5 Things I Did After My Teen Was Caught Drinking

guy frantically talking on the phone man looking stunned with hand over his mouth lady on phone worried with her hand to her mouth    

     Worried.           Stunned.             Guilty.


These were just a few of the emotions I felt when I got a call that I needed to pick up my daughter. She’d been caught drinking at her school dance.

Up until that moment, I always thought of my daughter as the poster child of a “good kid” – AP classes, Varsity sports, excellent grades, volunteering, lots of friends. She had not exhibited the signs of a teen abusing alcohol (which I later learned she’d been doing for several months) and the changes I did observe, I previously chalked up to her acting like a “teenager.”

That wasn’t the case though. I was wracked with worry about what this meant for her. I also felt guilty for not knowing that she was drinking alcohol in the first place. I kept asking myself, “How could I have missed it?!”

Finding the answers consumed me. I researched the web, read books, and consulted with experts, family and friends. What I found in my research could be summed up in one short phrase:

Parcel your trust.

This can feel counter-intuitive and just plain wrong, I know, but there are scientific reasons for doing so. Specifically, from ages 13 – 25 years old, there are portions of the brain that drive risk-taking and develop impulsiveness before those that allow for cause-and-effect-type reasoning skills (the brakes). This developmental sequencing represents an important, hardwired function in the human species that creates the impetus to get out, explore, seek and find. Unfortunately, it is this sequencing during the developmental stage of a child that is very tough to parent.

So it becomes our job, then, to parcel out our trust by helping to structure their lives with boundaries yet still have some freedom to explore. As parents, we should help our child grow until eventually we let them take full control of his or her own life.

These are five things that I did with my daughter after I found out about her drinking:

1. Stop the sleepovers. I found out that this is often when substance use occurs—AFTER the hosting parents go to sleep.

2. Set my alarm, get up and read a book in the living room, before curfew rolls around. If teens cannot get away with calling out, “I’m home,” as they pass your bedroom door, they have an excuse to give their friends as to why they are not going to partake. “My mom/dad is a stalker—always up, grilling me when I get home.”

3. Use the science about brain development and risk factors as an entry to early conversations that will establish you as the expert and nudge their restraint thinking when problematic situations arise.

4. Avoid providing the opportunity to lie. Instead of asking, “Have you been drinking?” state your observation, “I smell alcohol on your breath. We’ll talk about this in the morning.” And, in the morning, stay calm, and say something like, “Please explain how you came to have alcohol on your breath last night.”

5. Find the time. Sometimes their teen years seem to be all about rules, curfews, homework, and punishment. Try to set aside time (it could be an errand or getting ice cream at 9:30 p.m.) where you’re together with no lecture, no criticism – even if it’s just a comfortable silence.

Have you ever caught your teen drinking alcohol? What did you do? Let us know in the comments section below!

What You Should Know About Underage Drinking

Questions and answers to teenage alcohol use.

teens drinking

34 Responses

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    Fed Up College Student

    December 7, 2018 at 2:43 AM

    I’ve read many of the comments, and frankly all of these situations are out of control. Not one of the comments/post has addressed why your teenagers feel the need to drink. Especially, feel the need to hide it from you. This helicopter parenting contributes to more complications when these teenagers reach adulthood and have to face these issues when they reach college. I’m a 21 year old college senior, and I’m struggling to grasp why parents feel the need to micromanage their children. My mother was and is a control freak. That lead me to hide things from her that I didn’t need to hide. I still feel that way to this day because of the way she handles situations. She never caught me drinking in high school even though I was doing it under her roof. I also had great grades, participated in sports, etc. The more you restrict your children the more they are going to resist you. Your children are going to drink underage, that’s just life. You probably did as a teen. Being there for them as a mom doesn’t mean enforcing your conception of keeping them “safe.” Try to understand your children. Restricting sleepovers now is just going to translate into not staying over at your house while your child is in college. You can still be a great kid and experiment with certain things. I personally believe the more exposure to life lessons the less time you’re going to spend figuring out what’s right for you. I experimented with all that I needed to behind my mothers back, and now I’ve finished college in three years. That’s because I already knew that the whole party scene wasn’t for me. Not all teenagers are like this and many fail their first year in college because they do not know how to both handle school and this newfound freedom. Stop letting your insecurities ruin your children, be there for them.

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      December 10, 2018 at 3:07 PM

      Hi Fed Up College Student,
      You make some good observations that some parents micromanage while others are pretty free-wheeling. Some kids do well with the freedom college has to offer while others implode. There doesn’t seem to be a one-size-fits-all way to parent, so what works with one family, doesn’t necessarily work for another.

      And yes, many kids experiment. Two points here…one is that we know so much more about adolescent brain development than we did ten years ago. Teen substance use impacts the brain at a time when it is supercharging its efficiency and developing the ability to problem-solve and anticipate consequences. For kids who have a family history of substance use, have been traumatized, have survived their parents divorce, have other mental health issues like anxiety and depression, etc., experimentation can lead to a very slippery slope including addiction.

      We also know that kids who use a lot before they go off to college typically party harder than kids who don’t. Said differently, the longer you wait to use substances, the better off you (and your brain) will be.

      Congrats on finishing college in 3 years – that’s quite an accomplishment. I hope you have a good relationship with your mom now.


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    December 1, 2018 at 7:21 PM

    My 22-year-old has told me he’s not been drinking. But my gut feeling sad that he has been. He has already been in trouble with the law about this. I found five empty wine bottles in his room just now While he is not here. I don’t know what to do. I’m just so lost. He’s a great kid but I believe he’s got a problem. My ex is an alcoholic. And my son knows that. I can’t stand that when he does talk to his dad his dad is drunk. But yet my son is doing this? I don’t know what to do.

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      Josie Feliz

      December 7, 2018 at 2:49 PM

      Thanks for your message Janine. We have forwarded your message to one of our helpline specialists who can help better answer your question, and she will be reaching out to you shortly.

      Our Helpline is a good place to start if you’d like to talk to someone about what you’re going through. Feel free to connect with us in whichever manner you choose in the future: https://drugfree.org/helpline.

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