Alcohol problems with teenagers
For purposes of simplicity, we are using the term abuser for addict or chemically dependent teenager or user no matter what the extent of the use is. My assumption is that the alcohol abuse must stop, no matter what the progression may be.
True alcoholism is a problem that is progressive. This means that it always gets worse, never better. It may somehow look like it is getting better if the teenager controls it for a period of time but this is usually an illusion - a false attempt at trying to drink "safely." Non-alcoholics do not have to try to do this.
Without interruption, the progression of the problem leads to much pain and loss. Many people stop for a while but return to alcohol abuse. The way to "reality test" the success of the teenager's recovery is to watch the actions of the teenager. This does not mean to judge the teenager but to follow the success objectively. If the teenager stops and is fairly content with life, chances are he or she has experienced alcohol abuse, but is not an alcoholic. Most alcoholics stop and experience tremendous pain due to the consequences of their past actions when drunk. Many get abstinent, not sober and content, and experience a period when they are euphoric or very happy. This is usually a time when the body feels better as the toxins are leaving and the teenager is detoxifying.
The problem is also primary. This means that treatment begins with abstinence from the drug. An alcoholic will attempt to control the drinking by cutting back, drinking in the evening, drinking only on the weekend, limiting the number of drinks consumed on a certain day etceteras. A social drinker does not have to pay much attention to alcohol consumption or non-consumption because it is not very important.
The problem is chronic. This means that it continues until abstinent is obtained and then treatment for the problems created when drunk or when the teenager was active, with a hangover or still having the alcoholic behavior or thinking. An alcoholic can be more threatening when the alcohol is limited or removed. The problem does not disappear with the elimination of alcohol. Damage to the person and relationships have been done. This goes on until the alcoholic is "in recovery" and has completed steps toward healing the guilt, rage and depression caused by drinking. In addition, there may be numerous problems that were prevalent before the drinking began.
The problem is fatal. It seems to have a "life of its own" and will attempt to kill the alcoholic and those around him or her. Many significant others suffer much more than the teenager who drinks. Sometimes the alcoholic drinks and others who are trying to help get the hangover.
As you read on, you will realize that the abuser is not intentionally causing harm to self and others but is compelled to do so. This is not a choice he or she made because they were bad or corrupt or immoral or weak willed. It is largely due to genetic factors. It is my belief that the teenager is responsible for the behavior but not to blame. Consequences should be given and consistently enforced in order for learning and change to take place. Once the teenager knows of the problem, he or she is responsible to seek help just as you would be responsible to treat a bad tooth or diabetes. Otherwise, you may make others around you suffer due to their concern for you. The idea is to let the teenager heal by not doing anything for them that they can do for themselves. If you accept their consequences you can deprive them of the opportunity to get sober. Consequences provide "leverage" necessary for the teenager to see the problems more clearly and, hopefully, connect these problems to the drinking.
My letter to the parents of an alcoholic teenager
Recovery is the abstinence of the drug along with pursuit of healing from the guilt, fear, rage and depression caused by the drugs. When your child is in recovery, you will know it. You will see the attitude changed to one of stability, more cooperative, more willing to be a part of the family. They will make amends to those they have hurt. They will want to go to AA. They will be talking "recovery." They will be spending time with recovering people. They will be success-oriented instead of failure-oriented.
Some change is good but go for the whole "enchilada." By this I mean begin to influence your child by entering into your healing process from the pain of the ism (alcoholism). The ism represents the problems that occur as a result of the drinking. This may have been going on for generations in your family. Stop it now by healing. Let go of the sadness, the discouragement, the lack of love, the rage, the guilt for thinking you have caused it (you haven't) and the fear of seeing your child dead or disabled because of this disease. This does not go away overnight. You can repress these feelings but they will emerge when you are stressed and control your attitude, your health, your relationships, your self-esteem and your success. It takes a "program" and years of healing - being with and learning for others who have been there and are healing and have been healing for years - to recover.
Go to your recovery meetings. Stay abreast of the education offered and do not get overconfident or begin to think you are gaining control. This is an illusion. This problem is too big for any one of us. Stay humbled by the treacherousness of the disease. Stay around and get in recovery. The sickest family members do not go to treatment because they do the same thing the alcoholic does. The pride and sense of overconfidence is immense. They will not admit to being beaten. Surrender to win is the key. When you surrender the disease cannot keep harming you.
You may think that the problem is smaller than it is. Respect the dangerousness of the problem and see if you become complacent as time goes on. If you are attending your meetings (AlAnon) and have friends who have experienced their child going through the pain of alcoholism, you have protection. However, if you become too overconfident, the disease will eat you for breakfast.
Stages of Alcoholism
Alcoholism is a problem which is progressive. The progression of the problem leads to much pain and loss without interruption of the progression. Many people stop for a while but return to abuse. The way to "reality test" the success of the person's recovery is to watch the actions of the person. This does not mean to judge the person but to followthe success objectively. As you read on, you will realize that the abuser is not intentionally causing harm to self and others but is compelled to do so. This is not a choice he or she made because they were bad or corrupt or immoral or weak willed. It is largely due to genetic factors. It is my belief that the person is responsible for the behavior but not to blame. Consequences should be given and consistently enforced in order for learning and change to take place.