How to deal with teenage drinking or alcoholism

Chandu asks: How to correct an alcoholic teenager?

Hi Chandu –

This is a great question, but before I answer at all, I want to clarify something – the word “alcoholic.”

Alcoholism is a terrible disease, an addiction in which the sufferer is unable, or nearly unable, to resist the urge to drink, no matter how bad the consequences are.  It’s much more than just a desire; it involves the person’s brain being literally re-wired, in a way that can never be undone, even after decades of sobriety.


Lots of teenagers drink, and lots drink way more than is remotely healthy for them or those around them, without being alcoholics.  So when you ask me how to correct this teenager, I have two very different answers, depending on whether they’re truly alcoholics or not.

If what you really mean is “How can I correct my teenager’s bad behavior of drinking,” there are lots of good answers.  The first and easiest is to get all the alcohol out of your home.  You might dislike this, as you enjoy the occasional cocktail or glass of wine.  Too bad.  You can lock it up somewhere for a while, maybe at your work or at a friend’s house, or you can throw it all out.  Second, don’t let your teen drive themselves for a while.  Take them to parties or other events yourself, and check their breath each time.  And biggest of all, don’t let them go out with friends you don’t fully trust.

Now none of this is easy, and it is guaranteed to infuriate your teen.  But if you’re truly frightened about their drinking, it might be worth doing.  And if you’re wincing as you read this, thinking “Oh this is too harsh.  Billy only had those beers that one night,” or “Sondra mostly learned her lesson about vodka when she spent all Sunday throwing up,” you’re probably right.  You don’t need to correct that much.  But if they’re really drinking too much and too often, then yes, it’s worth being this punitive.

On the other hand, if you’re truly concerned that your teen is an alcoholic, the above interventions are only a first step.  You also need to go through your medicine cabinet and get rid of any medications that have alcohol in them (and you probably need to throw out any other drugs that might be pleasurable for someone, from painkillers to cough medicines, etc.).  If things are really bad, you might have to get rid of some household cleaners, glues, hair sprays, etc., that can be used to get high as well.

But my biggest suggestion is to admit that this problem is too big for you to handle yourself.  Alcoholism isn’t “corrected.”  Your teen has a problem that will last through their whole life.  They, and you, need serious counseling, from someone qualified as an addiction counselor.  If you can get the teen to attend a program like Alcoholics Anonymous, those work miracles all the time; and you might attend a program for people involved with alcoholics, like AlAnon, as well.  And if things are too much for even these, rehab facilities are also greatly successful.

But I really want to press you yet again – are you sure you’re talking about Alcoholism?  Handsome’s known some adults who see someone drinking a cocktail at a restaurant and instantly call them an Alcoholic.  That’s simply incorrect, and ignores how truly awful Alcoholism is.

If you’re confused and unsure, then again, I’d suggest taking that teen to a qualified counselor.  They should be able to help you know the true condition.

And in the meantime, I’ll just throw in one of my pet causes.  Whether this teen is someone who’s just had a few drinks, or a regular drinker, or a true alcoholic, the worst thing they can do is to drive while drunk.  That’s something you truly can “correct,” by coming down enormously hard on them for it.  Drunk driving can and does kill innocent people every day.  So control that, no matter what.



Thanks for your great question!



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