Parents, Don’t Ignore This Subtle Sign Your Teen’s Been Drinking

Wondering if your teen's been hitting the bottle? You may need to look no further than at the dark circles under his or her eyes. Here's what a new scientific study just revealed about a potential sign of teen alcohol use.

If your teen is staying up til all hours and then falls asleep in class, you should probably be looking into whether your teen has been getting into the liquor cabinet, according to a new study out of Rutgers University-Camden published in the journal Addictive Behaviors.

The study, led by Naomi R. Marmorstein, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Rutgers University-Camden, linked insomnia and daytime sleepiness with alcohol use in young teens, although it could not be determined from this particular study whether one causes the other (and if so, which causes which).

Research on the association between sleep-related problems and alcohol use among adults already exists, but studies specifically on the association between sleep and teen drinking are minimal, and they don’t account for mental health issues in individual kids or family dynamics (such as parental monitoring or lack thereof). For her research, Dr. Marmorstein used existing data on 127 Hispanic and African American teens from the Camden Youth Development Study (CYDS, an initiative funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health, which examines mental health issues among at-risk youth).

The CYDS data included the teens’ answers to questions about their sleep habits and their alcohol use, as well as questions intended to elicit clues as to their mental health and their family dynamics. The teens’ teachers also answered questions aimed at determining the presence of ADHD. The findings were clear: Insomnia and daytime sleepiness were associated with frequency of alcohol use, and the link could not be altered by mental health issues or parental monitoring. That said, additional research is required in order to investigate the direction of this effect (in other words, whether the teen drinking causes insomnia or whether insomnia drives teens to drink).

“Parents, educators, and therapists should consider [sleep issues] to be a risk marker for alcohol use, and alcohol use a risk marker for [sleep issues] among early adolescents,” Dr. Marmorstein said to Rutgers-Camden News Now. She also notes that further research regarding preventative and treatment interventions.

Think your teen might be abusing alcohol? Here are some useful tips for talking to your children about drinking.

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Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers health, fitness, yoga, and lifestyle, among other topics. An author of crime fiction, Lauren's book The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.