Introduction

Girl reading letter for children of alcoholics

A letter for you

Are you a teenager with a mom or dad that drinks too much? This is a letter that was written by a child of an alcoholic who is grown-up. No two families are exactly alike, but maybe you have some similar feelings.

Addiction: Q&A

What is alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a disease. People who have the disease have lost control over their drinking and are not able to stop without help. They also lose control over how they act when they are drunk.

How does alcoholism start?

Doctors don't know all the reasons why people become alcoholics. Some start out drinking a little bit and end up hooked on alcohol. A person might drink to forget problems or to calm nerves, but then they end up needing alcohol to feel normal. Once a person loses control over drinking, he or she needs help to stop drinking.

If the alcoholic is sick why doesn't he or she just go to the hospital?

At first, the alcoholic is not aware that he or she is ill. Even when the alcoholic becomes aware that something is wrong, he or she may not believe that alcohol is the problem. An alcoholic might keep blaming things on other people, or might blame their job, or the house, or whatever. But, really, it's the alcohol that's the biggest problem.

Is there an "average" alcoholic?

No. There is no such person as the average alcoholic. Alcoholics can be young, old, rich, poor, male, female, and any race or religion.

What is the cure for alcoholism?

There is no cure for alcoholism except stopping the disease process by stopping the drinking. People with alcoholism who have completely stopped drinking are called "recovering alcoholics." Recovering alcoholics can lead healthy, happy, productive lives.

Can family members make an alcoholic stop drinking?

No. It is important to know that an alcoholic needs help to stop drinking, but no one can be forced to accept the help, no matter how hard you try or what you do. It is also important to know that family members by themselves cannot provide the help that an alcoholic needs. An alcoholic needs the help of people trained to treat the disease.

How many children in the United States have at least one alcoholic parent?

About eleven million children in our country are growing up with at least one alcoholic parent. There are probably a few in your class right now. And remember, some adults grew up with alcoholic parents too.

I know I can't make my alcoholic parent stop drinking, so what can I do to make myself feel better?

Talk to someone you trust about the problem. Talk to a teacher, a Scout leader, a coach, a school counselor. Also, there is a group for kids who have alcoholic parents called "Alateen." Alateen has meetings, like a club, and the kids share tips on how to make life easier. Find a meeting in your area by checking their online directory. Or you can search on the internet for Alateen and include your city, county or state. Someone at Al-Anon answer line - (757) 563-1600 - can probably tell you how to find the meetings too. Ask at school if there are any Alateen groups or school-sponsored support groups. If you have access to the Internet, search "Alateen" together with the name of your county.

Facts for You

Please don't forget these four facts. They come in handy when you least suspect it.

Alcoholism is a disease. You can't cure it.

Your parent is not a bad person; he or she has a disease that makes him or her lose control when drinking. Alcohol does that; when you drink too much, you do and say things that you normally wouldn't. Maybe the disease makes them do mean or stupid things that they would not do if they didn't drink.

You cannot control your parent's drinking.

It is not your fault. Don't hide the bottle or try to be perfect; you can't do anything about your parent's drinking. You are not the reason why your parent drinks. You did not cause the disease.

You are not alone.

There are lots of teenagers just like you. I'll bet there are some in your class at school or in a club or on a team. Maybe down the street from you. You might be surprised to learn that some of the teens you know – you might even think who have “perfect” lives - might have a parent who drinks too much. Maybe you know some of them because you've seen what goes on in their house. In fact, from all the surveys done in the United States, we know that there are about 18 million children with alcoholic parents living in our country. You really aren't alone.

You CAN talk about the problem.

Do you notice that you push people away from you with arguments, or you just stay quiet, so you don't have to talk about personal issues? Maybe you make lots of jokes, and do silly things, to keep people laughing instead of having serious conversation. At times it can be hard to consider letting people know about your problems, especially if you believe you shouldn't tell anyone what is bothering you. Maybe you believe you have to work really hard to pretend that everything is OK, and are afraid to let someone know things aren’t perfect. We all need to turn to people from time to time. Asking for help, talking about how we feel, or telling someone we are afraid, is how many adults stay healthy and manage everyday problems. Do you know someone you trust who you can talk to you? It could be an adult at school, a friend's parent, a neighbor, your coach, your boss at work, or maybe someone at church. It may be hard to walk up to a person and share what you are thinking and feeling. You might be surprised to learn that he or she has felt exactly the same at some point, or has experienced something similar. Sometimes people are glad when you decide to talk to them, because they have been concerned about you. When we find the courage to talk to someone, there can be great relief in discovering that he or she is a "safe person" who will respect what you say, care about how you feel, and offer some great feedback. These safe people may be able to help in ways you can’t imagine. Talking about what you are thinking can help you feel so much better.

THAT'S RIGHT. ADDICTION IS A DISEASE.

THE COOL SPOT

A website specifically designed for ‘tweens and teens that offers important facts and explanations about the risks of underage drinking and how to resist peer pressure. Get more informed and find greater confidence dealing with the issues through games, quizzes and animation.

UNDERSTANDING ABSTINENCE, SOBRIETY AND RECOVERY

ABSTINENCE

Many teenagers believe that “if Mom or Dad would only stop drinking, everything would be fine.” “Life will be so much better if the drinking would stop.” “I’ll get ‘my Dad’ back if he could just throw the pills away.”

It is true that alcohol can stimulate other unwanted behaviors, and when the drinking or substance use stops some of these behaviors stop as well. A drunk parent may become mean, a father may spend a great deal of money on alcohol or drugs, or a mother may be negligent of caring for younger children when drunk and passed out. Unfortunately however, when a person stops drinking or drugging, the family problems don’t disappear completely. The reality is that stopping the behavior, or abstinence, is a very important first step of a process that leads to sobriety and recovery. So what do these other terms mean?

Teenage daughter reaches out to support mother troubled in early recovery

The absence of alcohol or drugs does not mean the same as “recovered.” Getting “clean and sober” is the first step so that recovery can begin. – Sis Wenger, NACoA CEO/President

SOBRIETY

When a person who is addicted to alcohol or drugs stops using, the brain starts to change. At first, because the brain believes the body needs the alcohol to live, it can be much harder to be around a person who continues to not drink. In the beginning, it may actually feel like things are getting worse instead of better. As time continues – as a person remains sober – the brain starts to change in ways that are positive. Yes this is a good thing, and it helps a person become healthier. If the person is not attending to other issues that are part of the disease of alcoholism, it may not seem like things are getting better. 12 step programs like AA help address these issues to help attain and maintain recovery.

Think of it like a heart attack, where a person after the attack may need to change a number of behaviors (eating habits, exercise, sleep, length of time at work, stress management). The cardiac patient may also need to see other specialists to fully treat the problem to avoid more heart attacks. For an alcoholic, a person must consider many lifestyle changes, and seek additional treatment or attend 12-step meetings, in order to continue to get stronger and healthy after they stop drinking. Without this continued care, a person can get stuck feeling miserable because they aren’t drinking but they aren’t getting healthier. Oftentimes, people refer to this feeling of being stuck as being a “dry drunk.” Sometimes alternative bad behaviors even replace the drinking because they need something to help the bad feelings go away.

RECOVERY

The easiest way to think about it is that sobriety is the continued state of not drinking and recovery is the process of healing a person physically and emotionally from the disease of addiction. Through the lifestyle changes, additional treatment and/or 12 step meetings, a person seeks to develop a healthy mind, sound body, and logical decision making. Recovery requires a regular commitment to working on better communication skills, healthier thinking, and effective mindfulness to find contentment in life. It is this contentment in mind, body and spirit that is often referred to as serenity.

For family members, it can be hard and yet wonderful to watch these changes.

The difficult part is accepting that things will need to change for each member of the family. The entire family may become very busy with attending different meetings throughout the week. The parent in early recovery may attend a lot of 12 step meetings in the evenings or weekends. The other parent may start to attend Al-Anon every week. For teenagers, student assistance programs in school or Alateen meetings provide an opportunity to talk to other teens who understand about what is going on and how you feel about it. Family members may spend time on the phone talking with other people from these meetings instead of taking part in the regular family routine.

In addition, other changes may start to take place. A dad may visit the gym every day to exercise. Sometimes a parent decides to take the entire family to church. Maybe family outings become a priority on the weekend. Poor dinner habits may be replaced with nutritional meals full of vegetables. Maybe the popular weekend parties stop being held at the house. These changes seem very strange, even if they are good choices.

In recovery, through these many changes, you can watch your mom or dad transform into a person who is more available for the entire family, communicate in a more healthy way, and overall appear more happy and content. The changes may look very different than how you imagined it would be when the drinking stopped. A parent in recovery is a person of greater understanding, gratitude and overall wellness that benefits the entire family.

LARGE FAMILY IN RECOVERY ENJOYING PICNIC AT PARK TABLE ON SUNNY AFTERNOON

Alateen

Teenage girl standing apart from group looking down

How will Alateen help me?

Alateen is part of Al‑Anon Family Groups. Alateen is a fellowship of young Al-Anon members, usually teenagers, whose lives have been affected by someone else's drinking. Alateen groups are sponsored by Al-Anon members who help the group to stay on track. Learn more about Alateen meetings

Find Alateen on Facebook and Instagram

Is Alateen For You? 20 Questions

Alateen offers help for young people whose lives have been affected by someone else’s drinking. Sometimes the active drinking has stopped, or the active drinker may not live in the household anymore. Even if the alcoholic is receiving treatment, or has moved out, we are still affected. Here are 20 questions to help decide whether or not Alateen is for you.

Alateen Talk Newsletter, articles written by Alateen members

It’s very difficult when one (or both) of your parents has a drinking problem. It affects how you are treated and it shapes your world. Alateen meetings are where you can find support and understanding from people your own age who going through similar difficulties. If there’s no Alateen meeting in your community, you’re always welcome to attend an Al-Anon meeting.

3 teenagers reading and texting

How to find an Alateen meeting

Find a meeting in your area by checking their online directory. Or you can search on the internet for Alateen and include your city, county or state. You can also email questions: email wso@al-anon.org. When Alateen meetings are not available in your community, family members who are 12 years or older may attend a regular Al-Anon Family Group or Al-Anon adult children of alcoholics group meetings. When you go to a meeting for the first time, you will probably see some signs helping direct you to the room. If not, don’t be afraid to ask someone Usually people are very helpful, and you may ask someone who is going to the meeting as well.

View of lower body of girl sitting at bottom of steps curling arms around her knees

DEALING WITH ONE PARENTS’ ALCOHOLISM – ONE TEEN’S STORY

There are many trials in life that one must go through, and everybody deals with these problems differently. Some write. Some fight. Everyone in my family seemed to drown their problems in alcohol. As a six-year-old, I didn’t see the problems that my family faced. The world was big and full of wonder in the eyes of a curious little boy, but having alcoholic parents made my world a lot smaller. I couldn’t put into words how scared I was. I learned quickly to figure out what my parents were thinking and feeling. I needed to know if I was coming home to the warm, loving place that a home should be, or to a war zone where people were afraid to speak their feelings. At some point, my parents thought it would be a good idea for my mother to leave. Read More

Cartoon faces portraying different emotions -

More Information

Remember the 7 Cs

Some children with moms and dads that drink too much think that it is their fault. Maybe you are one of those children. Well, it's not your fault and you can't control it. But, there are ways that you can deal with it. One important way is to remember the 7 Cs.

Does Your Mom or Dad drink too much?

Millions of youth like yourself worry about their parents drinking too much or using drugs. It’s a big problem that happens in every kind of family, whether rich or poor, single parent, traditional or blended family and families that attend places of worship.

Alcohol and Drug Abuse Hurts Everyone in the Family

Dependence on alcohol and drugs is our most serious national public health problem. It is prevalent among rich and poor, in all regions of the country, and all ethnic and social groups.

It’s Not Your Fault!

Are you worried that your Mom or Dad drinks too much or uses drugs? You are right to be concerned—about their safety and health, about what will happen to you, about their embarrassing you or criticizing you unfairly, about breaking promises, about driving under the influence, and about lots of other things that create unpredictability and confusion. While you cannot stop your parent from drinking or using drugs, you can take steps to make things better for yourself.

Are you worried that your Mom or Dad drinks too much or uses drugs? You are right to be concerned—about their safety and health, about what will happen to you, about their embarrassing you or criticizing you unfairly, about breaking promises, about driving under the influence, and about lots of other things that create unpredictability and confusion.

Read More »

En Español

Cómo localizar una reunión en los EE. UU., Canadá o Puerto Rico Nota: Cuando reuniones de Alateen no están disponibles en su comunidad, más jóvenes miembros de la familia que son mayores de 12 años podrán asistir a un regular grupo de familia. También puede llamar al 888-425-2666 (888-4AL-ANON) de lunes a viernes de 8.00 a.m. a 6.00 p.m. hora del este para informaciones en Canadá y los EE. UU o correo electrónico

Visite Alateen aquí

¿Tu mamá o tu papá bebe demasiado alcohol?

Millones de jóvenes como tú se preocupan porque sus padres beben demasiado alcohol o consumen drogas. Es un gran problema que sucede en todos los tipos de familias, ya sean ricas o pobres, tradicionales o mezcladas, de padres o madres solteros, o familias que acuden a lugares de culto.

El abuso del alcohol y las drogas lastima a toda la familia

La dependencia del alcohol y las drogas es nuestro problema de salud pública más grave. Prevalece entre ricos y pobres, en todas las regiones del país, y en todos los grupos étnicos y sociales.

Closeup on hands of teen drawing peace symbol

¿Es Alateen para ti?

Alateen es parte de los Grupos de Familia Al-Anon. Alateen es una hermandad de miembros jóvenes de Al-Anon, por lo general adolescentes, cuyas vidas han sido afectadas por la bebida de otra persona. Los grupos de Alateen son apadrinados por miembros de Al-Anon que ayudan a que el grupo mantenga su curso.

Alateen Para Ti

Pasajes traducidos del Volumen 48 de Alateen Talk, la publicación trimestral en inglés de los miembros más jóvenes de los Grupos de Familia Al-Anon en el mundo. www.alanon.alateen.org