Parent Power

the power to prevent underage alcohol use

Recognizing the Signs

Is Your Teen Using?

It's hard to recognize early signs of teen drinking. Most parents believe they would know if their child was drinking, but most teens say they wouldn't. Unfortunately, all of Montana's teens are at risk for use and abuse of alcohol. As parents, it is important to be aware of this risk and to continuously monitor your teen. However, identifying signs of early alcohol use in children can be difficult even with careful monitoring.

One sign that your child is experimenting with alcohol, or considering doing so, could be a casual mention that one or more of your teen's friends is drinking. Or, your child may say that one of their friend's parents lets their teen drink. These could be trial balloons floated to test your reaction to underage drinking. Other early signs of experimentation might include joking about alcohol advertisements or other alcohol-related scenes in TV shows or movies. Your teen may acquire alcohol-related promotional items such as T-shirts, mugs, stickers, etc. It is also possible that there will be no visible signs of early experimentation.

By the time a parent starts to notice physical and personality changes, the teen is usually already engaging in heavy alcohol use and could be developing serious abuse problems. The most common warning signs of alcohol abuse (listed below) may not be visible until the teen has been drinking for quite awhile. Therefore, the most effective approach in reducing teen alcohol usage is through ongoing monitoring. By monitoring, you can find out if your teen is using alcohol before these signs become visible and prevent serious abuse problems.

Watch for These Signs

Some of the signs of alcohol abuse can be characterized as "normal" adolescent behavior. However, what is not normal, is if more than a few of the following signs listed below are present. Such a combination of changes could indicate a serious problem.

Personality or Behavior Changes

  • Abrupt changes in mood or attitude
  • More irritable or argumentative
  • Sudden decline in attendance or performance at school
  • Rebelling against family rules
  • Sudden resistance to discipline at school
  • Uncharacteristic withdrawal from family or friends
  • "Nothing matters" attitude; no interest in school, sports or activities that used to be important
  • Physical, emotional, or mental problems
  • Memory lapses
  • Poor concentration
  • Needs more money-or money missing
  • Heightened secrecy about actions or possessions
  • Switching friends
  • Associating with a new group of friends whom your teen refuses to discuss
  • Finding alcohol in your child's room or belongings

Physical Changes

  • Less appetite or continually hungry
  • Loss or gain of weight
  • Less interested in appearance
  • Circles under eyes and pale skin, including face
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Slurred or rapid speech
  • Smell of alcohol on breath or sudden, frequent use of breath mints

Learn More

If you suspect your child is using alcohol, it is important to take action right away. Visit Time to Act by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America to learn how to intervene.

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