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Seven Difficult To Spot Signs of Under Age Drinking

Lisa Taylor
Lisa TaylorAddiction Counsellor

The prevalence of under age drinking in the UK may have levelled off in recent years, but it is still unacceptably high. Consider NHS data from 2012 published by the Institute of Alcohol Studies that showed 43% of kids between the ages of 11 and 15 reported having consumed alcohol at least once during that year. Is it any wonder that alcohol is the most abused drug in the UK?

There is no way around the fact that alcohol is a dangerous drug that should be respected at all times. When children are introduced to it, they can begin down that slippery slope that might result in alcoholism long before they ever become adults. Left untreated, alcoholism could eventually doom those children to adult lives of misery that eventually end in premature death.

We do not provide this information simply to scare or shock you. Rather, we want to make you aware that alcohol is a serious problem among children. As a parent or guardian, you have an obligation to keep an eye on your kids and look for any potential warning signs that they might be drinking.

It is not always easy to spot under age drinking, especially if you do not have the greatest of relationships with your kids. But we can help. Feel free to contact us with your concerns. We can help you assess your circumstances to determine if a problem exists. In the meantime, here are seven difficult-to-spot signs of under age drinking:

1. A Change in Friends

Drinking problems in people of all ages often result in changing friends. Why? Because drinkers are frequently ashamed of their behaviour to the extent that they do not want to hang out with their old friends anymore. They tend to develop new circles of friends that include others who drink as well.

You may find this warning sign difficult to identify if you are not familiar with the circle of friends your children have had over the years. This is one of the reasons it is so important to know who your kids are spending time with when they are not home.

2. Problems at School

We would like to think that parents all across the UK pay close attention to what their kids are doing in school. Unfortunately, this is not the case. But make no mistake about it, a young person struggling with alcohol usually begins experiencing trouble at school within a short amount of time. This can include poor attendance, low grades, disciplinary issues, and other problems.

3. Emotional Flare-Ups

One of the more profound emotional effects of alcohol is that of sudden mood changes. Problem drinkers are prone to being happy in one moment and angry or despondent the next. The issue parents run into is the reality that mood swings are also a normal part of teenage development. Even when alcohol is not part of the equation, teens can be up and down like a roller coaster. A parent might notice the emotional flare-ups and sudden mood swings without ever realising alcohol is in play. Fragile emotions are simply attributed to teenagers.

4. Mental Lapses

Like emotional flare-ups, mental lapses are also commonly associated with under age drinking. One of the dangers of alcohol is that it affects thinking processes and thought patterns regardless of age. But in children, such effects are more pronounced as the brain is still developing.

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Unfortunately, mental lapses – including memory problems and lack of concentration – are like emotional outbursts in that they can also be the result of teenage development. A teen does not have to be using alcohol to experience them. Therefore, parents need to watch carefully to see if mental lapses are accompanied by any of the other tell-tale signs of alcohol consumption.

5. Lack of Energy

Yet another symptom that can be confused with normal teenage development is a lack of energy. Anyone who has raised teenagers knows they are capable of sleeping for long periods of time for seemingly no reason. A teenager using alcohol will do the same thing, but he or she will also exhibit general lethargy during awake periods. The teen may routinely complain of always feeling tired and having no energy to do anything.

6. Loss of Routine Interests

Are you familiar with what kinds of things interest your children? Do you know what their hobbies are; what they are passionate about; what types of activities they usually get excited about? Believe it or not, many parents are not familiar with these things. Therefore, they are unable to recognise one of the more common symptoms of under age drinking: a loss of interest in former activities.

This lack of interest is a direct result of alcohol consumption becoming more and more important to the child. By the time an alcohol abuser is outwardly displaying a loss of interest in other activities, a fairly significant drinking problem has already developed. This is something parents need to be vigilant about.

7. Sloppy Personal Appearance

Lastly, teens and pre-teens tend to attempt to assert their independence by changing the outward appearance. Some may colour their hair, others may start wearing excessive amounts of make-up and new jewellery pieces, still others may adopt brand-new styles including punk and goth. However, there is a difference between changing one's personal appearance and no longer being concerned about it at all.

A person abusing alcohol tends to become sloppy about his or her appearance. Very little effort is put into making sure one looks respectable, regardless of whatever that person's standards for respectability are. If you notice your teenager or pre-teen becoming inexplicably sloppy, you might want to dig a little deeper.

What You Can Do

Under age drinking is a serious problem that should not be ignored – even the slightest little bit. Keep in mind that teenagers and pre-teens are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of alcohol because their bodies are still developing. Any adverse physical and psychological effects an adult would experience through alcohol abuse are magnified many times over for pre-teens or teens.

If you suspect one of your children is using or abusing alcohol to any extent, please do not ignore it. Ask questions. Find out who your children's friends are, what they do when they are together, and where they go. Feel free to contact us in the event you are able to confirm alcohol use among your kids.

We can walk you through a list of signs and symptoms that will determine how severe the problem is. We can also give you advice about conducting an intervention with the help of an experienced counsellor. If necessary, we can refer you to a treatment centre where your child can get the help he or she needs.

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