As you learn the facts about alcohol, you may be worried about how it might affect the adults in your life. What happens if your mom sometimes has a glass of wine with dinner? What if you see your relatives drinking a lot at a holiday gathering?
First of all, it's important to understand that there's a big difference between having one or more drinks at home once in a while or on special occasions (sometimes they call that "casual" or "social" drinking), and drinking so much alcohol on a regular basis that it becomes a problem. But how much is too much?
Here are some signs that someone you know might drink too much alcohol:
- Spends money on alcohol instead of food, rent, etc.
- Does poorly at work or misses a lot of work
- Argues a lot
- Stays away from home and comes home drunk
- Seems angry or sad a lot
- Loses friends
- Spends too little time with the family
- Acts irritable or grouchy most of the time
- Acts withdrawn (wants to be alone)
- Usually drinks alone
- Hits or physically abuses people in the family
- Emotionally abuses (says cruel things to) people in the family
- Shows "two personalities" -- acts one way when sober and another way when drunk
- Has "blackouts" (can't remember what he or she did while drunk)
- Has "hangovers" (feels really sick the day after drinking)
If a close adult in your life...
- Shows any of the things we've listed above, or
- Cannot get through a single day without an alcoholic drink, or
- Usually has three, four, or more drinks every time he or she drinks
...Then he or she might have a drinking problem, and it is very, very important that the person get help. Alcoholism (being addicted to drinking alcohol) does not go away by itself.
So, how do you cope with a parent who drinks too much? And how do you help that parent get the help he or she needs?
Here are some DOs and DON'Ts:
DO talk to someone. Your parent can't get help if nobody knows there is a problem. If drinking has become a problem in your family, it is very, very important that you talk to someone about it. Find a trusted adult -- a teacher, a school counselor, a friend's parent, a religious leader -- and be as open and honest as you can about what's going on in your home. It can be super-difficult to take this first step…but you absolutely need to do it.
DO find a safe place. If your parent or guardian becomes abusive or violent when he or she drinks, make sure you have a safe place you can go to in an emergency, like a trusted neighbor's home.
DO call a hotline. There are lots of organizations out there to help the families of alcoholics. When you have time and privacy, try calling one of these confidential phone numbers for advice and an experienced ear:
Al-Anon and Alateen
American Council on Alcoholism Helpline
DO talk to your other parent. If you have two parents, and only one drinks, talk to the other one about the situation. Be honest about what you're going through and ask how the family can get help. Your parent may want to "keep it in the family" by not getting outside help, but this can be a mistake. Professional counselors know how to beat alcoholism better than anyone else, and your non-drinking parent shouldn't feel ashamed to admit that the family needs a hand.
DON'T be ashamed. Many people feel embarrassed or ashamed to have an alcoholic in the family, but you shouldn't feel this way. Alcoholism is a terrible disease, but it's one that millions of
people -- of all ages and all walks of life -- have to deal with. You are not alone, and you shouldn't be ashamed to have the same problem that so many other people have. Remember that keeping the problem a secret will not make things better!
DON'T blame yourself. Nothing a child can do will make an adult become an alcoholic. If your parent or guardian drinks, it's not your fault.
DON'T ignore the problem. Pretending that the problem isn't there will not make it go away. The sooner your parent gets help, the sooner all of your lives will get better.
DON'T try to solve the problem alone. If you have a parent who drinks too much, you can't make everything all better, no matter what you do. Alcoholism is a disease, and an alcoholic needs help from professional doctors and counselors.
DON'T try to reason with a drunk person. Alcohol affects the brain, and people who are drunk can't think clearly. When you see that an adult has already had too much to drunk, this isn't the time to talk to that person about his or her drinking problem. She probably won't be able to fully understand what you're saying or might get angry at you, and might not even remember the conversation later.
DON'T ever get into a car with a driver who's been drinking. It's illegal to drive drunk, and only a few drinks can make it dangerous to drive. Trust your gut; if you sense that the person driving the car has had too much to drink, find some other safe way to get where you're going. If you're already in a safe place, stay there.
When It's a Friend's Parent
Do you have a friend whose parent might have a drinking problem? Have you seen the parent drunk, or angry, or drinking a lot? Are there always beer cans or liquor bottles around your friend's home? Your friend might not be able to talk about it, but you should. Try these steps:
- Be there for your friend. Let your friend know that you will listen, and give support. Just lending a non-judging ear can be really, really important.
- Help your friend find help. Offer to go with your friend to talk to a teacher or counselor. Let your friend know that alcoholism can't be kept secret… he needs to tell someone so his parent can get help.
- If your friend refuses to talk to someone, do it yourself. Ask a school counselor or someone else you trust to step in and help. You may be worried that your friend will be mad at you for "intruding" -- and that might happen -- so it's up to you to decide on the right thing to do.
Next we talk about When Tweens and Teens Drink.