The following questions have been devised for parents who suspect a child is having trouble with alcohol. Symptoms may vary with each young person, but there are certain universal tip-offs. Here are some:
1. If your child has had a substance abuse assessment, does his/her drinking behavior match any of the warning signs referred to in the screening devices?
2. Is your liquor supply dwindling? If your child is abusing alcohol, your stock might evaporate mysteriously or turn into colored water. Unless you keep an inventory of your liquor, such practices could go on undetected for months.
3. Has your child’s personality changed noticeably? Does he/she exhibit sudden mood swings, such as out-of-the-ordinary irritability, giddiness, depression, unprovoked hostility?
4. Is he/she becoming less responsible? About doing chores, for example, getting home on time, following instructions and household rules?
5. Has interest waned in school work, school or extra-curricular activities, athletics? Are grades dropping? A frequent hint is a lowering of the level of performance in school. The child may become truant or drop out altogether. Negativity sets in; nothing goes right.
6. Does your child seem to be losing old friends and hanging out with a drinking and/or partying group? All social life for the young problem drinker begins to center around drinking, occasions for drinking and alcohol-abusing friends. He or she has no time for non-abusing friends, but trades down on former friends and seeks out those with similar drinking habits. A young alcoholic must do this, to justify his or her own alcohol abuse.
7. Are you missing money or objects that could be converted to cash? A young alcoholic has an increasingly expensive addiction to maintain. Eventually the need for alcohol overcomes any guilt about stealing from family members, friends or anyone else.
8. Do you hear consistently from neighbors, friends or others about your child’s drinking or questionable behaviors? An alcoholic youngster’s reputation suffers. Listen to these reports – they might be true.
9. Is your child in trouble with the law? Even one arrest for an alcohol-related offense is a red flag that may well signal alcoholism. Kids that don’t have drinking problems don’t get arrested for crimes or other offenses committed while drinking. If a young person is arrested for an alcohol-related offense or was drinking at the time when he or she committed a crime, there may have been similar occasions when he or she was not caught.
10. Does your child tune out to talks about alcohol or alcoholism? Adolescent alcohol abusers “stick the bananas in their ears” rather than hear anything that might interfere with their drinking habits. The non-abusing kid doesn’t care one way or the other.
11. Does your child get into fights with other youngsters? Problem-drinking youths are apt to have altercations with others – both young people and adults. Over seventy percent of all beatings, stabbings, and assaults take place when one or both participants have been drinking.
12. Are there signs of medical or emotional problems? Be on the lookout for ulcers, high blood pressure, acute indigestion, gastritis, depression, liver dysfunction, kidney problems – and, of course, injuries from alcohol-related accidents.
13. Does he/she drive irresponsibly? Those in trouble with alcohol are known hazards on the highway. They may also lie about where they are taking the car, make excuses for not getting it home on time and even hot-wire it late at night for joyrides with friends.
14. Is your child generally dishonest? Not telling the truth goes hand in hand with problem drinking. For young alcoholics, lying becomes so automatic that they come up with fibs even when they don’t need them, when the truth would have served them just as well.
15. Does your child volunteer to clean up after adult cocktail parties, but neglect other chores? This sounds like a small point, but it is surprising how many young drinkers use this ploy, and how slow parents are to catch on. Draining half-empty glasses after an adult gathering is a cheap high.
16. Do you find obvious signs, like a stash of bottles in the bedroom or garage? Parents of young alcoholics are always astounded at what they find during a thorough housekeeping. Kids that don’t have a problem with alcohol don’t make a practice of hiding bottles under their mattresses, in the speakers of their stereos, behind insulation in garages, or in the water tanks of toilets. Even the ones who are the foggiest from drinking manage to be ingenious about hiding places.
17. Do you detect physical signs – alcohol on the breath for instance? One adolescent went home almost every night for six months reeking so strongly that his parents could have chinned themselves on his breath. They had been too busy to notice. They finally got the message when a school counselor advised them that their son had been suspended from school for being drunk in class. Polydrug users (those who mix drugs, usually including alcohol) exhibit other telltale signs, too – like a change in the size of pupils in the eyes, hyper-activity or sluggishness, slurred or incoherent speech. These are all clues which should not be ignored.
18. Does your child spend a lot of time alone closed in a bedroom or recreation room, bursting forth now and then only to disappear out the door? (Where are you going?” “Out.”) Does he or she seem to resent your questions about destinations and activities? A certain amount of this mystery, aloofness and resentment is, of course, typical of adolescence. When it is carried to an extreme, you should be aware that it could mean problems with alcohol or other drugs.
19. Has your child’s relationships with other family members deteriorated? A young person’s ability to relate to others effectively is impaired by alcohol, and the first relationships to suffer are those within the family. A young alcoholic will try to avoid family gatherings – occasions he or she once enjoyed – particularly if faced with doting or critical relatives whose expectations often make the young person feel guilty and uncomfortable.