This week is Children of Alcoholics Week, which calls attention to the very real struggle that is having a parent with an alcohol or drug addiction.
Did you know that one out of four people under age 18 is exposed to alcoholism or drug dependence right in their own family? The most important thing to remember, especially when it’s a parent, is that their dependence is NOT YOUR FAULT.
Now that we have that one out of the way, check out our answers to other questions most commonly faced by teens in this situation.
1. Why don’t they get help?
It’s so hard for people to admit that they have a problem. And often, people don’t even realize, or want to realize, how much control drugs or alcohol have over their lives. They might be terrified of asking for help or dealing with life without drugs or alcohol.
2. Will it happen to me too?
Addiction to drugs and alcohol tends to run in families, so you could face a greater risk, which is worth keeping in mind. But, just as you aren’t doomed to suffer the same problems as your parents based simply on genetics, people with no family history of addiction also develop substance abuse problems. Your environment and other influences have a strong impact, so one of the most important things you can do to keep yourself healthy is to find healthy ways of coping with stress and other problems.
3. What can I do?
You can’t control what your parent does about his or her problem, but you can get help for yourself. Consider speaking with a trusted adult like a teacher, aunt or uncle, counselor or coach. They’ll be able to support you during this tough time. There are also many groups with trained professionals willing to help you and your family.
For more information and help, visit the National Association for Children of Alcoholics website or call the NineLine anonymous hotline – 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-999-9999. Your parent can also seek help by calling NCADI 1-800-788-2800.
4. Can I confront them about it?
NOT while they are under the influence, so plan ahead and wait for an opportunity to speak with them when sober.
Invite a trusted adult to be there with you, or seek their advice beforehand. A good place to start the conversation is by telling your mom or dad how you feel about their drinking or drug use. It’s OK to say it upsets you, but telling someone that what they’re doing is wrong or blaming them for everything that isn’t going right never works well. When people feel blamed, it tends to lead to anger, and shuts them off from really listening, and hearing what you have to say. Try your best to keep things calm, and focus on your feelings.
5. Will they get in trouble if I tell someone?
Your parent needs help from other adults and professionals who understand alcoholism and drug addiction. If you – or they – never speak up to ask for help, things aren’t going to change, and there’s a good chance they could get worse.
If you’re worried about getting your parents or yourself in trouble, make sure you speak with someone trustworthy and ask them to keep the information private.
Remember, there are a lot of other people dealing with this very same problem. You don’t have to feel alone. Reach out for help!