In the last section, we discussed ways to help parents like Shirley Keep Their Cool. Keeping Cool involved: discovering parental triggers; discovering teen triggers; and busting the trigger.
In this section, we will present strategies that can help parents get their teens to stop alcohol abuse. These strategies are: Determining Frequency; Family Meeting; and The Alcohol Talk.
3 Strategies to Stop Alcohol Abuse
♦ Strategy # 1 - Determining Frequency
The first strategy is "Determining Frequency." In this step, I ask parents to ask their teens directly about the last time he or she had taken drugs or alcohol. Surprisingly, many of the teens I have had contact with stated that they would tell their parents at least part of the truth if asked, but this often times does not happen.
Francis was the mother of Greg, age 16, and had suspected her son of using alcohol. Francis stated, "He started turning into Mr. Hyde. He was always sleeping and looked hungover. He'd get really irritable and snap at anyone that was around." I asked Francis to confront Greg about this, and gave her a specific format for her to follow when she did ask him.
Francis stated, "I waited until he was in a good mood. Then I asked him the question that we discussed earlier, you know. I said, 'Greg, is it OK if I ask you a difficult question? When was the last time you used alcohol or drugs? I won’t punish you for telling the truth.' He was absolutely floored. He told me that sometimes he would drink with buddies, but wouldn’t get drunk. I knew he was lying, but I was just happy that he admitted anything to me at all."
I then asked Francis to keep track of the times which she notices a difference in Greg’s behavior and to keep a log. After a few weeks, Francis stated, "I noticed that nearly every weekend he spends the night at a friend’s house, he comes back hungover. I’ll offer him some food, and he will turn green. His appetite has become my own personal indicator. When he hasn’t been drinking, he eats like a wolf! But when he has, he won’t touch anything." Think of your Greg. Could his or her parents pick up on certain indicators? Would it be helpful to determine frequency of drinking?
♦ Strategy # 2 - Family Meeting
The second strategy is a "Family Meeting." I have found that an amiable confrontation with a drinking teen can become an effective deterrent against this behavior.
Every day after school, Trent, age 16, would go to a friend’s house whose parents had much less stringent rules about drinking. Because of this, his grades began slipping. His mother, Betsy stated, "He was such a good student! He used to get A’s and now he’s failing every class! It’s those awful other parents that don’t know how to raise their own children!"
I stated to Betsy, "While the other parents may be a root cause, there is something that you can do about this problem. Most teenagers feel comfortable in thinking they can get away with certain behaviors, but when confronted, they lose this ease and the behavior loses its appeal. By confronting Trent, in an unaggressive manner, you may be able to throw some light on the behavior, and remind him of the family values you instilled in him."
♦ 4 Tips for the "Family Meeting"
I suggested she call a "Family Meeting" to discuss Trent’s behavior. I gave Betsy the following tips to make her meeting as effective as possible. Listen carefully to these tips. What would you change? What would you keep the same?
1. Deal with one problem at a time. Someone defines the problem and others get a chance to give their point of view.
2. Each person should get a chance to talk, without interruption, insult, and criticism. Turn off the TV and don’t answer the phone.
3. Make a shift from haggling over the problem to reaching solutions. Agree on a set of goals that will achieve the ends you’ve mutually agreed upon and brainstorm on a few ideas to reach these goals.
4. Weigh the pros and cons of each and get everyone’s opinions.
At the end of the meeting, the family had decided collectively, with Trent, that he would no longer visit his friend’s house, but instead attend tutoring sessions to repair his failing grades. Think of your Trent. Would a Family Meeting help curb his drinking tendencies?
♦ Strategy # 3 - The Alcohol Talk
In addition to Determining Frequency and Family Meeting, the third exercise is The Alcohol Talk. Many teens are unaffected by the messages of their teachers and other authority figures telling them the dangers of alcohol. Feeling themselves above the threat of addiction, teens follow their peers rather than the hard-earned advice of older generations. Teens that abuse alcohol fall into this category, feeling that alcohol provides a way to achieve a high social status among their peers.
Dave, age 15, stated, "Yea I get drunk with buddies, but I’m not even old enough to drive a car, so what’s the damage? All my friends are doing it and they’re still alive!" John, Dave’s father, had been unaware of his son’s behavior until now, and had never previously addressed the problem. He stated, "I don’t drink. I haven’t since I was caught by my own dad and forced to drink a bottle of whisky."
I asked John to sit his son down and explain to him his own personal reasons for not drinking. I feel that many times, parents can be more effective because the teen does not have any peers around to make jokes to when home alone with the parent. Also, the parent is also in a better position to provide a role model.
I asked John to be creative with his story telling and to include all the details he could. Next week, John stated, "I took Dave for our monthly fishing trip, and while we were in the boat, I told him the story of watching my granddad die of liver cancer at age 58. I’ll never forget what my granddad said to me. ‘John, I used liquor to escape life, and now I’m finally going to have my wish.’ I told Dave that story and told him that I don’t drink because I never really want to escape life." Dave stated, "I’ve never seen Dad get so emotional before. It was kind of moving."
Although The Alcohol Talk won’t work for every teen, I find it effective in teens who have a communicative relationship with their parents. Think of your Dave. Would The Alcohol Talk be an effective strategy as an alcohol deterrent?
In this section, we presented strategies that can help parents get their teens to stop alcohol or drug abuse. These strategies were: Determining Frequency; Family Meeting; and The Alcohol Talk.
In the next section, we will discuss techniques to use with teens who are prone to running away.
- (2013). How to Spot Drug and Alcohol Use in Teens: Guide for Parents. Brown University Child & Adolescent Behavior Letter, 29, 1-2.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Byrnes, H. F., Miller, B. A., Grube, J. W., Bourdeau, B., Buller, D. B., Wang-Schweig, M., & Woodall, W. G. (2019). Prevention of alcohol use in older teens: A randomized trial of an online family prevention program. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 33(1), 1–14.
Delaney, D. J., Bernstein, M. H., Harlow, L. L., Farrow, M., Martin, R. A., & Stein, L. A. R. (2020). The Brief Situational Confidence Questionnaire for alcohol: A psychometric assessment with incarcerated youth. Psychological Assessment, 32(3), 254–264.
Mrug, S., & McCay, R. (2013). Parental and peer disapproval of alcohol use and its relationship to adolescent drinking: Age, gender, and racial differences. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 27(3), 604–614.
Scheer, J. R., Antebi-Gruszka, N., & Sullivan, T. (2021). Physical and sexual victimization class membership and alcohol misuse and consequences among sexual minority and heterosexual female youth. Psychology of Violence, 11(5), 434–444.
Stanger, C., Scherer, E. A., Babbin, S. F., Ryan, S. R., & Budney, A. J. (2017). Abstinence based incentives plus parent training for adolescent alcohol and other substance misuse. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 31(4), 385–392.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION 12
What are four strategies that can help parents get their teens to stop alcohol or drug abuse?
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