Q: My husband and I grew up in homes where alcohol abuse was significant. My husband is not in any way caught up with alcohol problems. I was not so fortunate. I am an alcoholic. I have been able to work through a treatment program and follow that with good support from our local Alcoholic Anonymous group. I have been sober for more than three years. My concern is our children. I have heard that alcohol problems are genetic and that our two children are at risk of becoming alcoholics. If this is true, what can my husband and I do to help our children sidestep what I see as a potentially huge problem in their lives?
A: You are correct that your children are at risk. Studies tell us that children who grow up in homes where alcohol abuse has been a problem are more likely to struggle with alcohol addictions than are other children.
The problems the children inherit are likely related to a combination of both their genetic predispositions to alcohol and those life experiences they pick up watching parents struggle with their own addictions.
Children do not necessarily in-herit the drive to have a drink, which is related to those life experiences such as going to parties or the bar. The genetic traits become an issue for them once they have a drink.
They find themselves unable to stop drinking until they are intoxicated, they crave more drinks later on and they are willing to sacrifice rewarding personal and family activities to have yet another drink.
You have two responsibilities as parents. The first is to help your children understand that they may have problems. They cannot assume that their abilities to abstain when alcohol is being served are as strong as those of other children.
Their best policy is to say no. They will be better off for it.
In the future, they need to do the same for their own children. It takes more than a single generation to challenge traits for alcoholism.
Your second responsibility is to inform your children about good treatment programs if they do get caught up in alcohol abuse. Tell them how much your treatment program helped you through your problems. What you have done is admirable and certainly worth sharing with the kids.
You and your husband do not need to be alone in this. Check in with your local Alanon group for suggestions. Many communities have programs to help children sidestep their parents’ addictions.