Article: Alcohol and Kids

TYPICAL FEELINGS OF A CHILD: angry, fearful, unwanted, devalued, forgotten, neglected, misunderstood, lonely, hopeless, helpless, frustrated, abandoned.

TYPICAL BELIEFS OF A CHILD: “This is how I cope with my unwanted feelings.”  “I’m doing what my parents do.”  “My situation is hopeless.”  “No one really cares about me.”

TYPICAL ACTIONS OF A CHILD: a change in friends–from positive to negative, refusal to follow authority requests or rules, withdrawal from family, an exterior mask of pseudo-sophistication, sadness, being the clown.

TYPICAL FEELINGS OF AN ADOLESCENT: not accepted, misunderstood, unwanted, devalued, frustrated, lonely, abandoned, forgotten, helpless, hopeless, angry, fearful.

TYPICAL BELIEFS OF AN ADOLESCENT: “This is an acceptable way to cope with unwanted feelings and beliefs.”  “No one really understands me.”  “No one really cares about my problems.”  “My situation is hopeless.”  “Alcohol isn’t as bad as using drugs.”

TYPICAL ACTIONS OF AN ADOLESCENT: angry, sad, party animal, withdrawn, loss or change of friends, comments about “who cares” and “suicide.”  Can seem to be popular within peer group, or estranged from peer group, grades fall, communication with parents’ decrease.

Brief Summary:

Research thus far has not concluded that there is a genetic link between the use and abuse of alcohol within the familial genetic structure.  It has also not been proven that the initial use of alcohol is related to brain chemistry.  A child or adolescent does not use alcohol because they have an innate/biological  drive to drink alcoholic beverages.

We know that we are recognizing, in this country, alcohol usage at a younger age.  Typically, children who use alcohol have one or more parental figures using alcohol.  Also, children who use alcohol have feelings and beliefs directed related to their relationship with their parents.

Children see one or both parents as using alcohol to cope with stress or the management of feelings, and therefore it becomes a family trait to use alcohol to cope with the problems of life.  This type of mimicking behavior is directly related to the cultural and family expectations and norms for coping with the problems of life.  Children and adolescents mimic their adult role models in how to manage feelings.  Alcoholic using parents often create alcoholic siblings, even when that sibling understands all too well the negative impact alcohol has on the family.
Recent studies have shown that children and adolescents who use alcohol most likely began their usage of drugs through the initial use of tobacco products.  Tobacco is called a “GATEWAY DRUG.”  This is because from the initial use of tobacco products, it appears to be a major opening of a “GATEWAY”  into the use of alcohol and drugs.  There is a high correlation between tobacco usage, alcohol usage, and cocaine usage.  Adolescents do not appear to stop at the usage of one substance, but rather continue to use a variety of substances to cope with their feelings and beliefs.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that treatment programs that use cognitive therapies have a lower rate of recidivism than other treatment modalities.  Cognitive therapy essentially helps the person to explore their beliefs and feelings and relate that to their choices for behaviors.  Adolescents can use this type of therapy extremely well.  They really do want to be honest with what they are experiencing, and with professional guidance can achieve an understanding of themselves and their relationship to others in an insightful manner.  This type of understanding can then be used to actually change old, negative beliefs to current helpful beliefs, which automatically changes feelings and behaviors.  This type of change is typically a sustaining change that helps the adolescent to achieve success after he or she leaves a treatment program or outpatient therapy.
Children, who use tobacco, alcohol or other drugs, need to have school, community, and professional intervention.  These children are responding to something within the family home that is very distressful to them.  Parents often minimize their child’s usage of alcohol, by rationalizing that the child is acting “just like” a father/mother/grandparent/older brother/etc.  Some parents believe that the use of alcohol by a child is somewhat amusing or “cute.”  Again, the use of a family tradition that is based on expectation for how the child copes with adversity. Intervention for the child who uses alcohol must include the family, if the child is to change his behaviors and responses to the family.  A child can not be successful without a significant change in his emotional  and living environment.
Adolescents are also great mimes of their parental role models.  In addition to childhood beliefs, an adolescent will typically believe that he or she will follow the negative parental role model.  That the adolescent’s life is already destined for them, and they don’t have a choice in accepting or rejecting alcohol in their lives.  An adolescent using alcohol is an adolescent who is struggling with feelings of acceptance, security, value, and worthiness.  In our culture, it is extremely rare to find an adolescent who begins and continues the use of alcohol without it having a negative impact on his or her life.  Addiction is quite easily attained at early ages of usage.
If we are to protect our children from alcohol usage and abuse, we must recognize how our culture’s wrongful use of alcohol has impacted on our children.  As parents and community participants, we need to change our own beliefs about the role of alcohol in our lives.  Alcohol is not a substitute for coping appropriately with feelings and beliefs.  Alcohol is a drug that if not used carefully, will promote both emotional and physical ill health and possibly death.

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