My 16 Year Old Son Says He Can Handle His Alcohol Problem, Should I Believe Him?
I just found out that my 16 year old son was drinking alcohol for a couple of years and also used tobacco and even tried some drugs.
Both my husband and I are very hard working, old fashioned people who never tried drugs, never smoked and only occasionally drink wine and beer in small amounts.
We had no idea that our son was doing it after school when we were at work. He told me that he never can say "no" to his friends because he is afraid that they won't like him.
He has a very low self esteem and is being treated for depression currently. When I found an empty bottle of Vodka in his room, he told me that his friends are buying him alcohol and when he feels that he needs a drink, he fills a glass with alcohol and that goes to the bathroom in front of a mirror and dumps it into the sink.
He says that because of this method he has stayed sober since January. My question is whether his method makes sense and how should I behave when he is asking me to buy him a bottle?
Does he need treatment?
16 is a very delicate age, and is difficult at the best of times for any teenager - dealing with hormonal changes, trying to forge their own identity, the need to fit in and be accepted, developing an interest in relationships and sex. So low self esteem and depression are not all that unusual.
It's also an age where there is often a lot of experimentation with things like alcohol and drugs - which is often unfortunately fuelled by peer pressure. So finding empty Vodka bottles isn't necessarily a sign of a massive problem. Having said that, arming yourself with knowledge about teenage drug abuse and alcoholism
is definitely a good idea.
Every teenage child needs to be given a certain degree of freedom, which is a natural part of the growing up process - because if you're too strict, they'll just rebel and that could just make things much worse.
So firstly I would recommend trying to put yourself in your son's shoes and try get him to open up and talk to you.
Because there are inevitably almost always 2 stories - what's really happening, and your son's version of what's happening.
Unless you have a really open and communicate relationship, chances are you're not getting the real version, but your son's version, which is probably the one where he doesn't want to say too much for fear of getting punished or judged.
So you want to try and get him talking - and you do that by listening. Talk to him like you would a concerned friend, an equal. Take an interest, show concern, ask questions. Let him know you're there for him.
There's no guarantee it will work because 16 year olds can be uncommunicative at the best of times, but it's something you want to try and work at so that you have a relationship where you communicate freely (as much as is possible anyway).
Chances are this is all a phase and he'll grow out of it. But you need to be tuned into what's going on with him to notice if there's more going on than he's letting on.
If he's asking you to buy a bottle - why not suggest you use it to have a drink together in the evenings after work, to catch up on the day?
That way he starts to learn about drinking responsibly and also feels like you're treating him like an adult - which is ultimately what every teenagers wants. And if your son feels he's being treated like an adult, he's more likely to act like one.
Now if he's drinking large quantities of vodka every day in secret, then yes, he does need help and treatment. But you're not going to know that unless he tells you (or unless you notice he's had too much to drink on a regular basis).
There is no perfect way to handle this - because as a parent there is only so much you can do. But I do think trying to use an open, communicative and trusting approach will be more effective than the traditional strict, police style, disciplinarian one.
Teenagers want to be heard and understood. Work on creating that kind of environment with your son and you'll then really be able to be there for him and help him get through this difficult stage of his life.
Be aware of the signs of teenage alcoholism and addiction
- and only if you're fairly sure there is a serious problem present would I suggest using the strict, authoritarian approach and insisting your son gets treatment.
So begin by using a softer approach and hopefully that works. Unfortunately there is no perfect formula for this. Good Luck and let us know how you get on.