Dear Alice,

(1) I have a daughter who just joined AA. She has a drinking problem. What are our responsibilities to her as a husband, father, mother?

(2) Should any alcohol be kept in her house or our house (we are the parents) when she is around?

(3) It has been said that alcoholism runs in families — is this true? Does it seem to skip generations? If so, why?

Dear Reader,

Coping with a family member who is in recovery for an addiction can bring up many questions and challenges: Can I trust them? Will they relapse? Is it okay to drink in front of them? Could this happen to other members of my family? And, as you suggested, addiction can run in families (more on this later). It's not unusual as a parent to want to do everything you can to make sure your child is successful in their efforts — even if this child is an adult. As a family, you can be supportive and encouraging (this could mean removing alcohol from your house for a while), but the person in recovery will ultimately be responsible for their own actions and behavior.

That being said, Reader, there are still several strategies that you can employ to assist and support your daughter, including:

  • Check in with her. She may find that talking through what she’s experiencing is helpful. You might ask: How are your meetings are going? Do you like the people you’re meeting with? How are the meetings helping you? Engage in conversation, but avoid nagging or intrusive questions. 
  • Be patient. Recovery can be a long process and relapse may happen.
  • Continue to support her participation in treatment or support groups. Celebrate her progress, milestones, and her continued commitment to stay in recovery.
  • Ask about what you and the family could be doing to offer her additional support.
  • Avoid covering up or making excuses for her behavior or her alcohol use.
  • If she chooses to use, don't join her, but also don't argue with her while she’s using. Folks who are intoxicated are unlikely to be able to engage in a reasonable conversation.

Adapted from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.

Now, in regards to your question about keeping alcohol around the house: consider your household's needs — maybe you don't really drink much at home, so giving away the few bottles you have on hand wouldn't make much of a difference. But, if you entertain company often, enjoy a glass of wine with dinner once in a while, or a beer with the barbeque, it's not unreasonable to want to continue doing these activities. Perhaps you can ask your daughter how she feels about having alcohol in the house. While it’s recommended that you keep alcohol out of the house for the first few months if your daughter is living there, it's also a good idea to engage her in an open conversation. Consider asking: Can I keep alcohol in the house, or is it better for you if I to remove it, for now? Would it be best if I ask others not to bring alcohol into the house? This allows her to be a part of the decision making process.

You've also asked about alcoholism running in families, perhaps skipping generations. This is a common concern among parents in your situation and long story short, research indicates that addiction can run in families. While scientists have not discovered a specific gene connected to addiction, there are several phenotypes, or genetic traits, that may influence a person's risk for dependence on alcohol. There’s also evidence from adoption and twin studies that a strong relationship exists between alcohol dependence and genetic tendencies. However, it might be helpful to know that there are also many other things that can influence risk for addiction (the person's environment including social and cultural influences, how their body reacts to alcohol, and their expectation of how alcohol will influence them), not just genetics. Just because there’s a family history of addiction, doesn’t mean the future generations will struggle with addiction. As for the possibility of dependence skipping a generation, this is a good question and one that may not have a complete answer. In addition to the factors that affect a person’s risk for dependence, it’s possible that you've not used alcohol in a high-risk manner, and therefore reduced the risk of developing dependence yourself.

While you’re thinking about supporting your daughter, it might also be helpful to get some more information and support for yourself and your family. You indicated that your daughter has been going to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. One option is to consider attending Al-Anon as your daughter attends AA. Al-Anon is an organization that provides support to the families and friends of people with drinking problems, through self-help groups modeled after AA and the twelve-step program. It might be beneficial for you and your family members to attend a meeting to talk with other people in similar situations — about your family dynamics, worries and fears, and many of the same questions you've asked here. All meetings and inquiries are confidential and are available all over the country. You might also be able to find assistance through local community centers, place of worship, or the help of a mental health professional. Take a look at How to find a therapist in the Go Ask Alice! archives for more information about locating a mental health professional near you. The following organizations may also be of help:

Your daughter has likely been through a lot and has worked hard already to seek the help and support she needs. You and your family can help her, as well as yourselves, by getting some assistance, too.

Alice!

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