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

42 Responses

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    May 16, 2019 at 9:40 PM

    My 12 yr old daughter told her sister a few months ago that she tried weed and got high at her friends sleepover. I used this as a learning/teaching moment and a few days later asked my 12 yr old if she had ever tried weed and also the effects of what I can do. She said she had never tried it and knows the effects of what it can do. Fast forward three months, she’s 13 now. Last night while showering and chatting in speakerphone quite loudly to her bestie, she says she wants to do the weed next time with a couple of boys her and her bestie are interested in. I’m not sure how to go about this. I’m terrified for her. I’m trying not to be that controlling mom and push her away but I don’t want her going down this path. Help

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      Josie Feliz

      May 20, 2019 at 3:11 PM

      Thanks for your message Heather. 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
      Thank you. -The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids

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