Alcohol Addiction in Adolescents

Statistics about teen drinking from the Center for Disease Control are alarming — not only is alcohol the most commonly abused substance among Americans aged 12 to 20, but it is most often consumed via binge drinking, accounts for 11% of the alcohol consumed in the United States and leads to tens of thousands of emergency room visits each year. Experts also agree that underage drinking habits influence one’s likelihood of abusing alcohol later in life — the younger an individual is when they are first exposed to alcohol, the higher chance they have of developing a substance use disorder as an adult.

In addition, the United States’ legal drinking age of 21 was not an arbitrary choice. The age was set based on medical professionals’ evaluation of brain development — estimates placed 21 as the age at which the brain has completed most of its growth and change. Drinking alcohol, particularly binge drinking, before the age of 21 can have a significant impact on the parts of the brain that haven’t finished growing, potentially contributing to the increased risk of addiction and limiting overall development. If an adolescent is exhibiting signs of having an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible to limit the harm that alcoholism or alcohol abuse can have.

Alcohol Addiction

Although not typically labeled as such, alcohol is a type of drug. It is an addictive, psychoactive substance that results in altered brain function when ingested. Alcohol falls into a category of drugs called depressants — not because they make you feel depressed, but because they “depress” or dampen your nervous system. When you drink alcohol, your brain’s functions generally decrease. This results in the typical signs of being drunk — slowed reaction times, memory loss, poor mood modulation, lack of inhibition, slurred speech and dulled senses.

But alcohol does stimulate two important chemicals in the brain: GABA and dopamine, which contribute to the calm, pleasurable and rewarding parts of being drunk. The increase in these chemicals is what makes alcohol so addictive. Over time, repeated use of alcohol (particularly binge drinking) causes your brain to crave the heightened levels of GABA and dopamine that alcohol artificially creates. What’s more, continued drinking can lead to developing a higher tolerance for alcohol, which means you’ll need to drink more before you can feel the same levels of pleasure from being drunk. As you drink more, your brain continues to become ever more reliant on alcohol to feel calm or happy — this is called a dependence, which quickly turns into addiction as cravings become stronger and periods between being drunk become harder to bear.

Signs of Alcohol Addiction

Since alcohol is considered a very normal part of modern culture, it can be difficult to discern whether someone has an abusive relationship with alcohol or not. Often, those who are struggling with an addiction to alcohol will drink under the guise of social engagements or will hide their heaviest drinking from friends and family. This is particularly true among adolescents, who can be under a lot of social pressure to drink to the point of intoxication. Young people tend to romanticize heavy drinking, equating it with enjoyment, success or popularity. Speaking up when you are uncomfortable about your own or someone else’s drinking habits can be very hard to do as a teen, so it’s important to ensure they have a safe, approachable place to voice their concern. At Stonewater, we want you to know that seeking help for an addiction to alcohol might very well save the life of yourself or your loved one.

Below are some key indicators that someone’s relationship with alcohol has become abusive, including: 

  • Regularly drinking to the point of intoxication
  • Drinking until memory loss or “blacking out” occurs
  • Drinking until passing out or vomiting
  • Hiding drinking from friends, siblings or parents
  • Appearing drunk in inappropriate settings like school or extracurricular activities
  • Drinking alone

There are also some signs that might indicate an addiction is forming, including:

  • Personality changes
  • Changes in social circles
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • A decline in academic or extracurricular performance
  • Irritability or anxiety when sober
  • Always suggesting drinking as a social activity
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Memory loss
Even if you are not sure whether you or your loved one might be abusing alcohol, it is a good idea to talk to a professional about your concerns. It is especially important to seek help in the case of adolescent alcohol addiction because substance abuse among teenagers can have a range of lasting effects if not treated early. If you or your friend, sibling or child is exhibiting any of the signs of alcohol abuse or addiction listed here, it might be time to check with a doctor or therapist to find out whether treatment is the best course of action.

Treating Alcohol Addiction at Stonewater

Alcohol addiction treatments like the programs offered at Stonewater are well-researched, time-tested ways of healing from alcohol abuse and preventing relapse. As a recovery center focused on adolescents, we know that the teens in our programs have their whole lives ahead of them, and it is our goal to make sure they can achieve them to their fullest. We offer treatment and guidance at every step of the recovery process, from detox to residential treatment to long-term recovery support.

At Stonewater, recovery from alcohol addiction may begin with a monitored detox period. This part of treatment is appropriate for those who have developed a strong dependency on alcohol and experience painful or uncomfortable symptoms without access to drinking. Our Withdrawal Management program is overseen by a licensed physician and addictionologist and a trained and highly experienced nursing staff. These medical professionals can ensure that our clients stay safe while their bodies begin to heal from addiction. Withdrawal symptoms are one of the main reasons that addictions develop and redevelop, so ensuring that this process is as thorough and comfortable as possible goes a long way toward starting recovery on the right foot.

After detox, the teens in our programs move into the main portion of their treatment — either residential treatment, during which they live and receive treatment at our facility, or intensive outpatient care, in which they can live at home while attending structured and scheduled treatment sessions. At Stonewater, these programs focus on using a variety of therapies to identify the events or triggers that have led each person to substance abuse and then to replace negative thoughts, habits, and behaviors with positive ones. Our therapies include individual and group talk therapy, family therapy, art therapy, equine therapy and adventure therapy and are designed to instill productive coping mechanisms and fun, healthy hobbies. Our residential programs are available in 30, 60 and 90-day periods, and our intensive outpatient program varies depending on the patient.

Our Treatment Goals

At our beautiful and serene recovery campus in Oxford, MS, we aim to give adolescents the skills they need to find their way back to a healthy and normal life full of opportunity. At Stonewater, your teen can find recovery from alcohol addiction while learning healthy habits and discovering that they do not need drugs, alcohol or other addictive substances to feel good about themselves. If you are worried about yourself, your friend, your child or any other teen in your life, we encourage you to contact our admissions team right away to find out if our programs are right for you. Call us today at 662-598-4214.

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