What children of alcoholics need to know

Children of alcoholics get the short end of the stick. During a parent's active alcoholism. they live in an environment of chaos and unpredictability. At too young an age they are asked to cope with situations few, if any, adults could manage. If a parent is fortunate enough to find recovery the best many children can hope for is benign neglect. The idea is that children's trauma. misperception and developmental deficits will disappear as the parents pursue their own recovery. The kids should be grateful that the parent is sober. believe that the past is best left in the past and move on.

There are many reasons children of alcoholics don't get help. The overwhelming majority of alcoholism treatment programs don't provide services for them. Last year in Onondaga County less than 10 children of alcoholics were admitted for services in chemical dependency facilities.

Over a half million children in New York state live in alcoholic families. Unfortunately, schools and prevention programs make no real effort to identify and help them. Even though over 20 % of our students are from alcoholic families, it appears as if it's a taboo topic. There's a "through the looking glass" logic to this approach. The largest population in need of alcohol prevention is ignored and millions of dollars are spent as if these kids don't exist.

This isn't just a question of kids having to deal with a tough situation until they're old enough to leave home. If it was it would just be another story of bureaucratic and systemic failure. What borders on moral failure is failing to act on the most significant fact we know about children of alcoholics. Children of alcoholics develop alcoholism at a rate that is 400% greater than the general population. Sons of alcoholic fathers develop alcoholism at an approximate rate of 50%. Adoption studies show children of alcoholics develop alcoholism at a higher rate even if they are not raised by their biological parents. The deck is stacked against them.

It's a shame that few of these children are provided with this information: "If you don't drink you won't have the problems your mom or dad has. If you do start, there's no guarantee you won't wind up even worse. You can't develop alcoholism if you don't start drinking!" This approach removes any question of morality, responsibility or will power. These kids need to know from an early age "The way your body is made, it's not worth it to take the chance and begin drinking".

Many illnesses run in families and as a simple matter of course members either avoid certain things or make sure to do certain others. Alcoholism should be no different. It's about biology rather than values; health rather than culture; genetics rather than adolescent angst.

How in good conscience can we spend millions of dollars on prevention in our communities and not focus on these children? Even if we can't help them in any other way at least we can give them accurate information. Once they are informed and encouraged, they then hold the power to break the generational cycle of alcoholism.

I think the professionals are more afraid to be honest than the children. In an environment where they have so little control. not drinking alcohol is one of the things they can control They just need to be told why.