turning to alcohol to have a good time or to ease social tensions, or using substances as a way to self-medicate and cope with problems that they do not yet know how to handle.
- Secrecy: When living at home, an alcoholic teen is more likely to be on-guard over their drinking. They will be approaching their substance use with secrecy before it even develops into a dependency or addiction.
“Typical Teen Stuff”
Dismissing problem behaviors as “typical teen stuff” is perhaps the biggest culprit in regards to why an adolescent could slip through the cracks as a high-functioning alcoholic. Many of addiction’s red-flag symptoms might be disregarded if a parent isn’t actively looking for the source of the problem. For example:
- Short-tempers and blatantly disregarding rules: She just wants attention or is letting off some steam. She is just seeing how far she can push your limits. Remember you once went through a rebellious stage too.
- Impulsive and irrational decisions: Their brains are still developing, sometimes teens just do stupid stuff—they never think before they act!
- Forgetfulness, sloppiness, and irresponsibility: Kids these days, am I right?
- Isolation: They just need to spread their wings a bit, get some space. It’s normal for a teen to stop wanting to share every personal detail with their parents.
- Poor personal hygiene: Teenage boys have always been notorious for dragging their feet about showering and laundry.
Parents May Be Enabling an Addiction
One final factor to be aware of that is not directly a symptom of addiction is parents enabling their teen’s addictive behavior. Parents sometimes subconsciously ignore their teen’s addiction because they are scared it reflects poorly on their parenting skills. Another possibility is that they recognize addictive behavior in themselves and know where their kid picked up these habits. Whatever the reason, this mindset is still faulty.
Addiction is not a choice, but a physiological illness. Check out Daniel’s story to learn how an addict can come from a family that loved and raised their kid to the best of their ability.
Getting Help for Your Teen
If you think your teen has a problem with alcohol, intervention is key. Young adults have so much life ahead of them and their age is often an asset when trying to bounce back from the physical effects of alcohol abuse.
As parents, the tendency to protect can feel insatiable and the fact that addiction can fall upon anybody can be a terrifying prospect. However, that kind of control is simply not possible. What is in your control is building up an open and honest relationship with your child, along with being a good role model for them when it comes to coping with difficulties and interacting in social situations.