MILLIONS of youths endure the daily turmoil of living with an alcoholic parent. Says the book Teen Troubles”: Living with an alcoholic parent means living with stress-stress that come at you from a dozen directions.” A high proportion of alcoholic parents abuse their children physically or sexually. And even when the situation is not so extreme, the book Options notes “if drinking makes [the alcoholic parent] unpredictable, irresponsible, reckless, or moody, it’s bad enough.” No wonder, then that many teens may feel angry, embarrassed, or frustrated at times. This is why as teacher we need to learn how to help children with their problems that they may have with their parents who are alcoholic. My paper is based on Understanding the Problem, How Teens are Affected, and Helping Teens to Cope.
Understand the Problem
First of all, it helps to gain some insight into why parents drinks in the first place. An alcoholic is not simply someone who gets drunk once in a while, nor is an alcoholic necessarily a drunkard. Experts define alcoholism as a chronic drinking disorder that causes grievous problems affecting life, work, and health. The alcoholic is preoccupied-obsessed-with alcohol and simply cannot control its consumption. Most experts agree that alcoholism can be controlled only by total abstinence from alcohol. While alcoholism may involve some physiological quirks that me makes certain people more prone to alcohol addiction, emotional factors also appear to be involved. For example, chronically self-loathing often lurks beneath an alcoholic’s exterior. “In my experience.” Says Dr. Abraham Twerski, “I have never come across an alcoholic who had a positive sense of self-worth, feelings of adequacy and self-confidence, prior to becoming involved with alcohol.” Indeed, many alcoholics grew up in alcoholic families. Drinking may serve to numb the pain of their childhood emotional scares. However, drinking simply compounds an alcoholic’s problems. According the book Under the Influence, his “actions, thoughts, and emotions are warped by alcohol.” The alcoholic thus has much more than a drinking problem: he also has a deep-rooted thinking problem. He may need considerable help, perhaps from a trained professional, to quit drinking. Still, having some understanding of alcoholism, you can at least begin to view where some teens and parents are going through, and have a measure of compassion.
How Teens Are Affected
When a parent is an alcoholic, each family member is affected. Many teen lives may be fraught with uncertainty. Many teens are asking them self is my parent going to come home sober or drunk. Will they be hugged or hit? Yes, alcoholic parents often vacillate between extremes. They can be loving and responsible when sober, irrationally violent and abusive when drunk. Teens love their alcoholic parent one moment, may resent him the next. “Some days I just wished he were dead” (Teen Troubles). At times the effects of growing up in an alcoholic household do not become apparent for years. Children of alcoholics often become alcoholics themselves-or marries one.
Helping Teens to Cope
The environment from which a person comes is less crucial than the choice the individual makes as he responds to that environment. Yes, even if things at home seen out of control, teens can take charge of their lives. How? Teach teens not take responsibility for their parent’s drinking. ” My parents told me it was my fault,’ said 13-year-old Beth. They blamed their drinking on her unruly behavior. I was very guilty about the whole thing’ she admitted”(Teens Troubles). Help teens to understand that it is parents-and-parents alone-is responsible for his alcoholism. Help teens to understand that they cannot cure their parents without help from a trained professional. Explain to the teens that ranting, raving, crying, and arguing with him accomplished little. On the other hand, teens are not obliged to shield him from the consequences of his drinking by lying for him or dragging him off the front porch when he has fallen into a drunken stupor there. Teens need to encourage their parents to get help. Usually this requires the cooperation of a nonalcoholic parent and siblings. Family members can (1) help the alcoholic face the consequences of his drinking and (2) confront him directly
regarding his drinking.
Teen needs to know that they should leave the scene of trouble. Teens should not put them self in the middle of a parental quarrel. If possible, teens should retire to their room, or go to a friend’s house. When the threat of violence exists, outside help may be needed.
Teen need to acknowledge their feelings. Some youths feel guilty because they sometimes resent their father. But it is only normal to feel this way, especially if his drinking prevents him rendering teens the care and support they need. Teen needs to focus their hatred on the alcoholism instead of on him personally.
In summary the best and sometimes the only thing a teacher can or should do is be a good listener. As a teacher I do not like to tell my students what they should do or not do at home, but I always try to get the kids to help them self or to get help. Some times all that you can do is be a good friend.
Helping Children of Alcoholics
William Todd Poindexter
June 13, 1996