My Daughter Says She Just Drinks Alcohol “Recreationally,” Should I Be Concerned?
If you’ve ever seen the film Dazed and Confused, you’ve seen a prime example of how movies glorify alcohol and drug use in teens. In the movie, teenagers celebrate the last day of school by getting drunk and, in the vernacular of the time, “stoned.” The movie is a love letter to excessive underage drinking and substance use. The problem with the film is that they never show the actual dangers of underage drinking or the reality of what happens if that behavior goes unchecked.

While it may feel “square” to say, “recreational” drinking for an adolescent is dangerous, not to mention illegal (and that comes with its own set of consequences). It’s also important to remember that the teenage brain is still developing, which makes even “recreational” periodic drinking particularly precarious.

The truth is that Dazed and Confused is a pretty fun movie. However, the movie does not portray reality. The reality is that any underage drinking or substance use is actually “misuse.” Period. As “uncool” as it may feel to take a stand against underage drinking, the adult must be the protector, not the friend or accomplice.

The Truth About Liquor Use and Adolescents

According to the National Institute on AAA, “Underage drinking is a serious public health problem in the United States. Liquor is the most widely used substance among America’s youth and can cause them enormous health and safety risks.” It is due to this reason that it is so important to be vigilant when it comes to adolescent use.

If that declaration isn’t enough, let us look at some of the statistics surrounding underage drinking misuse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found high percentages of high school students reporting concerning liquor use. Students reported that in the past 30 days, “29% drank , 14% binge drank, five percent of drivers drove after drinking, and 17% rode with a driver who had been drinking.” If those numbers don’t quite sink in, just know that 29% of the adolescent population in 2019 was almost 12.5 million kids. That’s a lot of underage drinking.

Now, does that mean that 12.5 million teenagers have developed a drinking use disorder (AUD)? Of course not. However, it does mean that a significant number of kids were exposed to life-threatening situations. Some of them even veered off the once-promising path to adulthood they were on. The truth is that not all of them made it back.

There Is No Such Thing as Underage “Recreational Drinking”

The concept of safe or recreational underage drinking is ultimately a contradiction. For one, underage drinking is illegal in every state in the country. That removes the “socially safe” aspect from underage  use altogether. It’s important to remember that the legal ramifications of underage drinking can be extremely costly.

It is also critical to remember that the brain isn’t fully developed until the mid to late 20s. So any interruption in this development can cause long-lasting effects.

Also, the part of the brain that develops last is what is known as the prefrontal cortex. It is this part of the brain that regulates risky behavior. While this state of brain development already contributes to the choice of underage drinking, it also contributes to the dangerous activities that happen after liquor is consumed. This includes other substance use, risky sexual behavior, illegal activities, and potentially violent outbursts or confrontations.

The Many Dangers of Teenage Use

The CDC also lists a number of dangerous consequences that can arise from underage misuse. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Experiencing problems in academic achievement, including increased absences and reduced grades
  • Losing interest in positive activities that were once enjoyed
  • Being at a higher risk for physical or sexual violence
  • Exhibiting memory problems
  • Getting liquor poisoning, which can be fatal
  • Potentially changing their brain development and brain chemistry beyond repair
  • Having an increased risk of self-harm, suicide, or even homicide

Recovery Options for Use Disorder

The good news is that for many adolescents who claim recreational liquor use, often parental or therapeutic intervention is enough to highlight the dangers of underage drinking. There is also good news for those kids who slip through the cracks and develop more severe symptoms and potential AUD. While not technically “curable,” there are many options for adolescents struggling with alcohol addiction to get the help they need.

One of the options for adolescents who develop AUD is checking into a recovery center like the one we offer at Elk Mountain Girls Academy. This should only happen after proper diagnosis and detox of course, as unassisted detox can be dangerous. A recovery center can ensure that a teenager struggling with AUD gets the direct attention they need to address the underlying causes of their behaviors.

While it still permeates most aspects of our culture, underage drinking is not “cool” and it is not something to be minimized. It is deadly and its dangers should be made more apparent to everyone. However, let’s be honest, that is not the reality of popular culture. That is why it’s up to the parent and people like us in the recovery realm to advocate for kids. It’s a big job. Yet, it’s one that we are taking on one student at a time.

Let’s be honest, it is not uncommon for teenagers to experiment with liquor. However, while this isn’t uncommon, that does not mean that it isn’t problematic. It is important to determine the difference between a “one-time” incident and a reoccurring problem. For young women under the legal drinking age, there is no such thing as “recreational” drinking. If you feel that your daughter is regularly using liquor, it is probably time to reach out for help. Adolescent alcohol use should never be minimized, as it can develop into a more serious problem. Unfortunately, drinking use can adversely affect the trajectory of young lives. For further information, please contact Elk Mountain Girls Academy today at (888) 403-0346.