While researching my book, Delaying that First Drink: A Parents' Guide, I went to the 2009 meeting of the International Conference of Young People in Alcoholics Anonymous (ICYPAA). More than 2,200 people spent a holiday weekend talking about alcohol, prayer, why they no longer drink, and the 12 Steps they all believe saved their lives.
They told family stories that could make you cry -- of alcoholic or drug addicted parents, or drinking to feel better and in many cases as they put it just to “feel normal.” Others talked of families with one or two loving parents in what they considered a good home, and sneaking alcohol from a young age.
The majority of those I met and listened to:
• Started drinking in middle school or the first year of high school. Ages ranged from nine (drinking vanilla extract from the kitchen cabinet) to 14 (when alcohol and drugs became easier to get)
• Had problems with multiple addictions to alcohol and drugs
• Came from families with a history of alcoholism and drug addiction
• Felt awkward or different from other children all through school, didn’t have many friends, and describe their first drink as making all of that go away.
These meetings are held under a veil of secrecy (only first names and last initials are used). What's cathartic is finding others who share the same experiences as you. Some of the people I talked to were sober for a year or two - others for decades. What they share is the experience and the desire to stay that way.