Alcohol is the most commonly used and misused drug among youth in the United States.1 And according to a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, there were approximately 10 million underage drinkers in 2010.2
As a parent, you want what’s best for your child, which is why it’s important to proactively prevent them from drinking. But how can you tell if your child has been drinking or experimenting with alcohol? Sometimes, it’s not always as obvious as you smelling booze on their clothing.
Warning Signs To Look Out For
Here are a few common changes in your kid’s physical appearance and behavior that may be warning signs that they have been drinking:
- Mood changes: flare-ups of temper, irritability, and defensiveness
- School problems: poor attendance, low grades, and/or recent disciplinary action
- Pushing boundaries: rebellion against family rules
- Friend group changes: switching friends and a reluctance to let you get to know the new friends
- A “nothing matters” attitude: sloppy appearance, a lack of involvement in former interests, and general low energy
- Alcohol presence: finding it in your child’s room or backpack or smelling alcohol on his or her breath
- Physical or mental problems: memory lapses, poor concentration, bloodshot eyes, lack of coordination, or slurred speech
- Secretiveness: reluctance to share their whereabouts
Although these signs may indicate a problem with alcohol or other substances, some also reflect normal growing pains, which is why it’s important not to jump to conclusions. However, if you notice several of these signs at the same time, if they occur suddenly, or if they are extreme in nature, it may be indicative of a drinking problem.
What To Do If Your Child Has Been Drinking
Remain calm – While it may seem difficult in the moment to stay calm, it’s important not to immediately jump to conclusions or play the blame game. Let your child know that you are aware that they have been drinking, then take some time to settle down, to ease out of whatever shock, anger, or powerlessness you may be feeling.
Talk about what happened – Listen to your kid, gathering information about their perspective of what happened, why, and what they think now. Through their own processing, your child can decide alcohol is bad for them on their own.
Help them understand why alcohol is harmful to them – Explain to your child the dangerous long-term effects of alcohol. Make it clear that you’re not just being irrational and emphasize your concern for their safety.
Identify steps for future prevention – Having reflected on the situation, it’s time to partner with your kid for the future. What consequences are necessary now and what can be put in place to break the pattern for next time?
It’s important to remember that this is not a one-time discussion, but rather an ongoing conversation. Keep an eye on your child and check in with them regularly, because young people are more likely to drink if they think no one will notice.
Parent Up is here to help. Check out our collection of online tools and resources for more facts on drinking, tips for starting a conversation with your child, and tips on how you can prevent underage drinking.
1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2007.