It’s a fact of life—teens experiment with alcohol. But how do you know when things have gone too far?
One mum shares her 13-year-old’s struggle with alcohol, and how they came out the other side.
Things just start to snowball.
It can be hard to pinpoint when an alcohol problem begins. Sarah* is a single mother with four girls. Her girls are now 28, 23, 17 and 16, but when her second daughter, Julia*, was 13, things started to change.
“When Julia was young, she was trustworthy, had good friends, kind of the nerdy-girl. But when she just turned 13, she started sleeping over at friends’ places. We live near the city in Sydney, so she would start sneaking-out and hang out with her friends in the city. In the beginning, I was oblivious,” Sarah said.
Before Sarah realised what was happening, things started to snowball.
“She became aggressive and started hanging out with older kids. Sometimes I wouldn’t see her for two or three days. It really frightened me”.
There was a moment when it really hit her how bad this had become. “My youngest girls were only small at the time, like five or six, and I was walking the streets near Town Hall station, dragging them behind me, looking for Julia. It was awful. I found Julia drunk with friends, and dragged her home with me,” Sarah revealed.
“One time I got a phone call at 12.30am from the police. They wanted me to come down and pick Julia up. She been found drinking at Darling Harbour with friends, and got into a fight.”
“When I went to pick her up, she seemed scared. I thought that had rattled her enough that she wouldn’t do it again. But eventually she ended up in Juvie (Juvenile Detention), and DoCS (Department of Family and Community Services) got involved.”
When is alcohol a problem?
No amount of alcohol for a teen is good. But it becomes a much bigger problem when teens are binge drinking and when it changes their behaviour for the worst.
A lot of alcohol is bad for anyone, but it’s especially bad for teens. Research shows that our brains are still developing well into our 20’s, and too much alcohol can affect how the brain develops, and even damage it.
There is also a much bigger risk that teens will cause harm to themselves or others, get involved in risk taking behaviour and do things they may later regret.
As Julia found, it can also create problems with alcohol later in life and create conflict with peers. “Julia picked fights with other kids that she probably would have avoided if she had been sober,” Sarah explains.
“She has really turned a corner now, but sometimes she still struggles with alcohol all these years later, and can turn to it when things get hard.”