Helping Children Understand Alcoholism
anonymous Asks ...
I am an alcoholic but I haven’t had a drink in 14 years. My dad died when I was a boy. He was an alcoholic and my uncle was a drunk who died young also…so as a family we have a pretty strong alcoholic pedigree. The problem is my son, who is now 16, never saw any of it. He was too young to remember when I was drinking and he never knew his granddad or great uncle. So he doesn’t know the horror of it and now he is drinking with his friends. I try to warn him about his risk but he doesn’t seem to listen or it doesn’t sink in. I took him to an open AA meeting but he laughed it off. It is so frustrating to watch this slow motion disaster happening. How do I get him to see that he is going to become a drunk if he doesn’t stop what he is doing?
Rev. Christopher Smith Says ...
With a family history of alcoholism, you are aware of some of the risks involved in problematic drinking. It is natural to want to protect your children from experiencing the negative consequences of problematic drinking.
Before considering your son, let us first consider yourself. Did your knowledge of the consequences of alcohol abuse and dependence in your family stop you from beginning to drink? Did your family try to dissuade you from beginning to drink? Developmentally, adolescents often have a feeling of being invincible and believe that some of the negative things they hear about as long term consequences will not apply to them.
Many years ago, you came to an understanding of the problems that drinking was causing in your life and the dynamics that take place around that. Your sobriety is a good witness, but you had to get to the place where you acknowledged that you were not in control of your drinking and that it was causing problems in your life. You had to get to that point - others may have helped you to that point but they could not decide this for you. Think about what this process was like for you and think about how this process might be for your son.
Family history and adolescent drinking both add to your son's likelihood of becoming "a drunk" but this is not a predetermined fact. This is also something that is in the future and not as influential for your son. However, in the present there are consequences of his drinking. How is his life being affected in the present because of his drinking with his friends? Are there other consequences that are appropriate? Does he understand the possible legal consequences of his underage drinking? Does he understand the risk he is creating for the person or people who are getting the alcohol for him? These aspects are more likely to have an influence on your son. Also, in examining this dimension, consider what your son is getting out of using alcohol and alternatives that might give him some of what he believes he is getting from drinking.
It also sounds like most of the discussions about the family history of alcoholism have been focused more from a scare stance. Talking honestly about strengths and weaknesses, high points and low points, patterns, etc in a way to be more narrative can make it so the stories can be heard more easily. Allow your son the opportunity to draw his own conclusions from them rather than trying to make him live the experiences of the family.
Finally, you only talk of your 16 year old son, are there other children as well? Some of the above ideas can be even more effective before they chose to begin drinking. There are also ways to reinforce positive decisions around alcohol through choices that they are making.
Through all of this, there is the possibility for you and your son, as well as the rest of your family, to experience wholeness and peace. The journey will not be without bumps. The journey will involve making some tough decisions and sticking to them. However, this is possible. You can walk with him as he comes to his own place of realizing the impact of alcohol in his life and where he is at in terms of the power of alcohol in his life.