How Self-Image Influences Adolescent Alcohol Use

Self-perception and body image are crucial, particularly during the teen years. The rapid changes that occur during puberty can influence how adolescents view themselves and others, with implications for teenagers of all gender identities. 

While disordered behavior around eating and exercise is one way for adolescents to attempt to cope with an unrealistic self-image, some evidence suggests a correlation between perceived appearance and alcohol use. In particular, teen boys might be more vulnerable to adolescent alcohol use for reasons like these.

1. Peer Pressure

Adolescents with an unstable, shifting self-image can be susceptible to peer pressure. A desire to improve their reputation among others is one reason teens might start experimenting with drinking and drugs. Countless media depictions of high school and college parties have given many students the expectation that reckless behavior is a good way to fit in and make friends, while simultaneously rebelling against adult authority figures. Since teens rely on emotion instead of logic to make decisions, they may start abusing alcohol if they believe it will earn them respect from their peers.

2. Low Self-Esteem

Like their adult counterparts, teens who think less of themselves tend to treat themselves unkindly, and may also experience constant feelings of worthlessness and shame. A young man struggling to view himself as deserving of love, respect and friendship may become socially withdrawn and lose interest in formerly enjoyable hobbies. As this cycle continues to worsen, teens may turn to substance misuse to numb their feelings. The temporary boost in feel-good neurotransmitters from drinking alcohol might provide short-lived relief, but can eventually result in a physical and psychological dependency. 

3. Negative Self-Talk

In many cases, teens who struggle to make friends and have low self-esteem are also prone to negative self-talk. Their inner monologue may have a nearly constant litany of criticism, like “The other students think you’re dumb” or “You’ll never be popular.” Eventually, this ongoing pessimism becomes a form of self-fulfilling prophecy, because people who believe they cannot do something are less willing to try it. Negative self-talk also correlates with mental illnesses like anxiety and depression, potentially causing adolescents to self-medicate with alcohol.

4. Body Dysmorphia

Body dysmorphic disorder is a condition that typically emerges during adolescence and can lead teens to have acute anxiety about their appearance. A distorted, unrealistic self-image is one characteristic of this disorder, which can make students hesitant to participate in school and extracurricular activities. Young men struggling with body dysmorphia may fixate on attaining a hyper-masculine, muscular appearance by working out excessively or eating a restrictive diet. BDD can also lead to depression and suicidal thoughts.

Healing Substance Abuse Issues in Teen Boys

At ARCH Academy, we believe young men ages 14 through 18 need a unique environment for recovery. By combining time-tested 12-step principles with one-on-one therapy, academic excellence and opportunities for adventure, our program helps adolescents improve their self-image and address co-occurring mental health disorders. To learn more about how adolescent substance use treatment can help change your son’s future, please reach out to us today. We look forward to helping your family have a brighter outlook!