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Family History




Should I tell my daughter that both of my parents were alcoholics? I am reluctant to do so because they both went into recovery just a little while after my daughter was born. They both passed away when my daughter was fourteen. They were wonderful grandparents and my daughter has such great memories of them.


My brother is an alcoholic and his son is well on his way. My son has seen many blowups between them and the rest of the family. He says that it really doesn’t matter what they do and that their behavior doesn’t have anything to do with him. My question is, is alcoholism genetic? Am I justified in being concerned about how their behavior may indicate a potential problem for my son?


I drank in college. I drank a lot. Should I tell my son? I feel like such a hypocrite when I tell him not to drink. I’ve actually had to ground him for doing something I did at his age.


My friends and I drank heavily while in college. When I think back to it I feel like I’m lucky to be alive. Drinking and driving, fighting, and all that stuff was the norm. Should I tell my son about that insanity?




My parents drink a lot, especially my father. I see what my father’s drinking is doing to my mother and I hate it. So I never drank  in high school. Actually, I don’t ever want to drink. Am I freaking out too much about this?


Alcoholism has the potential to destroy the basic fabric of family life. Impressing upon a teen the fact that a family history of addiction can have a major impact on other family members may present a very persuasive reason for that teen to choose abstinence or adopt low-risk drinking behaviors. Although a history of addiction is a difficult and often avoided topic, perhaps now, while your teen is still in high school, is the perfect time for that discussion.    


Alcoholism and the Family


 Alcoholism affects not just the alcoholic, but also the people around him. First of all, children of alcoholics have an increased biological risk for addiction to alcohol, and therefore need to be much more careful about their drinking choices. Second, the emotional pain associated with growing up in an alcoholic family can have serious deleterious effects on an individual that last even into adulthood.


Recent research indicates that many college students come from families that have experienced difficulties with alcohol or other drug use. Results of the 1997-1998 Core Alcohol and Drug Survey indicate that:


  • 5% of college students have a mother with an alcohol or other drug-related problem;

  • 15% of college students have a father with an alcohol or other drug-related problem;

  • 12.1% of college students have a maternal grandparent with an alcohol or other drug-related problem;

  • 11.4% of college students have a paternal grandparent with an alcohol or other drug-related problem;

  • 25% of college students have an aunt or uncle with an alcohol or other drug-related problem;

  • 9.8% of college students have a brother or sister with an alcohol or other drug-related problem.


Respondents to the survey were students who were able to identify family problems as being related to alcohol or other drugs. Based on my interaction with students, I’m sure many more are experiencing similar situations in the family but have not yet identified the issues as alcohol- or other drug-related problems.


The family of an alcoholic experiences many difficulties. In order to deal with these difficulties, many alcoholic families develop very similar behavior patterns, or unspoken rules: “Don’t talk. Don’t feel. Don’t trust.” These patterns are coping mechanisms for an impossible situation.


As a result, many students with a history of family addiction arrive at college with more “baggage” than is apparent. They may have difficulty confiding in close friends. Maybe they’ll jump from one bed to another searching for a meaningful relationship through a variety of meaningless sexual encounters. Maybe they’ll drown their fears and pain in alcohol and other drugs. Or maybe they’ll make the effort to grow while in college, despite their past difficulties.


Yes, children of alcoholics often experience difficult, even excruciating, family interactions and events. And yes, they can do something about it. They must realize that they can turn the page, that they can take control of their lives and cease being victims. As a matter of fact, now may be one of the best times to confront their issues, before they leave for college. Of course, it is easier said than done. Students from families impacted by addiction should be encouraged to join a support group, speak to a counselor, or talk to a friend.


Following are some special tips to help children of alcoholics.


  • Always set a good example for your children regarding the use of alcohol.

  • Encourage your children to talk with you about their problems and concerns.

  • Discuss ways your children can avoid drinking when they are feeling stressed or pressured by peers.

  • Talk with other parents about how they deal with the possibility of alcoholism in their family. A support group like Al-Anon provides one of the best opportunities for this discussion.

  • Learn the warning signs that indicate a teen may be drinking at a high-risk level and act promptly to address the behavior.



Full Disclosure?


The question often arises as to whether parents should reveal their own drinking behaviors while in college. As with many issues surrounding alcohol, there is no clear-cut answer. I believe that full disclosure is not necessary, but complete honesty is. There is no need to get into specific details. As a matter of fact, glamorizing past events and telling tales of drinking exploits can be harmful, so parents must be careful about the messages they send. But letting your son or daughter know that you engaged in risky behavior may be effective, and letting them know the consequences of previous heavy drinking can send a powerful message. This could become one of the most influential conversations you will ever have with your teens. If you do not drink and did not drink in college, let your teens know that and, more importantly, let thm know why. 


Keep in mind that the type of drinking you may have engaged in as a teen or while in college and your reasons for doing it are probably not the same as what students do today. As previously indicated, many of today’s drinking behaviors are not simply “rites of passage,” but are potentially deadly escapades.

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