How to Help Your Alcoholic Teen: Careful & Compassionate Intervention
Your teen’s alcohol-related substance abuse is a serious indicator of self-destructive behavior. Addiction harms your teen on a physical and mental level, so it is your responsibility as a parent to intervene. Acknowledgement of an addiction is a tough psychological hurdle for an alcoholic, and your teen needs your support to recognize the truth of their actions and take the first steps of change.
It is important that you’re self-aware and strategic when you approach a discussion about their struggle. Your teen can only make big changes when they feel supported and empowered to take control of their life. Here are some ways you can carry out a compassionate intervention for teen alcoholism:
Recognize and Acknowledge
Some of the signs and symptoms of alcoholism in your teen are a change in their behavior and physical state. There may be a major change in their academic performance, turnover of friends, loss of interest in activities, sudden need for money, neglect of responsibilities and continuation of alcohol consumption regardless of consequences. They may also experience psychological symptoms of depression, anxiety loss of concentration and short-term memory deficits.
Physical symptoms include smell of alcohol, flushed skin, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, poor hygiene and deterioration in physical appearance. Keep an eye out for these symptoms, so you can accurately explain to your teen the changes you’ve noticed in them.
Find the right time and space for the first step of your intervention. You don’t want your teen to feel bombarded or attacked with accusations in a public space or at a time of day when they feel caught up in something else. Sit down in a private space where they feel comfortable, such as your living room. Try to have the discussion on a weekend rather than during the school week.
Discuss the specific changes you’ve seen in their behavior and any evidence that has led you to question the extent of their alcohol consumption. Make sure they know that they are not in trouble and you are not using this conversation to catch them or punish their behavior. This conversation should be compassionate and understanding.
Once you’ve opened communication with your teen, give them the floor to speak. See how they process and respond to your observations and feelings of concern. If your teen is receptive and open to help, you should continue onto the next step.
If your teen doesn't feel comfortable talking to you, encourage them to seek help or talk to others. It can be helpful for a teen to find a mentor who is only a little older than them and has had experience or training in substance abuse. Make sure their mentor is part of a legitimate and well-established group that provides support and recovery tools for alcoholic teens. Visit Healthline to assess which support group is right for your teen.
Your teen should have a smartphone that lets them communicate with their group or sponsor. Smartphones like the iPhone 7 allow for private and easy communication through the FaceTime app and iMessage. When your teen feels inclined to drink, it's good for them to have a way to have immediate and personal communication with their support system. Their group or mentor can sympathize with them and provide positive affirmations that will keep them on the healthy track.