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
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
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