Family

Parents Who Drink Too Much

If you recognize these signs — this is your wake-up call

You’ve been dismissing the signs. You wake up with a pounding headache from your weekly (or even daily) hangover. You’re shaky. You lose track of how many drinks you’ve had at various social functions.

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Sure, you’re still packing the school lunches, monitoring homework, and doing so much else around the house — but you’re on autopilot. And finally you realize: Something is wrong. The blunt truth is that even highly functioning alcoholic parents can leave scars on children that last a lifetime.

On one Internet forum about alcoholism, a member wrote: “I drink and have kids; many of my friends do. Some of us might be considered alcoholics by the frequency and amount we drink. It is really common, at least in my circle, that moms drink wine every night, even several glasses. I know many men do the same, or with beer after a long day.”

As a Maryland woman in her 50s told LifeZette, “Still today, I am jumpy when people drink too much, because my father would go from a loving teddy bear of a person at a party to a brute at home after too much scotch — demanding, volatile, then just messy. I saw him one too many times passed out on the bathroom floor. Those memories and the damage to my nerves may never leave me —and I have to live with that.”

[lz_bulleted_list title=”Ask Yourself These 6 Questions” source=”addictioncampuses.com”]Am I drinking to get drunk?|Do I drink to feel better?|Does my drinking have consequences?|How do I look and feel afterward?|How is my job performance?|Am I really ‘present’ for my spouse and children?[/lz_bulleted_list]

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So how do you know if you or someone you care about is a functioning alcoholic?

Rich Kieling, a clinical therapist and co-founder of the Center for Personal Growth and Creativity in New York, helps clients with addictive behaviors. “Even if you don’t have words for it, you know when something is happening that has reached the level of addiction,” he told LifeZette. “Observe the behaviors. For many with a problem, it’s not how much they drink, but the way they use alcohol, and when they use alcohol, as well. It’s different for everyone,” he added. “Some use alcohol when they’re depressed, and some use it to amp themselves up. There are so many different layers to alcoholism.”

How do you approach someone you love — someone you think may be an alcoholic?

“Put things on the table,” advised Kieling. “Try to say something like, ‘Look, it seems to me that you maybe are using alcohol in a way that’s not healthy. I care about you, and I just want to put it out there, and have you know I’m available to talk with you about it.'”

Don’t hit a friend or loved one over the head with the possibility they have a problem. Otherwise they’ll likely shut down on you — and themselves.

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“You don’t want to be accusatory. You have to be very careful,” said Kieling. “The person who is drinking or drugging, unless the bottom has completely fallen out, doesn’t want to see the mirror that is going to reflect their dysfunction, so you want to be really careful not to be that mirror. Instead, try, ‘You mean a great deal to me. I just want us to be able to talk about it. Is that OK?’”

What if the functioning alcoholic does not see a problem?

“Denial is an amazing thing,” Kieling said. “A lot of people will say denial is lying, but it’s not — it’s denying a problem even within yourself. It may be so hidden you don’t want to see it. The right talk from someone who cares can touch that piece deep within yourself.”

If someone is putting others in danger, it’s more urgent to address the problem head on, said Kieling. If a parent is driving kids around while drunk and putting their own children and others at risk, a direct, more aggressive tactic is needed to keep everyone safe.

To treat alcoholism, Kieling strongly recommends a 12-step program, although it depends on the level of the problem and the person’s readiness. Can this person accept the consequences of his actions? Can he accept the possibility he may have a drinking problem? Some people may need therapy along with a program, which Kieling recommends, while some may need rehab.

“Alcoholics are amazing, many of them. They can really hold their liquor,” said Kieling. “That’s sometimes the mark of a good alcoholic. Often you can’t tell. They’re maintaining careers and family lives, or at least they seem to be.”

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A 12-step program is not treatment, advised Kieling, as it is not run by therapeutic professionals. It is, instead, a self-generating program run by those who have already struggled with alcohol. It’s “remarkably effective. It’s the best thing there is to not engage in the behavior, and also to find alternative behaviors that fill the void.”

There is a big difference between abstinence and sobriety, noted Kieling.

“Abstaining is just plugging the jug, which in program is called ‘white-knuckling.’ It means hanging on, hoping you don’t give up. Sobriety, on the other hand, is replacing drinking with healthy behaviors with the support of those who are on the same path with you.”

The gift you give your children of being truly present in their lives — and in your life as well — should be worth the struggle.

Consider the words of some anonymous Internet commenters who have shared the pain from childhood they cannot leave behind:

“A chaotic drunk is murderous to a child’s soul. My grandmother was one. I was around a lot of very mean drunks as a kid. I recall going to parties where people got [drunk] and fights broke out. That is very scary to a child. I was ‘very’ lucky my parents didn’t drink, nor did their friends to any noticeable degree.”

Added this anonymous poster, “My parents were abusive enough without drugs and alcohol.”

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