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Alcoholic Parents

My Parent has a Problem:

     Many teens live with a parent who is an alcoholic, a person physically and emotionally addicted to alcohol. Alcoholism has been around for centuries, yet no one has discovered how to prevent or stop it. Alcoholism continues to cause anguish not only for the person who drinks, but for everyone who is involved with that person.

     If you live with an alcoholic, you may feel alone. But there are people and organizations to help you cope with the problems alcoholism creates in families.

Why Does My Parent Drink?

     Alcoholism is a disease. It is not as simple for the alcoholic to just stop drinking. You may have heard that all an alcoholic has to do is "stop drinking," but it's not that simple. The American Medical Association (AMA), the American College of Physicians (ACP), and the World Health Organization (WHO) all recognize that the compulsion to drink and the physical dependence associated with it is a disease. Without professional help, an alcoholic will probably continue to drink and become worse over time.

     Some teens may think that drinking is a symptom of some other problem, one they may even have helped to create. A parent might be having a rough time at work or be out of work altogether. The parents may be having marital problems or financial problems or someone may be sick. Teens who believe they are part of the problem sometimes convince themselves that they can make things better by doing things such as working harder or moving out of the house. An alcoholic parent may perpetuate these feelings of blame by saying things like, "You're driving me crazy!" or "I can't take this anymore." But whatever else you believe about alcoholism, know that this is true: your parent's alcoholism is not your fault, no matter who suggests that it is. The problems are created by the alcoholic and continued by them - not you.

     Alcoholics deny that anything is wrong. They will also lay the blame for their problems on others in their lives. They can become defensive and angry when confronted with their problem, or they can try to minimize it saying that they could stop whenever they wanted or that they drink to relax like everyone else.

The Effects on You:

     Being a teen is hard enough. There are so many changes going on in your life. If you are also dealing with an alcoholic parent, life can seem impossible.

     Alcoholics behave in different ways and alcoholism affects all families differently. Some parents may cause their children physically and emotionally. Others will neglect their children altogether. Some parents may erupt at the slightest problem one day, and the next day be your best friend or need comfort from you.

     If you are an older child, you may end up taking more responsibility - acting as a parent in place of yours that can't function. You may end up protecting younger siblings from the truth of their parent and attempt to hide the problem. The pressure can be unbearable, leaving you exhausted and drained.

     As well, you may feel like it is your place to try and stop your parent. Some teens get rid of the alcohol but that rarely works, as there will always be more. Other teens try to reason with their parent, beg them and make them feel guilty about their behavior. But no matter what you do - it may not change - you need to have help from a professional.

     With all this going on, your self-esteem may be understandably affected. Families everywhere are dealing with the same types of problems. Teens with alcoholic parents share feelings like anger, sadness, confusion, embarrassment, loneliness, helplessness, and pain. But help is available.

What Can I Do?

     Don't run away and give up - that is the worst thing that you could do. Children of alcoholic parents run a higher risk of becoming alcoholic themselves and it is important that you address the problem as early as possible. We know it is hard to take that initiative when you feel so down and drained of all energy - but it is really important that you do something about it so that you can feel better soon.

     It's good to share your feelings with a friend, but it's equally important to talk to an adult you trust. A school counselor may be able to help, or a favorite teacher or coach. Some teens turn to their school D.A.R.E. (Drug & Alcohol Resistance Education) officer, others find a sympathetic uncle or aunt. You are not betraying your parent by seeking help. You can continue to be supportive of your alcoholic parent even as you try to make things better for yourself and the rest of your family.

     Often teens report feeling disloyal, like a traitor, for talking to someone outside the family. But keeping "the secret" is part of the disease and allows the problems to get worse. Picking one adult you think you can trust can be a good first step. It's not disloyal; it's the most loving thing you can do for your family.

     Professional help is much more available than you may think. Al-Anon, an organization designed to help the families and friends of alcoholics, has a group called Alateen. Alateen is specifically geared to young people living with people who have problems with drinking. If you're not sure whether your parent is a problem drinker, visit the Alateen Web site and take their 20-question quiz. Alateen is not only for children of alcoholics, but for teens whose parent may already be in recovery, and it offers lots of resources such as a guide to professional resources. Regular support groups for teens meet across the country and can provide a safe forum for you to talk about your own situation with people your age. Alateen is completely confidential.

     Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) also offers a variety of programs and resources. If you feel that the situation at home is becoming dangerous, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE. And, as in the case of all emergencies, never hesitate to dial 911.

     If an adult in your life, especially a mother or father, is an alcoholic, remember that help is all around you. You can find it online, on the telephone, in your counselor's office, at a counseling support group for teens, and more.

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