Alcohol and adolescents

"The treatment of alcohol abuse in adolescents needs a specialized team".


Alcoholism in adolescence

Problematic use and abuse of alcohol are frequent problems in Spain, where the age of first contact is decreasing and it is not uncommon to find children of 12 or 13 years old who regularly get intoxicated by drinking.

In addition, adolescence is a particularly vulnerable period for excessive alcohol consumption, as it increases independence from parents and adult attitudes and behaviors are imitated.

Adolescents also tend to try to "break the rules" and go against their parents, sometimes using alcohol in excessive and dangerous ways.

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What are the warning signs of alcohol in adolescents?

Parents should be aware that alcohol produces some symptoms during intoxication and others during withdrawal.

The warning signs that can alert us to possible alcohol abuse in adolescents are:

  • Physical: fatigue, multiple complaints about physical health, red eyes with a characteristic glow, vomiting.
  • Emotional: personality changes, mood swings, irritability, irresponsible and risky behaviors, low self-esteem, sadness or depression, general disinterest in activities they used to enjoy.
  • Family: more frequent fights, disobedience of rules, repeated lies, being withdrawn or not communicating with the family, excessive secrecy (about friends, places they go, not being able to get into their room, etc.)
  • School: decreased interest in school, negative attitude, not doing homework, lowering grades, absences from school, discipline problems.
  • Social: new friends who are not interested in the usual activities of the family and school, problems with the law, change to a different style of dress or musical tastes, excessive tattoos or piercings.

Some of these warning signs may also indicate other problems. Parents should recognize that there is a change in their child's behavior, mood, relationships, school performance, and habits.

Our concerns about your child's possible use of alcohol should be discussed honestly and clearly with your child. We should not be reassured by a negative response if a cause for the change in behavior is not found.

An angry response or phrases such as "you don't trust me" or "you are spying on me" to our questions indicate excessive suspicion on the part of the teenager, and should induce suspicion. Once alcohol abuse is suspected, a visit should be made to the family doctor, who will make an assessment.

There are also breath alcohol detection systems that can be kept at home for surprise purposes. If alcohol abuse is confirmed, they should see a specialist.

Do you have any of these symptoms?

Your child may have a problem with alcohol

Risk Factors

To prevent adolescent alcohol abuse, you need to know the risk factors. Although alcohol abuse is widespread across all socioeconomic and cultural strata, and is not limited to a particular family profile.

Risk factors in the family

  • Chaotic family environments or parents with alcohol or drug abuse, or parents with a psychiatric disorder.
  • Serious parenting problems in children with difficult temperaments or behavior problems.
  • Lack of emotional bonding between children and parents and lack of affection.
  • Excessively shy or aggressive behavior of the child in class.
  • School failure.
  • Inability to handle adverse situations (not knowing how to say no).
  • Friendships with other children with behavioral or legal problems.
  • Implied consent or tolerance to the use of alcohol at school, with friends or in the community.
  • The availability and tolerance of alcohol use in the neighborhood and the belief that alcohol use is harmless increases the number of young people who begin to use alcohol.

Protective factors

  • Strong ties to family.
  • Parents who are aware of the activities, hobbies, and friendships that are part of their children's lives prevent alcohol use.
  • Academic success for teens.
  • Participation and ties to social institutions such as families, school, and religious organizations.

How is alcohol treated in adolescents?

The treatment of alcoholism goes through several phases

The first thing is to achieve complete abstinence from the use of alcohol and other drugs such as cannabis, where appropriate.

If this is not achieved soon, a specific team of substance abuse specialists should be called in (e.g. Project Man), where in addition to individual and group psychotherapy for the adolescent, support and concrete indications are given to the parents.

Medications can also be used to reduce alcohol use. In addition, psychiatric problems associated with alcohol abuse should be treated with a combination of medication, behavioral management and parental support.

Where do we treat it?


The Department of Psychiatry and Medical Psychology of the
of the Clínica Universidad de Navarra

Through a multidisciplinary work, the Department of Psychiatry and Clinical Psychology assists patients in a comprehensive way: it identifies the main causes of the disease and provides an individual approach with the most appropriate and effective treatments. 

Thanks to the experience of its team, it is able to offer the most advanced biological therapies, as well as an adequate psychotherapeutic orientation. In this way, the patient is helped to solve both personality problems and alterations in interpersonal and family dynamics.

Organized in specialized units

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Why at the Clinica?

  • Integral evaluation of the patient.
  • Personalized diagnosis.
  • Multidisciplinary team.

Nuestro equipo de profesionales