Are you a kid with a mom or dad that drinks too much? This is a letter that was written by a child of an alcoholic who is grown-up. No two families are exactly alike, but maybe you have some similar feelings.
I’ll bet you feel all alone when your mom or dad drinks too much, because maybe you think that no one else’s mom or dad drinks like yours. Or maybe you think that no one knows how you feel. Do you know that there are plenty of kids your age who feel exactly like you, because their parents drink too much? I know how you feel, because one of my parents is an alcoholic too.
It’s not easy. When I was your age, I felt so alone. Every time my parent started drinking, I had that funny feeling in my stomach that something wasn’t right. I was scared to tell anyone. I wondered why I had a parent who drank so much.
I always wondered if I did anything to make my parent drink. None of my friends could spend the night at my house because I never knew when it would start. I didn’t want my friends to know what went on in my house; besides, when my parent started to drink I never knew what would happen. I didn’t want anyone to know what a mess it was when the drinking started. I felt ashamed, and believed my house was REALLY different from everybody else’s.
When I grew up I moved away from my confusing house, and I began to meet other people who had alcoholic parents. I talked a lot to these people about how it was in my house, and I didn’t feel embarrassed because they talked about what went on in their houses when their parents started drinking. I realized that other people had the same kinds of confusing things happen to them. Some people came from homes that were more messed up than mine, and other people came from homes that didn’t have as many problems as mine did. But I realized one thing: that all the time when I was a kid, when I thought I was alone and the only one with parents who drank too much, I WASN’T.
You aren’t the only one with parents who drink too much. There are a lot of us here.
If you would like to learn more facts about alcoholism contact Union County Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse at 201 S. Herndon Street Union, SC or 864-429-1656. Your friend, An adult child of an alcoholic.
Living With An Alcoholic
Living with a non-recovering alcoholic in the family can contribute to stress for all members of the family. Each member may be affected differently. Not all alcoholic families experience or react to this stress in the same way. The level of dysfunction or resiliency of the non-alcoholic spouse is a key factor in the effects of problems impacting children.
Children raised in alcoholic families have different life experiences than children raised in non-alcoholic families. Children raised in other types of dysfunctional families may have similar developmental losses and stressors as do children raised in alcoholic families.
Children living with a non-recovering alcoholic score lower on measures of family cohesion, intellectual-cultural orientation, active-recreational orientation, and independence. They also usually experience higher levels of conflict within the family.
Many children of alcoholics (COAs) experience other family members as distant and non-communicative.
Children of alcoholics may be hampered by their inability to grow in developmentally healthy ways
Seventy six million Americans, about 43% of the U.S. adult population, have been exposed to alcoholism in the family.
Almost one in five adult Americans (18%) lived with an alcoholic while growing up.
Roughly one in eight American adult drinkers is alcoholic or experiences problems due to the use of alcohol. The cost to society is estimated at in excess of $166 billion each year.
Children Of Alcoholics
There are an estimated 26.8 million COAs in the United States. Preliminary research suggests that over 11 million are under the age of 18.
Children of alcoholics are four times more likely than non-COAs to develop alcoholism.
Genetic factors play a major role in the development of alcoholism. There is an expanding base of literature which strongly supports a heritable basis for alcoholism and a range of family influences that may direct the development of children of alcoholics.
Children’s perceptions of parental drinking quantity and circumstances appear to influence their own drinking frequency.
Children’s alcohol expectancies reflect recognition of alcohol-related norms and a cognizance of parental drinking patterns by a very early age.
Alcohol expectancies appear to be one of the mechanisms explaining the relationship between paternal alcoholism and heavy drinking among offspring during college.
Parental alcoholism and other drug dependencies have an impact upon children’s early learning about alcohol and other drugs.
Family interaction patterns also may influence the COA’s risk for alcohol abuse. It has been found that families with an alcoholic parent displayed more negative family interaction during problem-solving discussions than in non-alcoholic families.
Almost one-third of any sample of alcoholics has at least one parent who also was or is an alcoholic.
Children of alcoholics are more likely than non-COAs to marry into families in which alcoholism is prevalent.
Parental alcoholism influences adolescent substance use through several different pathways including stress, negative affect and decreased parental monitoring. Negative affect and impaired parental monitoring are associated with adolescent’s joining in a peer network that supports drug use behavior.
After drinking alcohol, sons of alcoholics experience more of the physiological changes associated with pleasurable effects compared with sons of non-alcoholics, although only immediately after drinking.
• What is alcoholism?
Alcoholism is a disease. People who have the disease have lost control over their drinking and are not able to stop without help. They also lose control over how they act when they are drunk.
How does alcoholism start?
Doctors don’t know all the reasons why people become alcoholics. Some start out drinking a little bit and end up hooked on alcohol. A person might drink to forget problems or to calm nerves, but then they end up needing alcohol to feel normal. Once a person loses control over drinking, he or she needs help to stop drinking.
• If the alcoholic is sick why doesn’t he or she just go to the hospital?
At first, the alcoholic is not aware that he or she is ill. Even when the alcoholic becomes aware that something is wrong, he or she may not believe that alcohol is the problem. An alcoholic might keep blaming things on other
people, or might blame their job, or the house, or whatever. But, really, it’s the alcohol that’s the biggest problem.
• Is there an “average” alcoholic?
No. There is no such person as the average alcoholic. Alcoholics can be young, old, rich, poor, male, or female.
What is the cure for alcoholism?
There is no cure for alcoholism except stopping the disease process by stopping the drinking. People with alcoholism who have completely stopped drinking are called “recovering alcoholics”. Recovering alcoholics can lead healthy, happy, productive lives.
• Can family members make an alcoholic stop drinking?
No. It is important to know that an alcoholic needs help to stop drinking, but no one can be forced to accept the help, no matter how hard you try or what you do. It is also important to know that family members by themselves cannot provide the help that an alcoholic needs. An alcoholic needs the help of people trained to treat the disease.
• How many children in the United States have at least one alcoholic parent?
About eleven million children in our country are growing up with at least one alcoholic parent. There are probably a few in your class right now. And remember, some adults grew up with alcoholic parents too.
Some children with moms and dads that drink too much think that it is their fault. Maybe you are one of those children. Well, it’s not your fault and you can’t control it. But, there are ways that you can deal with it. One important way is to remember the 7 Cs.
I didn’t cause it; I can’t control it; I can’t cure it; I can help take care of myself by communicating my feelings; making healthy choices and celebrating me.
Alcohol and drug problems interfere with the capacity of addicted individuals and their family members to develop and sustain a meaningful spiritual life.
Teachers are the salt of the earth. They are the co-parents of every child or adolescent in school. They know the students so well. They are often the first to notice if there is a change in a child’s demeanor or if “something’s just not right” with the kids who come to them every day. Students all come to school carrying their joys and their heartaches. So often teachers are the ones they tell about so many things, including problem drinking at home.
Research shows that children who survive a life in high risk families usually have found an adult or two whom they can trust and who provide consistent support to them over the years. Very often this adult is a teacher.
Starlin Phelps is Prevention Coordinator for the Union County Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.