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.

15 Responses

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    December 26, 2017 at 6:36 PM

    My 19 year old sister came home tonight very drunk. It’s boxing night and my house just lost it. My mum is saying that it’s ruined her Christmas and my father is just heartbroken. I was really hoping someone could give me some advice as to what to say to her in the morning. I’m 13 years old and this is not the first time my sister has done this, it’s about the 8th. I’m so disappointed with her but I don’t know how to put that into words, please help me. Thank you!x

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      December 28, 2017 at 12:05 PM

      Hi Ella,
      Thank you for taking the time to share your concerns with us. I’m so sorry that you and your family are struggling with your sister’s actions. There are a few things that can help.

      First, it’s important to pick a good time to talk to your sister — when she is not under the influence of alcohol, racing out the door, or busy with something. Sometimes it helps to say “I’ve been thinking about you and wanted to share. Is now a good time or would you prefer later today?”

      Then use an “I statement”. These are statements that tell someone how you feel and ask for a different kind of behavior. For example, you might say “I feel upset when you drink because it greatly impacts everyone in the family. I know how important your friends are and that you want to have a good time, but I would really appreciate it if you cut back on your drinking.” The formula for an “I statement is “I feel (fill in emotion) when you (fill in behavior) and I would prefer that you (fill in desired behavior).”

      It also can help to say, “What can I do to help you?”

      “I statements” can help instead of starting with You – “You came home drunk 8 times and really upset everyone”. That’s more likely to put your sister on the defensive.

      I have couple of other thoughts. Is there a counselor at school or a trusted adult that you could talk to about this? Sometimes, they can have good suggestions as to how to help your family.

      There is a wonderful book written for families called “Beyond Addiction” by Dr. Jeffrey Foote that may be helpful too. It gives a roadmap as to what to do to help a family member.

      Lastly, this is a big strain on you so I’m hoping you have some good friends to talk to and are taking care of yourself.
      Let me know if I can help in any other way Ella.


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    Frances Long

    August 5, 2017 at 4:49 PM

    I confronted my 16 yr old daughter about drinking. I am happy I did pretty much what the article said above. I stayed calm and told her we would talk about it in the morning. I followed through like I said and we had a discussion. She was a bit smart with me, but I refused to get dragged in. I was direct and stayed serious with her. My feeling is we had all day to discuss her actions. By the end of the day we had some productive conversations where she came clean about what was going on, how she was feeling, etc. I did let her know the consequences for her actions: Not being able to go to that ‘friend’s’ house again, being grounded, etc. I did not remove her social media because I wanted her to announce to her friends that I caught her and was telling other parents about her behavior. This way all her friends know that I am the strict parent. I also told her my job as a parent was to keep her safe. Drinking at 16 is against the law. There are state laws that will punish her if she does it again. Notice I did not say, “if she gets caught.” I think that is one mistake that parents make. Next time, your kids will try better to hide it. Being a single mom, it is hard. I made sure I told her father and how I handled it.

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      Pat – Psychotherapist & Partnership Parent Coach

      December 1, 2016 at 12:18 PM

      Hi Katie,
      It’s a personal decision and I can understand your dilemma of thinking about whether you want to call them or not. It may be that your son drank alone or more likely with his friends. It might help to talk to the other parents about your concerns so that you can have a united front with respect to your expectations.

      Also, having a conversation with your son will be important as well. There is a reason behind his use whether it was curiosity, thrill seeking, boredom, etc. Understanding why he wants to drink will be important in order to help him figure out other ways to meet his needs without alcohol.

      To learn more about how to do this using communication skills and behavioral strategies please check out Community Reinforcement and Family Training, or CRAFT at this link: http://www.drugfree.org/an-overview-of-craft/

      You can always call our helpline at 1-855-DRUGFREE to speak with a parent specialist to develop a plan.

      Wishing you and your son the best,

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        January 17, 2018 at 11:02 AM

        So, he says it’s about being curious. How do we respond to that?

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          January 18, 2018 at 12:32 PM

          Hi Vanessa,

          Most kids as teens are curious, especially if they see friends, family members, TV actors, etc., drinking and laughing without any repercussions. It sounds like from your post that he’s tried it, so it might be helpful to ask him “What did you think about it?” or “What was your experience like?”

          Validating that it’s normal to be curious is helpful and that there are lots of things in life to be curious about. Finding other, more healthy activities for him to investigate is one strategy to use.

          Also, it’s important to be clear about your expectations with respect to drinking — hopefully to wait until he is of age. Many kids will not drink or postpone drinking because of the stated expectations from parents.

          There are many other strategies that you can employ, so please feel free to call our helpline at 1-855-DRUGFREE if you’d like to develop a plan or just get some help on what to say and phrasing. It’s a free service and can be very useful as you navigate this issue with your son.

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    April 2, 2017 at 8:26 PM

    Of course the parent should inform you. She is being a friend not a parent. I had an instance where I saw a girl very high on a drug. I called the parent . The parent called me back informing me she spoke to her daughter and all is fine. The girl OD two days later and died.if I didn’t do what I though I would of felt to blame. Parents are to protect the children, not be their buddies.

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