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Monday, September 6, 2010

The World You Grow Up In Can Take a Potential Alcoholic and Change their Lives

I got drunk at 13. Why? My mom died, my father disappeared into a new marriage and I had no one. I thought alcohol could help. Instead I got violently ill and threw up down my boyfriend's shirt. I did drink again, many times when I was young. But I never wanted to throw up so I cut myself off when I'd had too much. My environment didn't improve, in fact it got worse. But my body said "No Way."

The role of the environment you grow up in should not be underestimated in its power to convince kids alcohol can make them feel better. When you talk to alcoholics they describe this moment when they took their first drink and everything became crystal clear. They were comfortable. There lives suddenly made sense. The feeling was overwhelming.

Wonder why even though there are several alcoholics in a family, some family members don't have an alcohol problem?

Researchers found even if there is a genetic pre-disposition towards alcoholism in a family, environmental factors can help reduce the lure of liquor. Love, attention, support and family meals - those all matter. Kids who lived in rural areas, perhaps because they spent more time with their parents, were at lower risk than those who lived in urban areas.

Researchers used data from Finn Twin12, a study that followed more than 5,000 twins ages 12-18 in Finland. They found that girls who had behavioral problems at 12 were much more likely to start drinking by age 14. A lot of the times the bad behavior came from a reaction to family problems.

My closest friend comes from a family of drug abusers and alcoholics. Her father was an alcoholic, her brother is an alcoholic. Her sister got AIDS in the early years of the epidemic from sharing needles and died in her early thirties. She was a heroin addict.

Yet my friend barely drinks. In this case, she overcame an environment that was destined to turn her into an alcoholic. Instead she went to college and graduate school. She is now a nurse practitioner who spent five years in the Peace Corps in some of the most remote places on earth. She works in a hospital and a doctor's office. She has tried to help her brother with little success. Her parents are gone.

What saved her? She was the oldest. She got the most support early on. She had her mother and stepfather in her corner. She also had a network of close friends who were there for her when she needed them. And she couldn't bear the thought of turning into her father.

What can you do? Get your kids help. The school counselors are ridiculously overworked but they will make time if they know the issue is serious. There are support groups for kids whose parents have died or are getting divorced. Many have sliding scale rates.

What your children need to know if there are emotional upheavals in your family is that they're not alone. Help them understand that.