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Learning About Alcohol Use Disorder in Teens

What is an alcohol use problem?

An alcohol use problem means having unhealthy or dangerous drinking habits, such as drinking every day or drinking too much at a time. Alcohol use problems can harm you and may cause you to harm others.

You may think a drink or two is okay, even if it is illegal. But young people who drink are more likely to develop an alcohol problem than people who start drinking later in life.

Teens who continue to misuse alcohol may develop a strong need, or craving, for alcohol, and it may get harder to say "no" to drinking. You may begin to find alcohol more fun than anything else. Or you may want to stop drinking but can't. You may become dependent on alcohol.

If you become dependent, then alcohol controls your life. You may continue to drink even though it can harm your relationships, lead to trouble with the law, and/or cause physical problems.

Why do teens drink alcohol?

Teens may drink alcohol for many reasons. They may want to:

  • Fit in with friends or certain groups.
  • Feel good.
  • Seem more grown up.
  • Rebel against parents.
  • Escape problems. For example, teens may drink to try to:
    • Get rid of the symptoms of mental health problems, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or depression.
    • Ease feelings of insecurity.
    • Forget about physical or sexual abuse.

What problems can alcohol cause?

Alcohol can change how well you make decisions, how well you think, and how quickly you can react. It can make it hard for you to control your actions. Alcohol use can:

  • Make car crashes more likely. If you drink and drive, you can easily crash and hurt yourself or others. Don't drive if you have been drinking. And don't ride in a car (or any type of vehicle) with someone who has been drinking.
  • Lead to unprotected sex and/or increase the risk of sexual assault. This can lead to pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
  • Cause you to do things you wouldn't usually do. You may say things that hurt your friends or do something illegal that could result in paying a large fine, losing your driver's licence, or other legal problems.
  • Cause you to lose interest in school and your future. Poor grades or lack of focus may make it harder to reach your dreams.

Alcohol use also can change how you feel about your life. It can lead to depression and suicide.

How do you say no to alcohol?

If someone offers you a drink, here are some ways to say "no."

  • Look the person in the eye and say "No thanks." Sometimes that is all you need to do. Say it as many times as you need to. Also ask the person not to ask you again: "I'm cool with my decision, so don't bother me again."
  • Say why you don't want to drink. Here are some examples: "I don't like how I act when I'm drinking," "I like to know what I'm doing," "If my parents find out, they'll take my car away," or "I have to practice with my band tomorrow."
  • Walk out. It's okay to leave a party or group where others are drinking.
  • Offer another idea. "I'd rather play video games" or "Let's listen to some music." By doing this, you might also prevent your friend from drinking.
  • Ask for respect. Make it clear that you don't want to drink and that continuing to ask you is showing no respect for your opinions. "I don't give you a hard time, so why are you giving me a hard time?"
  • Think ahead. If you think you might go someplace where people are drinking, don't go. But if you do go, think in advance about what you will do if someone offers you a drink.

How is alcohol dependency treated?

Treatment depends on how bad your alcohol problem is. Some teens are able to stop drinking with help from a school alcohol education program or a counsellor. Treatment also can include group therapy. Teens who are dependent on alcohol may need medical treatment and may need to stay in a hospital or treatment centre.

Treatment focuses on more than alcohol. It also helps you cope with the anger, frustration, sadness, and disappointment that often happen when a person tries to stop drinking.

Treatment also looks at other parts of your life, like your relationships with friends and family, school and work, medical problems, and living situation. It helps you find and manage problems. Treatment helps you take control of your life so you don't have to depend on alcohol.

An alcohol problem affects the whole family. Family counselling often is part of treatment.

Where can you learn more?

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