The intergenerational aspects of alcohol abuse are well-established and well-known. Being born into a family…
When Your Dad (or Mom) Drinks
When you are a child, you look up to your parents. They are supposed to be there to protect you, to keep you from harm, to look out for you at all times. But when one of your parents, let’s say your Daddy, drinks alcohol, sometimes things just don’t go right at all at home. The more your Daddy drinks, the worse it can get. You feel lost, confused, and alone and you don’t know what to do. First of all, you need help. And there is help available.
What’s Going on at Home?
You are probably very worried about the things that are going on at home every day. That is completely understandable. When your Mommy or Daddy (we’ll call them Mom and Dad) drink too much, it’s a pretty scary situation. Millions of young people – adolescents and teenagers – are afraid if they see or think their parents are drinking too much or doing drugs – or doing both.
The truth is that it doesn’t matter if your parents are rich or poor, young or old, whether you only have one parent, or live with a very large family, whether you all go to church or not. Alcoholism and drug abuse can occur in any kind of family situation.
Think about when your Dad (or Mom) drinks. Do any of the following things happen?
• Are you embarrassed by what your parent does or says?
• Does your parent blame you for something you didn’t do?
• Does your parent make and break promises made to you?
• Does your drinking parent act in an unpredictable or confusing manner? Some examples of this might be making breakfast in the middle of the night, getting you up to go to school on the weekend, singing in a loud manner for no apparent reason, and so on. In other words, after drinking, your Dad behaves in a way he’d never do if he was sober.
• After he’s been drinking, does your Dad get in the car and drive?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may very well be that your parent has a problem with alcohol or drugs. Your Dad might be abusing either alcohol or drugs (or both), and might even be addicted. It’s important for you to know that addiction is a disease, just as diabetes and cancer are diseases. And, just as people with other types of diseases take medication and go to the doctor to get treated, people with alcohol or drug addiction can be treated too.
Your Parent Needs Help
When people are addicted, they may say and do very bad things, very hurtful things, especially to their children. They are very confused themselves, and need to get help to deal with their problem. This is not easy for them to do. Often they will deny that they have a problem, and will say that they can take care of themselves. This is not true. If they don’t get treatment, their alcoholism will only get worse.
Where do they get this help? Many people receive treatment through an alcohol or drug abuse treatment program. Others may join a group such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous or another 12-step support group. These groups hold meetings in places in your community, very often in churches or community centers. When your parent who has a problem with alcohol goes to these meetings, he is surrounded by others who have also experienced difficulties with drinking. They help your parent to recover, just as other group members helped them. It takes time for your parent to recover and heal, and the 12-step support group members are always there for him.
You Are Not Alone
The most important thing for you to realize is that you are not alone. What is happening in your family is also going on in millions of other families in the United States. About one in every four teens under the age of 18 lives in a family where there is alcohol abuse or alcoholism. In these same families, teens also often have to live with parents who abuse drugs. While knowing this fact may not seem like much, it does show that you are not the only one who has this kind of situation to deal with.
Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are called family diseases. Why is that? When one person in the family abuses alcohol, it affects more than just that person. Everyone in the family suffers as a result of the abuse of alcohol by one family member – in this case, your father.
Do not think that any of this is your fault. It is not. You did not cause the problem and you are not to blame. No matter what your Dad says when he has been drinking, and no matter how awful his words are, he doesn’t really mean it. And what he says is just not true. In fact, there isn’t anything you have ever done in your entire life that could have caused your Dad to drink way too much or do drugs.
Hopefully, just knowing that it isn’t your fault will make you feel a little bit better. But you also need help for you to be able to understand what is going on in the family, and how you can safeguard yourself and your future.
Things You Need to Know
Here are some things that are very important for you to remember. And they come from experts who treat people who have problems with alcohol and drugs, so they know what they’re talking about. Think of these as the seven “Cs”.
• You didn’t cause the problem.
• You can’t cure the problem.
• You can’t control the problem.
• You can take better care of yourself.
• You can start by communicating your feelings.
• You can make healthy choices.
• You can celebrate yourself.
Another important point to know is that people who have families where there is drug or alcohol abuse are at a higher risk to get this disease themselves when they decide to drink or do drugs. There is research that strongly points out that the tendency toward alcoholism or drug addiction may run in families, part of a genetic tendency. But this does not mean that you are going to become an alcoholic or drug addict. One thing is certain: You can never become addicted to alcohol or drugs if you never drink or do drugs.
So, keep the seven “Cs” in mind and remember that you will not have a problem with alcohol or drugs if you stay away from them.
Getting Help For You
Still, what you have going on at home with your Dad affects you in many more ways than you can even imagine. You need help sorting all this out. You need someone whom you can trust that you can talk to when times get rough – like when your Dad is drunk and talks crazy or accuses you of stealing his money or tells you he hates you, or worse.
You feel bad about your Dad drinking and wish he would stop. But you can’t make him stop, no matter how hard you try or what you say. This is enough to make you feel awful, but the truth is that your parent has to want to stop drinking. If he doesn’t want to in his heart, he won’t go through with it. And he can’t do it on his own. He needs help.
But you can still make your home life, and your life in general, better for yourself. Here are some ways to do that.
Find a Trusted Adult to Talk with
There are many adults in your life that will be willing to listen and ready to help you. They may not think you want their help, or are waiting for you to ask for it. Who should this be? It might be your teacher or a counselor at your school. If you have a good relationship with your coach, that might be a good place to start. Or talk with your priest, minister or rabbi. You could talk with your doctor or a nurse (even the school nurse). You may feel more comfortable talking with the parent of your close friend, or your grandparents, uncle, aunt or older brother or sister who’s out of the house and on their own.
Don’t feel like you are being disloyal or betraying your Dad by talking to another adult and trying to get help for you. You aren’t. People with drug and alcohol problems often try to keep their behavior secret, and try to scare their children into keeping quiet so as not to bring embarrassment to the family. Remember that right now you are trying to get help for you, and you deserve to get help. You aren’t getting it at home, and you’re not likely to. So do reach out to talk to a caring adult.
If you do not have any success with the first adult you approach, don’t give up. Talk with another, and another, until you find someone who will help you. This is very important.
Get Involved with Activities
It’s important that you keep active, doing things that not only get you out of the house – and being around your drinking parent – but keep you mentally and physically challenged. There are many kinds of activities you can get involved in. Some great ones to start include:
• Programs available through your school – These could be sports activities, chess club, drama club, cheerleading, band, science, language, even foreign exchange programs. See what’s available at your school that interests you. Talk with your teacher or a counselor (maybe even the same adult you talk with about the problem at home) and they can help recommend some activities you may like.
• Activities available through your church – There may be some group activities that you would find interesting through your church. Talk with your pastor, minister or rabbi about the programs and get involved. You could volunteer at festivals, church functions, pancake breakfasts, children’s programs, or other events.
• Events and activities available in your community – Every community has numerous activities and events involving young people that welcome new members. There are community teen softball teams, bowling leagues, and others. Get a brochure from your community center or chamber of commerce. Look for flyers at the supermarket. Ask your friends if they know of any, or, if they are already involved, find out how you can join too.
By getting involved in these activities you will be around other young people, having fun, making friends, learning new skills and showing off your own talents. It will be good for you, and will help you to realize that life is more than what is going on at home.
Join a Support Group
Another very important way to help you is to join a support group. The same trusted adult that you speak with may know of one at your school. There are many schools that have assistance programs with support groups for students who have drug and alcohol abuse in their families.
What these support groups do is help you with being able to solve some of the problems that come up, and give you the opportunity to interact with other young people just like you who are dealing with the same types of situations. Most of all, being in a support group like this can show you that you will be able to have a good life despite what may be going on at home.
Besides a school support group, there is another group that is designed for young people. This is called Alateen, a group for teens whose lives are affected by someone else’s drug or alcohol use. Alateen holds meetings where young people get together and share stories and tips on how to make their lives a little easier when someone in the household drinks or does drugs.
Alateen meetings are sponsored by the group called Al-Anon. You can find an Alateen meeting in your area by looking in the phone book under Al-Anon or Alateen. Once you find a meeting location, you can ask your minister, doctor, counselor, teacher, or other adult you trust to help you get to the meeting. Find out more about Alateen by going to their website at www.alateen.org or by calling them at 1-888-425-2666. This is a toll-free call that you can make from any phone.
There are helpful websites that you can check out that are packed with information, tips on coping, and personal stories from young people just like you. One of these sites is //www.abovetheinfluence.com/. The site has games, videos, advice, where to get help, and many other resources.
A section on “When Parents Use” is particularly helpful. It lists questions and answers to situations you may already have experienced.
Another website is the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, located at //www.nacoa.org/kidspage.htm. The site, called “Just 4 Kids” has Facts 4 You, What Can Kids Do, Q&A About Addiction, Online Resources, Books and more.
Will It Always Be Like This?
You probably worry and wonder if it will always be like this. The answer is a definite no. You can change your life and help yourself so that your future is whatever you want it to be. The problems that your Dad or anyone else in the family has with drugs or alcohol do not have to affect your hopes and dreams.
It may seem hard now, and it probably is one of the hardest times you can imagine, but it won’t be like this always. By getting the help and support you need, you are doing the best that you can to ensure your future is a healthy and happy one.