My family member is an alcoholic, where can I get support?
1) Dear Alice —
Are there any adult children of alcoholics groups on campus?
2) Dear Alice,
My father is an alcoholic and I've been told that I should stay away from drinking altogether. I'm a freshman this year and it seems like most of my friends always want to go to keg parties or hang out and drink. Sometimes I drink with them, but then I feel guilty and worried afterwards as I think about my dad. It's hard to avoid alcohol here, but I don't want to follow in my father's footsteps either. Any advice or support you can give would help. Thanks.
— Southern Comfort
Dear Seeking and Southern Comfort,
Kudos to both of you for reaching out for support. Using alcohol is part of a lot of cultures, which may make it a difficult area to navigate, especially if you deal with past familial experiences of misuse and abuse. Those who grew up with parents or guardians who struggle with substance use—adult children of alcoholics (ACA)—may also feel responsible, in some part, for the addiction and can experience fear, anxiety, or anger during their childhood. It's not uncommon for ACA’s to develop certain behaviors, such as people-pleasing or approval-seeking, in response to a parent's alcoholism. Luckily, there are many ways to manage these thoughts and behaviors, and it’s possible you may even be able to develop a more balanced relationship with alcohol use.
Some children of alcoholics may feel comfortable drinking in moderation and can maintain boundaries with alcohol. Others, however, may feel more comfortable in the decision not to drink. Being sober curious—the act of becoming aware of your drinking habits and understanding why you may be drinking alcohol in that situation—may also be another pathway you choose to explore. Ultimately, the choice is yours, and reflecting on your relationship with alcohol may allow you to choose what works best for you.
There are resources specific to those who may be impacted by a loved one’s substance use. One such group is Al-Anon. They outline steps to embarking on your own recovery journey. They recommend beginning with the. Three C’s: I didn’t cause the addiction; I can’t control the addiction; I can’t cure the addiction. By recognizing that addiction is a disease and not a choice, you might begin to challenge your thoughts and feelings about the situation you grew up in. It may also be helpful to think about some of the following questions: How does alcohol influence your lifestyle today? How do you feel about substance use? Southern Comfort, you mentioned feeling guilty after having a drink with your friends and that you don’t want to follow in your father’s footsteps. Do you feel comfortable drinking or feel as if you must drink because others are? In what ways do you think substance use has influenced your relationships and social interactions?
If you do decide to distance yourself from alcohol, there are many strategies you may choose to employ that can help you maintain both your boundaries and your social life.
- Speaking with your friends and family. Having an honest conversation with your friends and family about your boundaries surrounding alcohol may be beneficial, as they can provide you with support.
- Having a plan. Preparing yourself for people’s reactions and having a few go-to responses may be beneficial in certain situations. Sayings like “I’m sober curious” or “I’m not interested in drinking tonight” may offer truthful responses while maintaining your privacy, depending on what you’d like to share.
- Swapping to a non-alcoholic drink. There are many drink options available, like mocktails, water, or non-alcoholic spirits, to have in your hand that can both refresh you and keep others from prying.
- Trying new things with your friends. Going places that have limited to no alcohol available, like museums or parks, provides opportunities to maintain your social life without the presence or pressures of drinking that a bar or restaurant may have.
- Repeating self-affirmations. Phrases such as “I am allowed to enjoy things for myself” or “I am in control of my own life” may also help boost your self-confidence in social situations.
Seeking, there may be a variety of support groups that exist for people who are facing challenges with alcohol both on- or off-campus in your area. One way to find services is to check out the Adult Children of Alcoholics Service to find services nearby. There are also other resources, like Al-Anon Family Groups, and the National Association for Children of Alcoholics that offer support for partners, siblings, and children of all ages of family members with alcoholism. If you’re looking for groups that are specifically campus-affiliated, another option may be to check out your school’s mental health services. You may also consider speaking with a health promotion specialist or health care provider; they can often help you define your goals regarding alcohol use.
Good luck finding the support that’s right for you!
Originally published Sep 01, 1993
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