Why Does My Parent Drink?
Alcoholism is a disease. Some people have a hard time believing that,
but it's true. You may have heard that all an alcoholic has to do is
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. Alcoholic drinking creates
and magnifies these problems, not the reverse!
Denial can play a big role in an alcoholic's life. A person in denial is one
who refuses to believe the truth about a situation. A problem drinker
may blame another person for her drinking because it is easier than
taking responsibility for it. An alcoholic parent may become enraged at
the slightest suggestion that her drinking is a problem. Those who
acknowledge their drinking may show their denial by saying, "I can stop
any time I want to," or "Everyone drinks to unwind sometimes."
Why Do I Feel So Bad?
If you're like most teens, your life is probably filled with emotional ups and
downs regardless of what your life is like at home. You are learning to deal
with the world, and although you may welcome new responsibilities, there
may be lots of stuff to confuse and frustrate you as well. Even a good day
may include many moods. Add an alcoholic parent to this tumultuous time,
and you're bound to feel overwhelmed.
Although alcoholism causes similar damage to many families, each situation
is unique. Some alcoholics abuse their children emotionally or physically.
Others neglect their children by not providing sufficient nurturing and guidance.
Drugs may be involved. There may not be enough money coming in. Many
alcoholics behave unpredictably - one day you may be walking on eggshells
to avoid an outburst, the next, you may find yourself comforting a parent
who promises that things will be better. And although each family is different,
teens with alcoholic parents almost always report feeling alone, unloved,
depressed, or burdened by the secret life they lead at home.
If you are an older son or daughter, you may find yourself taking on the day-to-day
responsibilities of the household. These often include taking care of younger
sisters or brothers and performing "damage control" on a regular basis. (For
example, following certain routines to prevent your alcoholic parent from exploding
with anger because the dishes aren't done or the lawn needs to be mowed.)
The pressure can be unbearable, leaving you exhausted and drained.
It's not uncommon to hide your parent's problem or to try to make your parent
stop drinking. Some teens hide or pour out bottles of alcohol, but this never
helps. There is always more. You may challenge your parent with words like,
"If you love me, you won't keep drinking." Whether you use gentle encouraging,
scolding, or even begging, chances are that things will not change. As a result,
you may feel even worse and your parent may, too.
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?
The worst thing someone in this predicament can do is to do nothing. Running away,
hiding, or pretending will not make things better for you - or for other members of
your family. Teenage children of alcoholics are at a higher risk of becoming alcoholics
themselves, particularly when they feel too tired and defeated to seek help. Reaching
out is one way to ensure that your future does not repeat your parent's past. Once
you admit that you need help with your family problem, you can take initiative. And
getting the right kind of help can improve your situation right now.
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.
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.