As a concerned friend, teammate, teacher, coach, or loved one, if you or someone you know needs help for teenage alcohol abuse or misuse, you’re smart to be searching for answers because it can become an incredibly serious issue. The 2023 State of Underage Drinking in North Carolina survey found that 47% of high school students have personally tried alcohol. Of those who admit to drinking, 2 in 5 do so on a regular basis — daily, weekly, or monthly. Teenagers may not understand how negatively alcohol misuse can impact their physical and mental health, but here’s the plain truth — the more often teens drink, the more damage they risk doing to themselves and others.
If you know someone underage who is misusing alcohol, you may be wondering what you should do or whether you should even get involved. While it may feel uncomfortable to take a stand against underage drinking, it’s crucial to take action and provide help for teenage alcohol abuse or misuse before the situation escalates.
Approaching this delicate matter requires sensitivity and consideration for the individual’s overall well-being. There are steps you can take to provide support, but it’s also essential to know when to enlist the help of the individual’s parents or a professional.
1. Recognize the Signs
The first step in helping someone who’s struggling with alcohol misuse is to recognize the signs a teen is drinking. Look out for behavioral changes such as sudden mood swings, neglect of responsibilities, declining academic performance, a change of friends, or decreased interest in activities or personal appearance. If you notice any of these warning signs and suspect alcohol is to blame, you need to consider the best way to address the issue promptly and with care.
2. Approach the Individual Compassionately
If possible, schedule a time to talk with the individual, and let them know ahead of time that you’re concerned about them. You don’t want them to feel surprised or ambushed by your conversation.
When discussing alcohol misuse, approach the topic with empathy and understanding. Avoid judgmental or confrontational language that could make teens defensive. This is a good time to share some facts about the dangers of underage drinking and emphasize that you simply care about their well-being.
3. Offer Your Support
As a friend or mentor, your support can be vital to someone struggling with alcohol misuse. Encourage open communication and offer to listen without judgment when they need someone to talk to.
Suggest that they engage in sober activities, such as sports, hobbies, or social events where people won’t be drinking alcohol. Hopefully, your concern and positive influence can help them break the cycle of alcohol misuse.
4. Recognize Your Limitations
While your support is valuable, it may not be enough. If, despite your efforts, the person’s alcohol misuse doesn’t seem to be getting better (or gets worse), you need to consider the best way to involve other concerned individuals. Getting someone help for teenage alcohol misuse often requires a team effort, especially if the person’s drinking habits have reached a dangerous level or they’re unable to stop drinking alcohol on their own.
5. Involve Trusted Family and Friends
Depending on the individual’s situation, you might first involve their family or close friends. This can be tricky because you don’t want the person to feel that you’ve betrayed their trust. At the same time, you want to make sure they get the help they need to stop misusing alcohol.
Proceed cautiously by communicating your concerns to the person’s family or friends without accusation or blame. Seek to work together to develop a supportive plan.
6. Seek Treatment for Teen Alcohol Abuse or Misuse
If involving family or friends isn’t an option, encourage the individual to seek professional help. This can come from a counselor, therapist, or addiction specialist.
When discussing the possibility of seeing a professional, be understanding and supportive. Remember that going to therapy or counseling can be intimidating, especially for teenagers. Share information about reputable treatment centers or counseling services in your area. Remind the individual that seeking help for teenage alcohol misuse is a courageous step toward reclaiming their life and overcoming their challenges.
Find the Resources You Need on Talk it Out NC
Often, teenagers are good at hiding their drinking from parents, but a friend, teacher, or mentor may pick up on the signs. At Talk it Out NC, we believe everyone can do something to help prevent teenage alcohol misuse. That’s why our website offers resources tailored to people of different ages and for various situations. If you know someone underage who is misusing alcohol, check out our helpful tips so you can Start the Conversation with them today.