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Teen Alcohol Abuse

Teenage alcohol abuse is a prevalent problem around the world. The seriousness of this issue cannot be understated. Teenagers are more susceptible to alcohol and drug addiction than adults, and the consequences are real and substantial. 

Almost 200,000 teenagers have received treatment for alcohol abuse, drug abuse, or other substance abuse disorders the previous year. This is according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Research shows that people who begin drinking before age fifteen are four times more likely to develop a substance use disorder. 

Why Do Teens Abuse Alcohol?

Teenagers love to experiment and try new things out of curiosity. However, some teens quickly move on from experimentation to binge drinking or alcohol abuse. Several factors contribute to alcohol abuse and addiction. These include:

  • An inability to cope with shame or guilt related to self-esteem issues or peer problems
  • Being diagnosed with mental health problems like anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, and the like
  • Being unable to deal with stressors from family, friends, at home, in school, or any other teen-related issues
  • Early exposure to alcohol through family members who drink alcohol regularly or have an alcohol abuse problem
  • Environmental influences coming from friends, school, and neighborhood, where alcohol abuse is rampant
  • Growing up in a household witnessing, or being a victim to, domestic violence
  • Having fast and easy access to alcohol

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How Does Alcohol Affect Teenagers’ Brains?

Teenage brains are still developing. The prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain responsible for judgment, decision making, and impulse control, doesn’t reach its full density until age 25 to 30. Neither does the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain involved in memory and learning.

Teenagers’ developing brains make them much more likely to engage in dangerous drinking. Drinking furthers their inability to make sound decisions while they are intoxicated. Furthermore, alcohol affects the development of the brain. 

Long-term adverse effects of teenage drinking include:

  • An increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD)
  • Problems with learning and memory
  • Decreased problem-solving skills
  • Poor performance in school and work responsibilities
  • Many health risks such as liver and heart disease

Teen Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is defined as having four to five drinks within two hours and is the most common form of substance abuse among teenagers. 

One in four high school students binge drink every month.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

Binge drinking is incredibly dangerous, especially for teenagers. As noted above, the decision-making center of the brain is still developing. Binge drinking further impairs their judgment and increases the likelihood that they will put themselves in dangerous situations.

Binge drinking is associated with many health problems, such as:

  • Avoidable injuries from falls, burns, car crashes, and alcohol poisoning
  • Violence and assault
  • Sexual assault and domestic violence
  • Risky sexual behavior and increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy
  • Chronic health diseases later in life including high blood pressure, liver disease, and stroke
  • Cancer of the liver, colon, mouth, throat, and breast
  • Memory and learning problems
  • Developing alcohol use disorders

Teen Drunk Driving

Impaired judgment may cause teens to get behind the wheel of their car. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of teenage deaths in the United States, and about one out of every four accidents involve alcohol. 

Teen Drinking and Sexual Assault


Nearly 50 percent of all adolescent females have been sexually assaulted in some way. Approximately 20 percent of these sexual assaults involved alcohol

Alcohol-Related Sexual Assault Victimization Among Adolescents: Prevalence, Characteristics, and Correlates

How to Recognize if Your Teen Needs Alcohol Rehab

Not all teens that abuse alcohol will need to go to rehab. Alcohol treatment is most useful for adolescents who have an alcohol use disorder. Here are some signs that your teenager may have a severe problem with alcohol:

  • Sudden and drastic changes in behavior and appearance
  • Lying about alcohol use
  • Borrowing or stealing money for alcohol
  • A sudden drop in grades
  • Getting in trouble at school or with police for drinking
  • Hanging out with new friends that drink
  • Giving up previous activities in favor of partying

What to Do if Your Teen Needs Rehab

If your teen has a problem with alcohol, you should first talk with their doctor or therapist. Many medical facilities will have resources that you can utilize. If they don’t have any services in-house, they will be able to refer you to somewhere that offers alcohol addiction treatment

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Types of Alcohol Rehab for Teens

Alcohol rehabilitation programs help patients achieve a full recovery and live a healthy, sober life afterward. The best treatment option will depend on the patient’s physical and mental health condition, school and work responsibilities, living situation, and support system.

The three most common types of alcohol rehab for teenagers are:

Inpatient Treatment — is the most intensive type of rehab program. Patients live at the facility and undergo detox and several highly structured therapies and activities to help them get sober. These treatment programs yield the highest rates of success.

Outpatient Treatment are meant for people who have a high level of motivation to quit drinking or have school, work, or familial obligations they need to continue throughout recovery. Patients attend treatment at the facility most days but return home afterward.

Partial Hospitalization ProgramsPartial hospitalization programs are intensive outpatient programs. Patients receive medical attention and supervision (if necessary) and attend treatment most days of the week but return home to sleep. 

What Makes Teen Alcohol Rehab Different?

A teen alcohol rehab is different from an alcohol rehab for adults. While both provide treatment run by doctors, nurses, and licensed therapists, there are some differences between the two.

  • The medical professionals working at a teen alcohol rehab center are specifically trained in teen substance abuse treatment. 
  • A teen alcohol rehab treatment center has an exclusive program especially designed for those under 18 years old. This means that your child is not unnecessarily exposed to adult issues that may be too much for them to handle.
  • Although an inpatient teen rehab center has a communal housing and group therapy sessions, the boys are girls are kept separated. Because of this, your teen can focus on their own issues while building positive relationships with people who are undergoing the same journey.

How to Choose an Alcohol Rehab Center for Your Teen

There are a lot of treatment facilities available for your teen. Choosing an alcohol rehab center is not going to be easy. There are several factors to consider before making the final decision.

Here are some things that you should look for to fully help your teen:

  • Parent involvement and family therapy programs
  • Customized treatment plans according to your teen's needs
  • A safe and comfortable environment where your teen can fully recover
  • A comprehensive and holistic treatment plan that also addresses co-occurring factors like mental health issues
  • The presence of an aftercare program to prevent relapse
  • A treatment program that is appropriate to your teen's development and growth

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Resources

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Odgers, Candice L et al. “Is it important to prevent early exposure to drugs and alcohol among adolescents?,” Psychological science vol. 19,10 (2008): 1037-44. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02196.x.

Winters, Ken C, and Chih-Yuan S Lee. “Likelihood of developing an alcohol and cannabis use disorder during youth: association with recent use and age,” Drug and alcohol dependence vol. 92,1-3 (2008): 239-47. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2007.08.005.

NIAAA Publications.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Binge Drinking Is a Serious but Preventable Problem of Excessive Alcohol Use,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Dec. 2019.

Young, Amy et al. “Alcohol-related sexual assault victimization among adolescents: prevalence, characteristics, and correlates,” Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs vol. 69,1 (2008): 39-48. doi:10.15288/jsad.2008.69.39.

Teen Drivers: Get the Facts,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Oct. 2019

Related Pages

Addiction Resources for American Communities

Teen Drug Abuse & Addiction

Alcohol Effects

Underage Drinking

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