Passing it on – will I have alcoholic children?

My biggest fear in life is that my kids will become alcoholics. This potential strikes me to the core and nags at me constantly. I recall a “talk” my dad had with me and my brother one day in the backyard – I was in high school. He was crying, telling us how he didn’t want us to end up like him. It was a pretty intense moment that left a huge gouge on my heart. I remember thinking how bad I felt for him, that he was so worried, but was impervious to his degree of fear. I was pretty damn sure we could handle ourselves and weren’t going to follow in his footsteps.

I can now relate to him in a fierce way and it scares the hell out of me. I’m desperate to control this outcome, however I realize I have NO CONTROL over much of anything in this world – except for one thing for sure – my sobriety. What I must focus on is staying sober, and then positively influencing my kids without being a freak about it. I have to somehow let go of this paralyzing fear and change gears. Having a plan certainly won’t erode my fears, but maybe it’ll decrease some of my anxiety about it all and better prepare us as parents for the road ahead. How depressing is it that I have to do this? It’s also infuriating, but a reality I just have to accept.

Alcoholic Genes

Are my kids destined to become alcoholics? Not necessarily, but their genetic risk is increased considerably, according to research. I have some close friends and family who have somehow managed to break that chain, even though it’s “in their blood” and has been a part of their lives since childhood. Research hasn’t given us solid answers, but alcoholism “experts” are agreeing that genes are responsible for about half of the potential alcoholic equation*. So, as I understand it, genes influence how a person metabolizes alcohol, as well as their temperament – which can make them more vulnerable toward alcoholism. How one’s brain reacts to alcohol and their personality traits aren’t really things we can change, anyway. Alcoholism has been known to run in families and children of alcoholics could very well be genetically pre-disposed, more vulnerable. BUT all of this genetic talk is about RISK, not impending doom. (I must repeat this over and over and over…)

Environment

In my opinion, at least half of the RISK equation of addiction exists because of poor coping skills and learned behavior – and is where I can make a difference as a parent.

Role Models

My alcoholic family

Typical family gathering at my Grandma’s house

Kids subconsciously model their parents’ and adults’ behavior. If their parents or close adults are frequent drinkers/partiers, they learn to model that lifestyle. Simple as that. It’s what they know. My parents and their family and friends were always drinking at every occasion, so it was the norm to me.

My little brother sampling some red beer...

My little brother sampling some red beer…

I got to taste my dad’s beer a lot when I was little. I really liked it. Some say that the age alcoholics get exposed to booze is a cause. I don’t know if that’s true, but either way I am uncomfortable with my kids tasting it at this point. My son has no business trying Daddy’s beer at 2 ½ (the other kid is a bun in the oven). When I’m faced with that possibility, the alcohol takes on even more of a personality and taunts me like a poison. I don’t know what age would seem right to let them try a sip. I certainly don’t want to forbid it forever, that doesn’t seem like a healthy approach. Plus, if I take my emotion out of it, realistically a taste won’t kill them. But that’s impossible to take the emotion away when my relationship with alcohol has altered my world in such a way. Obviously my husband and I need to further discuss this and figure out our approach, since he does have a few beers or a glass of wine regularly at home. Currently, it’s off limits to the kid and my husband completely supports my wishes. See – I’m already protecting my children with a different environment to grow up in…

The relationship between my mom and dad growing up was not always loving and harmonious. At times our home life presented us with underlying tension, anger and sadness – you can bet we picked up on it. Don’t get me wrong, we were pretty happy kids – it wasn’t THAT bad and we knew our parents loved us to the moon and back. But for many years my dad hid his alcohol, which was even worse because we all knew about it, but didn’t say anything – the shit that goes on with an alcoholic isn’t easily hidden – it’s like a silent scream. I know I’ll screw my kids up in some way, but I rest easier at night knowing they won’t be at greater risk for emotional and coping problems because I am no longer a “practicing” alcoholic. Our home environment is positive, supportive and nurturing (most of the time, we ARE real people!). Self-esteem, self-reliance, communication and trust are what we practice. We are providing a secure and stable home where our kids will hopefully be more selective about the choices they make and who they invite into their lives as they grow. They will know that their opinions and decisions matter to us all.

Everybody Else

At some point, all kids get exposed to drinking – as pre-teens or even earlier. If not at home, they’ll see it in commercials, movies, Web sites, phone apps, Facebook (half the shit on there is about partying) and hear about it in songs and at school, etc. – social media and entertainment are clearly targeting young people and doing a great job at it. So, how does one figure what’s real and what isn‘t – especially a kid? Is everyone really doing it? In elementary school, I somehow was under the impression that D.A.R.E wasn’t “cool” – WTF? This is where parenting steps in with consistent, positive, open communication. I don’t want to bad mouth alcohol, but I do want my kids to know their risks and to grow up knowing that what you see isn’t always what you get or what you should want.

PLEASE NOTE: I want to make it clear that my parents did the best with what they knew back then and I am grateful every day for my mom and dad. I don’t carry resentment toward either one of them for a damn thing – I have learned from some of their mistakes and will surely make my own.

The Hype

Is drinking fun? Hell yeah, it is! Why do you think so many people do it? Alcohol is amazing – it’s so easy to instantly bond with people, like you’re part of a cool club. It helps you relax and it takes you to a silly, warm place where inhibitions are low and the fun factor is high. What I wouldn’t give for a day of mental shut-down, sitting in a lawn chair in a river with the heat of the sun, a case of ice-cold beer and a bottle of my grandpa’s home-made “apple pie” (Everclear – like liquid apple pie – dangerous and oh, so delish). I get why it’s such a focal point, but I think that needs to change a bit – somehow. Along with the fun alcohol brings, there’s an even bigger dark side. The darkest of which is alcoholism, the number one drug problem in America with more than 20 million alcoholics**. It’s a HUGE issue in our society. We need more awareness and education out there so we can change the stigma and shame associated with it and be better able to recognize whether we are on that path – to make changes before things get a lot worse.

Bitter…party of one…

Whenever I hear people reminiscing together about their drunken moments or hangovers from hell, I become enraged inside. It no longer entertains or makes me laugh. There’s nothing funny about passing out on a germ-infested, pube-ridden bathroom floor after you’ve heaved for hours. There’s nothing funny about getting goofy, slurring, saying stupid shit or falling down in public, nor do I want to hear people brag about blacking out. Also, those Facebook and Instagram pictures showing friends taking shots, playing their 100th game of beer pong and getting shit-faced in general are really getting old – get over it and get back to freaking life, you idiots. I’m justified to feel that way now because I was one of them – my goal sometimes would actually be to blackout – and I thought I was cool because of it! My, how I’ve grown – still bitter, but I’ve grown. The general population of America is ignorant about the dangers of alcohol and alcoholism. I think a lot of it is because recovering alcoholics aren’t living out loud. By living out loud, I’m not necessarily telling people they can’t be “anonymous,” I’m just meaning to highlight that anyone can reach out, connect, learn, get sober and/or be effective on any level. And that’s my mission. I’m not claiming to know everything, but I’m dedicated to challenging the stigma, increasing awareness, and as always, connecting with people so I don’t feel so isolated all the time.

american-flag-drunkAmerican society

This country’s legislation approaches alcohol with fear, and the most destructive law in my opinion, seems to be the age requirement of 21. A man can defend and potentially die for his country, but we’ll go right ahead and arrest him for an MIP?! Woo! ‘merica! Something isn’t quite matching up there. Forbidding it isn’t the answer. I don’t know anyone that drinks, who didn’t drink before they turned 21. In fact, most of them drank well before I did around 13 or so! Yet, the 21-run is a major coming-of-age celebration. I remember the beginning of my 21-run…I spilled a shot on the table and sucked it up with a straw. Made it to 21 drinks, too. Only 3 were beers. That shit just isn’t necessary – where did we get the idea that it is? I know so many “problem drinkers” who are likely on alcoholism’s path and all I can do is watch. I think. They are as I was, programmed to believe that they don’t have a problem because they still have their jobs, family, friends – life is “normal.” Plus, everybody else is doing the same thing. This is where awareness about early stages of alcoholism needs to happen. And realistically, every person has the chance to become an alcoholic.

My husband insists that our kids partake in his “English heritage” and go to a pub for dinner, where they can have a beer when they’re 16 or so if they want. English pubs do feel completely different from American bars – families with kids and the general attitude give it a much more relaxed vibe. We went to the Matador (in America) the other night for some decent food and a beer for my husband, but they wouldn’t let our toddler in because technically the entire place was a bar. I don’t get it. Are we not trusted? Maybe we should pass a few more laws to control our people since they obviously can’t make decisions for themselves. Anyway, I get where my husband is coming from. I’m more concerned about my kids seeing either of our families drinking in excess and celebrating it – but I think we’ll be ok. I don’t think his family really “focusses” on drinking when they let loose, nor does mine (although I’ve had to decrease my exposure to much of my extended family to make that a possibility). We just can’t escape that societal push toward drinking to have fun. And it’s a myth that starting younger encourages moderation with alcohol. That said, a young person in a pub is exposed to that comfortable type of environment with a positive and healthy approach, I suppose. I’m curious about the “place” I’ll be in by the time that opportunity rolls around.

make better mistakes tomorrowMy Plan

My plan is to continuously communicate with my husband and come up with some rules for early childhood that we both feel comfortable with. We can graze over the pre-teen and teen years, but who knows how much that will change within the next 10-15 years within society, as well as research. The point is that we are both on the same page and focused on being better parents every day.

In the future I do intend to connect with my children’s friends and their friends’ parents and decide who I “trust,” never allow them to go to an unsupervised home or party and get them involved in extracurricular stuff – sports/music/whatever they want to do. It’s amazingly fulfilling being a parent, but it’s hard and I can bet it won’t get any easier.

I guess for now I’m ok. This cloud still follows me around, but I’ve got some great tools, a fab husband and a bright future in store for all of us. Day by day we shall go.

Thanks for your support, friends. I’m grateful to have this outlet and your ears.

* http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders/genetics-alcohol-use-disorders

** http://alcoholism.about.com/od/problem/a/blnih040802.htm (from 2004…I’m betting the # is much higher, as there are so many in denial)

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About SoberChrystal

Sobriety is exhausting...

6 Responses to Passing it on – will I have alcoholic children?

  1. Mona says:

    Very insightful. Thanks

  2. Laura says:

    I just look at is as I’ll save money, if it ends up being for college great, but it might end up being for treatment instead…

  3. Stacey says:

    Great article! Thanks again for sharing your views.

  4. Dorothy says:

    I always joke about Elliott’s treatment fund or picking out her sponsor. It’s a terrifying possibility, NOT a foregone conclusion, I had a tipping point, a point which I couldn’t come back…Well written, again Chrystal.

  5. Well, I’m coming from a religious background, but it is so easy to avoid alcohol all together when you are taught the reasons not to use it from a young age. I teach my children that we don’t ever drink it. I teach them that those who use it are not bad people and not to be judgmental just because we, as a family, choose not to. I teach them that the reason we don’t use it is because it limits our ability to make our own choices. When you are under the influence of any substance it can blur your judgement, and inhibit you from making clear decisions and from listening to the promptings of the Holy Ghost. It makes it so that they can’t tell the difference between right and wrong. It is a lot of work and you have to start them young. They won’t miss out on one thing by being raised not to consume alcohol. When they are 21 it becomes their choice, but until then I say NO SIPS, help them make great friendships, and teach them that despite your experiences, alcohol does not make life more fun or more enjoyable. It just makes it harder to fall into traps like addiction, drunk driving, sexuality before marriage, higher chance of rape, STD’s, car accidents, etc.

    I was a crazy teenager, and have had a FUN life and I never used alcohol. Its possible. 😉

    • Thanks for your response, Erin. I’m so glad you’ve found what works – I’m glad you have your family and church to identify with and support one another with big lifestyle choices, such as this. The family, friends and culture I’m surrounded with wouldn’t very well support that kind of black and white decision. I try to imagine how I would have responded to something like that when I was growing up and I think I would have been very conflicted and confused – my kids would likely end up feeling like everyone around them (including their dad) was either a hypocrite or a loser OR they’d feel deprived. I don’t want either of those outcomes, so I’m going to go the difficult route and work through all the shades of gray. Our home environment (my husband) is never over-indulgent with alcohol…and I’ve got the experience and knowledge to openly share…I think we’ll be a good example of balance and guidance on making good choices.

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