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"I live with an alcoholic mothere and it's like every day when she starts to drink I lose her, so everyday I am grieving. I am coping by going to group and individual counseling." High School Sophomore
"My dad is an alcoholic. I don't know how to deal with it but I try not to think about it because whenever I do I think about of death. I don't know what to do!" High School Senior
"what can I do when one of my family members drinks a lot? I am really worried and I cry about it a lot?"  High School Freshman
These are among the many notes I receive from students after I deliver my presentation, Teens Coping with Grief, Loss and Other Tough Stuff. 
A great web site with a lot of helpful information is:  www.nacoa.net   (National Association for Children of Alcoholics)
Here is a wonderful article by Claudia Black who has written much in the field of addiction in the past 30 years that you will find on www.nacoa.net:

Children of Addiction


Children Growing Up In Alcoholic Families  

  • 1 in 4 children in the US are exposed to alcoholism or drug addiction in the family.
  • These kids are at an increased risk for behavioral problems, physical illness, emotional problems and lower education performance (according to the US Department of Health and Human Services).
  • Children of addicted parents often worry, feel scared, anxious, angry and embarrassed.
  • Children see emotions explode very quickly.
  • Children see emotions implode and disappear as they get stuffed or avoided
  • What really matters tends to get ignored while things that don't matter become the focus
  • Families like this may have crazy behaviors occur which seem to go unnoticed.
  • Children's sense of "normal" gets distorted.
  • Feelings get hurt often, hearts are broken and families torn apart
  • The no talk rule, "don't talk about what happens at home" to anyone. Keep it a secret.
  • So instead of talking it out, children tend to "act it out".
  • Often trauma is part of the family cycle, which triggers the fight or flight response. The body gets flooded with adrenaline so that a person can prepare to flee for safety or stand and fight. When neither happens because fighting seems pointless and or when children feel trapped and can't flee, children will shut down or freeze. This helps to not feel so much pain, fear, rage and helplessness.
  • This freeze state is part of the trauma response. It is our body/mind system trying to preserve itself with too much emotion. Overtime these swings from feeling flooded to shutting down, become the central coping or operating system in the children.
  • Within these families is a lot of impulsive and rigid behavior.
  • There is a lot of despair and denial in the family and the children.
  • There are a lack of boundaries and/or disengagement. Each person retreats into his/her own world.
  • Members of the family may over function or under function. (the over functioning parent or child may be angry and resentful for all the extra work they feel they have to do, like take care of the addicted parent or cover up for him/her. This may also make a child want to appear "perfect" and want to overachieve.
  • Under-functioning happens when children feel discouraged.
  • Care-taking and neglect can both be present in such families. We may want to take care of everyone besides us. Children who grow up neglected often push away other potentially healing relationships.
  • Abuse and victimization are themes in these families. Abuse happens when feelings are acted out and not talked out. Since the family can't seem to process pain, anger, hurt, they are at risk for acting it out instead.
  • Balance in all of these above named areas can be achieved with help, support and through learning new skills and identifying behaviors and beliefs that do not work.
  • Emotional dysregulation is a strong price children often pay when growing up in addicted homes. 
There is help for emotional dysregulation and learning emotional regulation.  Through such things as:  as Ala-teen, Al-Anon, group therapy, individual counseling, meditation, yoga, massage, relaxation exercises, activities that soothe the emotional system and teach skills of mind/body regulation.

Has Your Life Been Affected By Someone Else’s Drinking?
Alateen Is for You!

Alateen is for young people whose lives have been affected by someone else’s drinking. Sometimes the active drinking has stopped, or the active drinker may not live with us anymore. Even though the alcohol may be gone, and the alcoholic gone or recovering in AA, we are still affected. Many of us have received help from Alateen or Al-Anon. The following 20 questions are to help you decide whether or not Alateen is for you.
1.Do you believe no one could possibly understand how you feel?    _____
2.Do you cover up your real feelings by pretending you don’t care?    _____
3.Do you feel neglected, uncared for, or unloved?    _____
4. Do you tell lies to cover up for someone else’s drinking or what’s happening in your home?    _____
5. Do you stay out of the house as much as possible because you hate it there? _____
6.Are you afraid or embarrassed to bring your friends home?    _____
7. Has someone’s drinking upset you?_____
8.Are mealtimes, birthdays, and holidays spoiled because of drinking or others’ reactions to the drinking?    _____
9.Are you afraid to speak up for fear the drinking or fighting will start again?_____
10.Do you think the drinker’s behavior is caused by you, other members of your fam- ily, friends, or rotten breaks in life? _____
11.Do you make threats such as, “If you don’t stop drinking and fighting, I’ll run away?”    _____
12.Do you make promises about behavior, such as I’ll “get better grades,” or “keep my room clean,” or “do anything you want,” in exchange for a promise that the drinking and fighting will stop?    _____
13. Do you feel that if the drinker loved you, she or he would stop drinking?    _____
14.Do you ever threaten or actually hurt yourself to scare the drinker into saying, “I’m sorry,” or “I love you”?    _____
15.Do you or your family have money problems because of someone else’s drinking?    _____
16. Are you scared to ride in a car with the drinker?    _____
17.Have you considered calling the police because of abusive behavior?    _____
18.Do you avoid dating or having close friends because they may find out about the drinking or fighting?    _____
19. Do you think your problems would be solved if the drinking stopped?    _____
20. Do you ever treat teachers, friends, team- mates, etc. unfairly because you are angry about someone else’s drinking?    _____
If you have answered yes to any of these ques- tions, Alateen may help you. You can con- tact Al-Anon and Alateen by looking in your local telephone directory or by writing to:
Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc.
1600 Corporate Landing Parkway
Virginia Beach, VA 23454-5617 Telephone: 757-563-1600 Fax: 757-563-1655
Web site: www.al-anon.alateen.org E-mail: wso@al-anon.org
For meeting information call: 1-888-425-2666 (1-888-4AL-ANON) (USA and Canada, Monday - Friday, 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. ET)
©Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 2000 22-150M-05-100/2.00    S-20    Printed in U.S.A.

Click here for AL-Anon and Alateen Meeting Lists for the US

Risk Factors for the Child/Teen of an alcoholic/addict:

Genetics:  Big debate for years over whether or not you can inherit the disease. Recent studies suggest that genetics accounts for 40-60 percent of the risk for developing substance abuse. If you have a parent who is an alcoholic, or other biological relative, you are more likely to feel a heightened sense of pleasure or elation and relaxation after drinking alcohol than someone who doesn't have alcoholism in the family. If you and a friend from a nonalcoholic family have identical blood alcohol levels, your friend may feel the effects of alcohol sooner than you. 

Your Family:  

Family dynamics may contribute to addiction. According to the Medical Council on Alcoholism, any of the following factors may increase the risk of psychological and social problems in kids, whether or not they have alcoholism in the family or not.

These may increase likeliness of developing an addiction:  

Specific Stressors:

  • parent's alcoholism
  • death of a parent
  • parent's unemployment
  • parents' divorce or separation
  • illness of a parent

Family Relationship Issues:

  • Can you depend on family members?
  • Is the family unhappy?
  • Do family members understand you?
  • If not, do they try to? 

Communication problems in the family:

  • Do family members talk about problems directly or only hint at them or avoid them?
  • Do family members show affection?
Conflict in the family:
  • Do family members criticize each other?
  • Fight a lot?
  • Ignore each other?
Mental Illness and Emotional Problems
Mental illness and emotional problems increase the risk for addiction. If you suffer from anxiety, depression, bi-polar disorder, or other mood disorders it is common to try to self medicate with alcohol or other substances. People who have social anxiety or who are very shy in social situations also may turn to alcohol or other substances in order to feel less self conscious in public.
Alcohol changes the brain chemicals and therefore may produce anxiety and depression. It is hard to know at times which came first: the addiction or the depression and anxiety?  Depression in users may also contribute to increase in relapsing, therefore it is crucial to also get the depression treated as well as the addiction. 
Some people have a dual diagnosis: substance abuse and mental illness. Their treatment is going to be a bit more complicated. The more serious the mental disorder, the more likely it is to feel a compulsion to use. Please seek help from a mental health professional. A comprehensive treatment plan is necessary in addition to self help groups such as the 12 Step programs that focus only on addiction.  


For Teenagers Living With a Parent Who Abuses Alcohol/Drugs  by Edith Lynn Hornik-Beer

When Parents Have Problems: A book for teens and older children with an abusive, alcoholic or mentally ill parent by Susan B. Miller

Beyond the Blues: A workbook to help teens overcome depression by Lisa Schab, LCSW

The Anger Workbook for Teens: activities to help you deal with anger and frustration by Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, MS

The Bipolar Workbook for Teens: dbt skills to help you control your mood swings by Sheri Van Dijk, MSW and Karma Guindon, MSW

The Anxiety Workbook for Teens: activities to help you deal with anxiety and worry by Lisa Schab, LCSW

Teens Write Through It: Essays from Teens Who Have Triumphed Over Trouble, Fairview Press

Kids Write Through It: Essays from Kids Who Have Triumphed Over Trouble, Fairview Press

CLEAN: A New Generation in Recovery Speaks Out by Chris Beckman, Former cast member of MTV's Real World: Chicago  (Recovery from a young addict's perspective). 

(973) 985-4503