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Teens and Alcohol – A Relationship on the Rocks

By Stephen C. Schultz

In a previous post I discussed some of the physical aspects of ingesting alcohol. In this post I would like to share some of the emotional aspects of using alcohol and the effect it can have on our relationships. This is particularly important for teens since adolescence is a rough time of life to navigate anyway.

First, let’s create a foundation for this discussion by defining some terms.

1) Blackout – Simply stated, a blackout is a chemically induced “lack” of memory. It is not “passing out” and it is not “forgetting”. Experiences are not stored as memories due to alcohols effect on the neurons in the brain. Remember, alcohol permeates every cell membrane in the body.

2) Euphoric Recall – This is when you remember something that happened, after you ingested alcohol, in a way that makes it seem better than it was or worse than it was. The recollection is also based on what is “felt” and not on what “reality” was. There may also be short windows of time when a blackout has occurred and the gaps in memory are filled with information from others, but recalled as if they were the persons own memories.

3) Use – When alcohol is used in a setting where there is no pressure from peers or expectations of an altered mood. An example; a nice glass of wine with a pasta dinner.

4) Abuse – Anytime alcohol is consumed with the express purpose of altering your mood. It has nothing to do with quantity consumed. It has to do with why it is consumed.

5) Dependence – There are two aspects of dependence. One is physical and the other is emotional.

a. Physical dependence is when your body becomes used to having a certain level of alcohol in it. There are physical reactions, called “withdrawal symptoms”, that occur when that level of alcohol is not maintained within the body. These symptoms consist of shakes, headaches, diarrhea, sweats, increased heart rate and nausea to name a few. People can die from alcohol withdrawal. That is why “detox” takes place in a medical setting.

b. Emotional dependence is when you look forward to the mood altering aspect of alcohol consumption and find yourself developing “patterns” around its use. If those patterns get disrupted or altered in anyway, there is an “Emotional” response. Often there will be anxiety, anger out bursts or manipulation.

Please allow me to share an example.

Jason and Wendy are dating. They have some friends named Jordan and Christy. All four are seniors in high school and spend a lot of time together on weekends. Jason and Jordan play on the football team. With school, games and practice taking up most of their time during the week, they spend just about every weekend partying with Christy and Wendy as well as other friends from school.

During the week, Jordan and Jason had a particularly hard practice schedule. Their ensuing game was a blowout loss. It was tough all the way around. In the locker room, Jason mentions he can’t wait until the “party tonight…I’m gonna get so wasted!”

There were about 25 kids in all, hanging out at one of their homes where the parents were out of town. Five kids were out back on the patio smoking a little weed. There was another teen mixing screwdriver’s in the kitchen, just as she had seen her parents do. A couple of other guys from the team were tapping a keg in the bathtub, which was full of ice. The fridge had a couple of cases of Mt Dew. Music was playing and the kids were all just talking about the game and mingling, nothing going on that was out of control.

Jason was feeling a little edgy. He was still running on adrenaline from the game. He was upset by the loss and had already downed three 16oz cups of beer from the keg in the bathroom. While most of the kids were standing around talking and listening to the music, Jason was getting a bit more agitated. He was moving from room to room, speaking in a boisterous tone, high fiving guys as he brushed by.

Jason walked into the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of Everclear. “Who needs orange juice anyway?” he thought to himself as he walked back to the living room. He joined Wendy who was having a conversation with Suzie, one of the Cheer Leaders. He leaned on Wendy, wrapping his left arm across the back of her shoulders, bottle dangling loosely in front of her. Wendy immediately pushed Jason away, partly because he was just too heavy, partly because he was beginning to embarrass her. Without missing a beat, Jason moved closer to Suzie. He glanced back at Wendy, and then turned to Suzie, then back at Wendy, then to Suzie again and said with a wink, “You know, there’s a spare bedroom just upstairs”. He then began to laugh and walked away!

He moved on to another group and continued to “high five” guys along the way. He walked into the bathroom, put the bottle of Everclear on the bathroom counter, grabbed another cup and filled it from the keg. He then walked back through the living room with his beer in one hand and the bottle in the other. He clumsily plopped on the couch right next to Christy, Jordan’s girlfriend. She scooted over a bit and continued her conversation with another friend of hers.

Jason set the Everclear bottle on the coffee table in front of him and his plastic cup of beer on the end table next to the lamp. He laid his head back against the top of the couch and bumped his head on the wall. He closed his eyes and just listened to the music. He could smell Christy’s perfume and slowly turned his head to the left and opened his eyes. He slowly reached out with his left hand and gently touched Christy’s leg. She brushed his hand away without so much as a pause in her conversation. He rubbed his eyes and looked around the room. He saw Wendy and his other friends all involved in conversations. He turned back to Christy, slid his arm behind her back and quickly pulled her close to him and started kissing her neck. She stood up immediately and yelled, “You SOB”!

The room went quiet and everyone turned to look. Wendy was embarrassed. Jordan came across the room and got into Jason’s face. The bottle of Everclear flew off the coffee table and sat on its side on the floor. Jason called Jordan a few choice names and Jordan shoved Jason in the chest knocking him back onto the couch, his arm flailing to the side, tipping over his beer on the end table. Jason stood up, swore at everyone in the room, but no one in particular, and slammed the front door on his way out.

At school on Monday, students were gathered around a planter area near the lockers prior to first period. Wendy, Christie, Suzie and a few others were all standing around talking about the party Friday night. They were discussing what a Jerk Jason had been when ironically, he nonchalantly walked up to the group from behind the lockers. “Hey, how’s it going?” he said, with a big smile. Everyone just stared at him, especially Wendy, giving him dirty looks. “Whaaat?” he chuckled, raising his hands to his chest, palms out, “Whaaaaaaat?”


While this is a fictional scenario, it is one that most who have been to parties can relate to in some form or another. When alcohol is involved, most people believe behaviors are un-predictable. In reality, when the effects of alcohol are understood, behaviors become more predictable. Let’s start at the beginning of this story.

Emotional Dependence; Jason demonstrated emotional dependence when he mentioned that he could hardly wait for the party because he “wanted” to get wasted. His behavior and actions at the party also demonstrated the Abuse of alcohol because he drank specifically to alter his mood. Since alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, the first part of your brain to be depressed is the area that controls your inhibitions. This allowed for the boisterous “life of the party” attitude. It also explains why he would make sexual advances towards Suzie, the cheer leader, as well as Christy, Jordan’s girlfriend.

So, why was Jason so clueless on Monday at school?

Over the weekend, Jason woke up and had a few disjointed memories of the night before. He remembered walking around the house, "high fiving" folks and keeping the energy level up. He was the ultimate party animal! Everyone always had a good time when Jason was there. Euphoric Recall is what affects his thoughts in this manner. He recalls his interactions at the party in terms of how he felt at the time and not on the reality of his behavior. The morning following the party, Wendy called and confronted him on making inappropriate and embarrassing passes at Suzie and Christy, he responded, “What are you talking about? It’s just a little fun! I was the life of the party…I felt great…what’s the matter with you?”

Although Jason had memories of the party, they were sketchy at best. So, as he was talking with others throughout the weekend who were there, he would hear the stories and experiences of the party related by them. Totally unaware, Jason was unconsciously filling in the blanks of his memory with the “stories” they shared. These stories now became his “reality” and his memories of the Friday night party. This is where blackouts become particularly damaging to relationships. Jason was not only filling in his memory gaps with the stories and perceptions of others; these stories and perceptions came from peers who were drinking as well.

Healthy relationships with others, whether they are with family or friends, are dependent on open, honest communication. They are also dependent on emotional trust. When alcohol is introduced into this process, we are quickly creating a recipe for “Relationships on the Rocks”.


Fern said…
Thanks for the concrete examples of what all these terms mean. A good resource for parents. I listed this article in my newsletter for parents of teens.
Thanks so much Fern...much appreciated!
judithwellt said…
Great article, clear and really informative!
Thank you so much Jennifer. I'm glad you found the article helpful. Maybe it can provide an opportunity for some parents to speak with their kids!

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