If you think your teen has a drinking problem or you’d like to prevent your teen from forming bad habits, here are some steps you can take together to create healthier habits. This process can be difficult because it involves breaking existing habits that feel comfortable or have become part of a teen’s social routine. The following action plan was modified from a document created by Colorado’s SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment).We’ve adapted it for parents/guardians and teens to use together to create positive outcomes.
* Action Plan Disclaimer: The outlined action plan is only a supportive tool for parents and guardians of teens to help make healthier choices around drinking alcohol. If you suspect your teen is using alcohol, the best advice is to have them see a prevention specialist.
Getting Started – Develop Goals
Habits are hard to change, especially by yourself. In addition to your parenting/guardian roll you can also serve as a coach to encourage your teen to form healthier behaviors. As a team, you and your teen can begin this discussion by thinking about this question:
How does your teen benefit from avoiding alcohol, and how would his or her life improve?
Think of the answers to that question as goals. Now it’s time for you and your teen to create a plan that allows him or her to successfully reach those goals. Write them down on a piece of paper and continue to outline a plan by following STEPS 1 through 5.
STEP 1: Reasons to Not Drink
It’s also important that both you and your teen identify some specific reasons to avoid alcohol. There are a variety of health issues associated with alcohol, but there are also a number of ways that drinking impacts a teen’s social life. The following list provides some good suggestions for reasons to not drink, but you and your teen may come up with others. Work with your teen to come up with the three most important benefits of avoiding alcohol. Your teen may come up with answers you may not have considered, so be open to his or her list.
- I will live longer–between five and ten years
- I will sleep better
- I will be happier
- I will save a lot of money
- My relationships with friends will improve
- I will look younger longer
- I will achieve more in my life
- There will be a greater chance that I will survive to a healthy old age without premature damage to my brain
- I will be better in school or at my job
- I will have a better chance at getting into college
- I will find it easier to stay slim, since alcoholic beverages contribute to weight gain
- I will be less likely to feel depressed and six times less likely to commit suicide
- I will be less likely to die of heart disease or cancer
- The possibility that I will die in a fire or by drowning will be greatly reduced
- Other people will respect me
- I will be less likely to get into trouble with the police
- The possibility that I will die of liver disease will be dramatically reduced
- I will be three times less likely to die in a car accident
- There will be less chance that I will have an unplanned pregnancy
Once you’ve come up with those 3 reasons, write them down on your sheet of paper.
STEP 2: Drinking Pressure Points
The next section to add to your action plan involves high-risk situations that lead to drinking. There are a lot of different reasons people give for drinking. If your teen is going to succeed in avoiding alcohol it’s important to identify the situations, groups, or feelings that have led him or her to drink in the past. Use the following list as a guide to pick four situations that are most likely to lead to drinking. Write down those four choices.
- After school/end of school week
- Feelings of failure
- Particular people
- Peer Pressure
- Feeling lonely
- After receiving paycheck/allowance
- When others are drinking
- Feeling happy
- Anxiety or nervousness
STEP 3: Finding Alternatives
You’ve now identified when your teen is most likely to drink. Now it’s time to brainstorm alternatives to these situations.
- ACTION 1: DETERMINE THE CHALLENGE – Choose one of the four high-risk situations you identified in STEP 2.
- ACTION 2: DO A QUICK BRAINSTORM – Brainstorm different ways of managing that high-risk situation.
- ACTION 3: FIND SOLUTIONS – Select two of these ways to deal with your situation.
- ACTION 4: MOVE ONTO THE NEXT CHALLENGE – Repeat ACTIONS 1 through 3 until you’ve covered all four high-risk situations you identified in STEP 2.
ACTION 1: DETERMINE THE CHALLENGE
Parties are likely to cause your teen to drink alcohol.
ACTION 2: DO A QUICK BRAINSTORM
Brainstorm ways your teen can avoid this high-risk situation
- Only attend parties supervised by a responsible adult where alcohol will not be available
- Agree on an early curfew (10:00 p.m.)
- Go to a movie or find another activity instead of a party
- Get homework finished instead
- Commit to a bike ride, hike, or other activity that begins early in the morning following the party
- Agree to a system in which you provide transportation for your teen both to and from any party
It’s possible that not all ideas from your brainstorm will work. That doesn’t matter. The point is to think of as many ideas as you can. Then you can determine which ideas are more likely to work for you.
ACTION 3: FIND SOLUTIONS
Write down two different solutions on your plan outline that will work for you based on your brainstorm. Such as:
- Agree on an early curfew (10:00 p.m.)
- Get homework finished instead
ACTION 4: MOVE ONTO THE NEXT CHALLENGE
Repeat actions one through three until you’ve covered all four high-risk challenges you identified.
STEP 4: Finding New Interests
Boredom is a common reason both teens and adults drink. “There’s nothing else to do,” is a frequent claim made by teens that choose to drink. In this step you and your teen should brainstorm as many activities as you can that will hold your teen’s interest, then select two of them to try. Use the following questions to help you come up with some ideas:
- What types of things, such as sports, crafts, languages, etc., has your teen enjoyed learning in the past?
- What types of trips (to the mountains or the country, etc.) has he or she enjoyed?
- What types of things, such as painting, dancing, etc., do you think your teen could enjoy if he/she had no worries about failing?
- What has your teen enjoyed doing alone (long walks, playing an instrument)?
- What has your teen enjoyed doing with others (talking on the telephone, playing games)?
- What has your teen enjoyed doing that did not cost money (volunteering, going to the library, reading)?
- What has your teen enjoyed doing that costs very little?
- What activities has your teen enjoyed at different times (different times of the day, on weekends, during the spring or autumn, etc.)?
STEP 5: Put together your master plan
Once you have the tasks from STEPS 1 through 4 on a piece of paper outlining your plan, this will be your master plan to follow for the next two weeks. Go over the plan together each day, or put it up on the refrigerator so you don’t forget about it, especially when you’re faced with tempting situations.
Here are some tips that can remind each of you of your plan. It may help to put the following tips on a note card that you can carry with you.
- Think of an activity that your teen does several times every day, such as brushing his or her teeth, or washing his or her hands.
- Instruct your teen to quickly go over that plan in his or her mind when carrying out that activity. Think about the reasons for cutting down, high-risk situations and ways of coping with them. Also suggest he or she think about plans to begin interesting activities.
- Having a clear, written plan provides an outline for change. Successful change takes place when a person follows through with a plan and action steps.
Tips to consider
- Many people drink because they are depressed, which is characterized by feelings of sadness, loss of interest in activities and decreased energy. If you think your teen has been depressed for two weeks or more, please contact your health provider. Treatment does help.
- Remember that every time your teen is tempted to drink and is able to resist, he or she is changing a habit. Reinforce this message to empower your teen with a sense of progress.
- Let your teen know that when he or she is feeling uncomfortable, distressed or miserable, to remember that it will pass. A good way of dealing with urges to drink is to try pretending that the craving is like a sore throat that you have to put up with until it goes away. If your teen finds these feelings persist or is unable to manage these feelings, contact your health provider.
- Encourage your teen to be open and honest with you and let you know if he or she does have a drink, or conversely, when he or she felt like drinking but managed to avoid it.
- If your teen does end up drinking, don’t give up. Remember that changing a habit or social routine takes time.
Guidelines for parent/guardian support
The goals for the steps outlined in this section of the website are to find good reasons for teens to avoid alcohol and also to help identify other activities to substitute for drinking. It is sometimes easier to develop a plan for changing habits with the help of someone else. As a parent and coach you may find the following information helpful:
- The suggestions outlined for this plan have been created with two types of teen drinkers in mind. Some are already having problems with drinking and frequently drink significant amounts of alcohol. Others are drinking smaller amounts of alcohol that put them at risk of developing problems and experiencing health and social consequences.
- Changing habits is sometimes difficult, but you can help in two ways. First, you can help with the exercises that have been provided, and second, you can provide encouragement and support.
- Try not to criticize your teen even if you get annoyed and frustrated with his or her behavior. Remember that changing behavior is never easy, and teenagers are likely to magnify both the challenge and criticism involved with breaking a habit. There are bound to be both good weeks and bad weeks. Your positive encouragement, support of moderate drinking or abstinence and creative ideas can make all the difference.