Alcohol Dependency

This article will help parents understand what teen alcohol dependency is, what threat alcohol dependency poses to teens, and how to get help for teens with alcohol dependency. Keep reading to find out who is at risk for alcohol dependency, and tips on preventing alcohol dependency.

More teens use alcohol than their parents realize, and some parents look the other way when teens use alcohol, but teen alcohol use carries serious risks for teens, including alcohol dependency. If a teen becomes alcohol dependent he or she needs help to avoid the serious long-term harm caused by alcohol dependency.

What is Alcohol Dependency?

Alcohol dependency is linked to alcohol abuse, but it is more serious. Alcohol dependency occurs when a teen can no longer control his or her drinking. Alcohol dependency can be physical, mental, or both. In physical dependence, a teen’s body becomes used to the alcohol and needs it to function. Not getting alcohol results in withdrawal.

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Restlessness or anxiety
  • Shaking
  • Vomiting
  • Hallucinations or psychosis
  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or temperature
  • Seizures

Mental alcohol dependency is when a teen has an overwhelming desire for alcohol, using it to face day-to-day problems. In this case a teen needs to change his or her dangerous thought patterns so he or she no longer relies on alcohol to handle life.

What are the symptoms of teen alcohol dependency?

Some of the signs of alcohol dependency in teens include:

  • Being unable to control drinking
  • Drinking alone or hiding one's drinking
  • Blacking out or experiencing memory loss and confusion
  • Annoyance or anger when drinking is disturbed
  • Losing interest in other activities
  • Thinking a lot about drinking or getting alcohol
  • Hiding alcohol
  • Drinking very fast to get drunk
  • Problems at school or work or with friends and family
  • Getting in trouble with the law
  • Needing more alcohol to get the same effect
  • Experiencing withdrawal
  • Denial or anger when confronted about the drinking problem
  • Unexplained stomach pain and vomiting

Parents who find hidden alcohol or empty bottles, or who are concerned about changes in their teen’s behavior or appearance, should talk to their teens to see if they are using alcohol.

What are the dangers of alcohol dependency?

Teens who are dependent on alcohol are more likely later in life to be unemployed, involved in an abusive relationship, or in legal trouble. They are also more likely to drink while pregnant, causing harm to their baby. About half of accidental deaths and car accidents are the result of alcohol use, according to the National Institutes for Health.

Some of the effects of alcohol dependency include:

  • Problems with school, work, and relationships
  • Injuries and accidents
  • STDs/unplanned pregnancy due to lowered inhibitions while drunk
  • Depression
  • Liver disease
  • Not absorbing enough nutrients and becoming malnourished
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart damage
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Menstrual disruption
  • Sexual problems
  • Bone loss
  • Brain damage
  • Dementia
  • Cancer
  • Alcohol Poisoning, which can be fatal
  • Coma
  • Suicide

Who is most at risk for alcohol dependency?

There are many risk factors for alcohol dependency, but some of them are:

  • Genetics
  • Being male
  • Easy access to alcohol
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Depression or low self esteem
  • Social pressure to drink
  • A belief that one must drink to relax or have fun
  • Inundation with media messages that excessive drinking is acceptable and fun
  • Drinking at an early age - the earlier a teen drinks, the more likely he or she is to become alcohol dependent
  • Binge drinking
  • Drinking frequently

How can parents prevent alcohol dependency?

Parents play an important role in preventing teen alcohol dependency. The most important thing parents can do is to set a good example and talk to teens about why they should not use alcohol. If a teen is drinking alcohol, the sooner a parent finds out, the easier it will be to help the teen.

Some tips for parents to help prevent alcohol dependency include:

  • Be involved in your teen's life - get to know their friends and friends’ parents, and ask lots of questions about teens’ activities
  • Establish rules and consequences, and be consistent in enforcing them.
  • Keep track of the alcohol in your house, and don't keep large amounts.
  • Wait up for your teen when he or she comes home at night, or require your teen to wake you when he or she gets home and set an alarm for the curfew time.
  • Make sure your teen knows you are willing to pick him or her up from a bad situation. 
  • Set a good example - don't drink more than one drink a day, don't drink to unwind, and show teens you can have fun without drinking.

How is alcohol dependency treated?

If your teen has a problem with alcohol dependency, there are three basic steps to getting help:

  • Intervention - helping the teen realize he or she has a problem
  • Detoxification - going through withdrawal under medical supervision
  • Rehabilitation - Going through a program to help the person change his or her habits and avoid relapsing

There are many different types of rehabilitation programs. Some are geared specifically to teens, while others are open to anyone. Some common programs include:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous, which uses the 12 Step program, and works best for those with belief in a higher power.
  • LifeRing
  • SOS
  • Women for Sobriety, a female-only rehabilitation program.

Your teen should help decide which program he or she feels most comfortable using. This will increase the chances that he or she successfully stops using alcohol. Family members of teens with an alcohol problem may want to look for a program like Al-Anon, which is geared toward helping the families of alcoholics.


Mayo Clinic, "Alcoholicm" [online]

National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia, "Alcoholism" [online]

Nemours, TeensHealth, "Dealing with Addiction" [online]

Maine Department of Healrh and HUman services and Maind Office of Sunstance Abuse, "You Teen and Alcohol," [online]

SAMHSA, "Parents, parties, and preventing underage alcohol use" [online]

Related Article: Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse >>