How to Tell If a Teen has Been Drinking


More than 70 percent of teens try alcohol before the age of 18, reports the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Catching your teen drinking or drunk is the first step toward helping him make healthy changes. It may be obvious when your child comes home impaired, but some teens are skilled at hiding their drinking. You may need to confront your child with multiple warning signs before he's ready to talk about his drinking.

Physical Signs

  • Smelling alcohol on your child's breath is a sure sign he's been drinking. If he avoids opening his mouth near you, or if he comes home chewing gum or mints, he may be trying to keep you from detecting a telltale odor. Other physical signs include dilated pupils, red face, slurred speech and stumbling or other motor impairment. A teen who is recovering from a night of drinking may have red eyes, cringe at loud noises and bright lights and be nauseous or dizzy the next morning.

Behavioral Signs

  • Any marked change in your teen's behavior could be a sign that he has been using alcohol. He may seem unusually playful and silly while under the influence or become uncharacteristically sullen or secretive about his social life. If a teen is drinking often, his grades may suffer and you may hear from concerned teachers about his classroom behavior. Frequent conflicts with friends, forging new friendships and rebelling against you and your household rules may also signal alcohol abuse -- but as these are also common teenage experiences, don't assume that these signs alone indicate a problem.

Environmental Signs

  • Spying on your teenager may feel like a breach of trust, but experts -- including those at the Partnership for a Drug-Free America -- recommend checking out his environment if you have concerns. Scour any family car that he has recently driven, looking under seats and in crevices for crushed beer cans or dropped bottle caps. If he has driven after driving, you may spot new dents and scratches on the car. If you do suspect he has been drinking, a search under his bed and in his bags may be warranted.

More Signs

  • Keep tabs on your own property if you fear your teenager has been drinking. Watch for cash or alcohol that goes missing. Photographing the contents of your liquor cabinet, or noting the positions and quantities of each bottle, can help you spot any changes. Take note of any changes in his grooming rituals, as a teen who has begun drinking may start to look more sloppy than normal. Changes in his sleeping and eating patterns may also signal substance use.


  • Photo Credit SurkovDimitri/iStock/Getty Images
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