How to Handle Your Drunk Teen

Models pose as father and teenage son
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Teen drinking is a serious concern for many parents. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, seven million people between the ages of 12 and 20 reported drinking some alcohol in the past month.

If your teen has been drinking, it's essential to know how to handle the situation appropriately. While this is an emotional experience for parents, you must support your child through the situation.

This article discusses the dos and don'ts of dealing with a teen who has been drinking. It offers tips on how to respond, how to keep your child safe, and what steps you should take next.

1

Stay Calm

It can be frightening, annoying and angering to see your child drunk for the first time. But it is important to stay calm and in control of yourself while you are dealing with them.

Your child is in a vulnerable state, both physically and mentally, and despite the fact that you may be angry with them, they need your care and concern at this time.

Do
  • Speak clearly, calmly, and gently

  • Stay with them until they are sober

  • Take responsibility for your child's health

Do Not
  • Force them to eat or drink

  • Laugh at, make fun of, or express amusement

  • Punish them while they are intoxicated

  • Touch them more than necessary

  • Yell, criticize, argue, or threaten

2

Find Out How Much Your Child Had to Drink

Young people can appear very drunk after consuming relatively small amounts of alcohol because they have a very low tolerance for alcohol. However, if your child has drunk more alcohol than their body can handle, they may be at risk for alcohol poisoning.

If they can speak, try to find out how much they have had to drink in a way that will not encourage them to lie about the amount. You can also check with their companions or the party or drinking establishment where they were drinking to get an idea of how much they have consumed.

You can also use a blood alcohol concentration estimate for men (for boys) or women (for girls) to evaluate your child's level of intoxication. Be aware that most people underestimate how much alcohol they have consumed, especially in home-poured drinks.

3

Get Medical Help If Necessary

Take your child to the emergency room if:

  • They have had a fall or sustained any other injuries.
  • They have—or you think they may have—taken other drugs, including prescription medication.
  • They have lost consciousness (passed out or blacked out) at any point since starting drinking.
  • They or someone else indicates that they may have just consumed strong alcoholic beverages, such as vodka or whiskey, as they may become more intoxicated.
  • They are unable to speak or are incoherent.
  • They have vomited. This is their body's first line of defense against overdose.

You should also take your child to the ER if you are concerned about your child's health or well-being for any other reason.

4

Call the Police If Violence Erupts

The risk of family violence increases with alcohol use. If your child becomes threatening or violent to people or property, call the police immediately. This kind of situation can quickly escalate into a tragedy. The police are well-trained in diffusing and managing these situations.

The same is true if the other parent, or another person present, becomes violent toward your child. Parents can often get furious when their teenage kids are drunk, and you don't want to get caught in the crossfire by trying to break them up.

Remember, you can work out the details of how you move forward as a family tomorrow when everyone is sober.

5

Rehydrate

Encourage your child to slowly sip water to rehydrate, but be prepared that sometimes the process of drinking more (even water) can induce vomiting in a drunk youth. If they vomit, take them to the emergency room for treatment.

6

Keep Your Child Awake

One of the greatest risks is asphyxiation from vomiting during sleep when drunk. It may seem counter-intuitive to keep your child awake when drunk, but it is the safest thing to do. Your child may become more intoxicated from the alcohol already in their system.

If they appear to be becoming more intoxicated as time goes on, take them to the emergency room. Ideally, you want to see them sober up before letting them "sleep it off."

7

Put Your Child in the Recovery Position

If your teen is too drunk to stand up or you're unable to take them to the emergency room, put them in the recovery position (on their side) and call an ambulance.

If they have sobered up and you feel it will be safe to go to bed, make sure they go to sleep in the recovery position. If they vomit during the night, they are less likely to inhale the vomit.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I tell if my child has a drinking problem?

    According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), signs that a child might have a problem with alcohol include changes in mood, problems at school, rebellion against household rules, changes in friendships, and an apathetic attitude. Physical and mental signs of alcohol use can include slurred speech, poor coordination, and problems with memory and concentration.

  • What are the signs of alcohol poisoning?

    Signs of alcohol poisoning include slow breathing, cold and clammy skin, confusion, lack of a gag reflex, vomiting, passing out, and seizures.

  • Am I a bad parent if my kid came home drunk?

    It is not uncommon for teens to experiment with alcohol to some degree. This is why it is important to discuss the risks of alcohol use with your child. If they do come home intoxicated, it does not mean that you are a bad parent. Instead of trying to play the blame game, focus on taking steps to make sure your child gets the help that they may need to address alcohol use.

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4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Table 2.6B— Alcohol Use in Lifetime, Past Year, and Past Month among Persons Aged 12 or Older, by Detailed Age Category: Percentages, 2002-2019.

  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Understanding the dangers of alcohol overdose.

  3. College Drinking Changing the Culture. Facts about alcohol overdose (or alcohol poisoning).

  4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. How to tell if your child is drinking alcohol.