Thursday, October 26, 2006

Alcohol Use: Facts, Feelings and Family

One evening 13 years ago, Jon, Kenny, Blake and I sat down for a celebratory dinner. I had just found out that I was pregnant (with Janet). We toasted – the boys with their milks and Jon and me with a glass of beer. Blake, then 9, stopped us mid-toast and cried, “Mommy! You can’t drink beer when you’re pregnant! Stop it!”

“You’re right, Blake,” I replied sheepishly, and I put my glass down and pushed it to the center of the table. Kenny, then 7, quickly picked it up, and before we knew it he had taken a sip.

“Ahhh,” he said, “When I grow up I want to be a drunk!”

We all laughed a horrified laugh, but nobody was more horrified than me, who – at that point – was steeped deep in denial that I might actually be a “drunk,” an alcoholic, and, coming from a childhood where one of my parents was an alcoholic, I certainly didn’t want one of my children becoming one.

Fact: Children of drinking parents are less likely to see drinking as harmful and are more likely to start drinking earlier.

Fact: Alcohol is the number one drug of choice among our nation’s youth.

These facts, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, have been facts long before they were seriously looked into and surveys were taken. But that doesn’t lessen the truth. And the truth is certain students at Saxe, the high school and even the private schools in town, experiment with and/or use alcohol. Some of their parents know it and many haven’t a clue.

I have shared in this column before about how I am like white on rice with my kids about alcohol use and abuse. I easily and instinctively discovered Kenny’s hiding places for booze back in high school, and lectured and still lecture him and Blake about drinking and driving. Janet is in sixth grade and I weekly remind her that she shouldn’t smoke a cigarette or drink alcohol just because a friend might offer either one. I am hyper-vigilant because I am a recovering alcoholic and of course do not want to see any of my children tailspin into abuse and dependency on alcohol.

Does that fact mean that my children might be spared? Of course not. Will a non-alcoholic parent be spared a child using alcohol or drugs? Of course not as well.

Parents can exert a moderating influence on the drinking behavior of their adolescent children by monitoring their own alcohol use and that, too, is a studied fact. It might also be helpful to reach back into your memory of your own drinking or drugging history from high school in the 70’s or ‘80’s (if you had one) and use that knowledge to be aware of where your child might be hiding the evidence or where he or she might choose to use right there in your own home.

Jon caught Kenny and a buddy red-handed several years ago in our basement crawl space. We are moving into a new home and I have already done some reconnaissance work on key locations on our property and in the home where secret drinking could occur (and according to the previous owner, did occur when her kids were teens.)

Feeling: This knowledge may or may not prevent my younger children from taking a drink or two in the woods of Waveny or at a home with absent parents or in a bathroom stall at school.

But we are luckier than our own parents were because we are armed with the facts. We have organizations such as New Canaan CARES at our beck and call. And we should charge ourselves with acting upon those statistics and in making sure that we equip our offspring with consequences.

I have heard it is best not to engage a drunken child (or adult) with those punishments, those consequences, when they are in an inebriated state. Save it for morning when the natural consequences are raging around in their head and their body and remorse is more easily available. I certainly wish that had been so for me back in high school. As it was, neither parent made a peep, and it is only by grace that I am still here to tell the story.

Spring fever is in the air. Remember how that felt when you were a teenager, and try not to be too smug if you didn’t use or abuse alcohol; your child isn’t you. And knowledge is power.

No comments: