By Danielle Owen, IIIC Director of Wellness and Education Services
The Irish Times noted last year how "one in ten Irish teenagers says their parents’ drinking affects their own lives in a ‘hugely negative way’ while a quarter of teenagers admit to binge drinking themselves," according to The National Children’s Consultation survey published in Dec 2010 by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children." When I review the stories of the hundreds of people I have been privileged to offer counseling to since 2004, I discovered something equally as startling: in a key sample of clients, who attended six or more sessions in the last 3 yrs, 74% of this group noted they had been negatively impacted by at least one of their parents or caregivers alcohol use. That’s almost four of every five clients.
Children living in homes where there is parental substance abuse can find life difficult, unpredictable and confusing. The holidays can make life even more challenging and fearful. Sometimes children even believe the alcohol or drug abuse is their fault. Teenagers, already dealing with the ups and downs of adolescence, who live with alcohol dependent parents might feel anger, sadness, embarrassment, loneliness, helplessness, and a lack of self-esteem. "For example, many alcohol dependents behave unpredictably, and kids who grow up around them may spend a lot of energy trying to feel out a parent's mood or guess what he or she wants."
Living with a parent or caregiver who has an alcohol problem may mean children and teens feel like they are walking on eggshells to avoid an outburst because the dishes aren't done or the lawn isn't mowed. Some parents with alcohol problems might abuse their children emotionally or physically, while others unwittingly may neglect their children by not providing sufficient care and guidance; usually because the stress in their home distracts them from meeting their children's vital needs. Although each family is different, children and teens with alcohol dependent parents almost always report feeling alone, unloved, depressed, or burdened by the secret life they lead at home.
However, there is good news: alcohol dependent parents who quit before their children are teenagers not only improve their own health, they lower their child's risk for drug and alcohol abuse. Change is always possible. But before change can happen, you need to see this "silent" problem. One leading therapist, Dr. Claudia Black, says that children from alcoholic homes tend to exhibit some distinct behaviors within the family. Does your child exhibit any of the following behaviors?
Does your child tend to assume the role of a parent, by feeding and caring for younger brothers and sisters?
Does your child hide and become quiet and withdrawn?
Does your child deflect attention from family problems by creating problems of their own at home and school?
Does your child ignore their own unhappiness to comfort others maybe becoming family clowns and try to cover problems with jokes?
If you have answered yes to any one of these questions, and you believe there may be an alcohol problem at home, call Danielle 617-542-7654 ext 14 to learn more and find support.