Early Onset Alcoholism
Alcohol dependence, or alcoholism, can begin very early, even as early as 12 or 13 years old. Most teens
obtain alcohol first from their parents, so if you have alcoholic beverages, including beer, in the home,
keep them locked away. If your teen begins to drink, talk about it, and be clear that you do not approve of
this and that you expect different behavior. Keep track of where your teen is, and with whom.
FIVE WARNING SIGNS
- 1. Heavy drinking and alcoholism are more likely to occur when a parent has a similar problem. A family
history of alcohol dependence increases risk of alcohol dependence four-fold.
- 2. Other early risk factors include serious childhood behavior problems requiring treatment, such as
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression or anxiety, and health problems such as
asthma. Talk about this with your teens and let them know how important it is not to drink. Let them
know you will help if they need assistance.
- 3. Often, early onset alcoholism results in serious problems such as emergency room visits, injuries,
fights or declining school performance. These serious problems may occur very early, even the first
time teens drink on their own. If these occur, obtain an evaluation from a professional.
- 4. If drinking problems develop early, be sure that any treatment includes a thorough evaluation of other
possible disorders such as ADHD, depression or anxiety. Treatment of coexisting disorders helps
with recovery from alcoholism. Also, teens that drink heavily often use other drugs, especially
marijuana. Be sure to have this evaluated as well.
- 5. If an older child begins drinking a lot, younger siblings are more likely to do so as well. Be especially
vigilant as your younger children grow.
FIVE THINGS TO ASK
- 1. If you're a teen: Ask whether your doctor thinks you have a drinking problem. If you're a parent:
Express your concern about your teen's drinking, and explain clearly the basis for that concern.
- 2. Ask whether your doctor can help (or will refer you to someone who can).
- 3. If you have other concerns about your child (depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping, difficulty with
attention or concentration, health problems), be sure to mention these and ask your doctor to help.
- 4. If you are worried about your child using other substances (such as marijuana or prescription drugs),
let your doctor know. A urine drug screen might be helpful.
- 5. Be sure to mention if there is a family history of alcoholism or depression. This may affect what kind
of treatment your doctor recommends.