Addiction and the Family (cont.)

MEMBER QUESTION:
I've watched my four adult children deal with the effects of my alcoholism. It's not been easy for them, but I am very proud of how they're managing to lead productive lives. As the adult daughter of an addict, what specifically have you done to keep yourself clean and maintain a healthy perspective?

FORD BALES:
One would be continue to go to Al-Anon or therapy or whatever to deal with issues that continue to come up. Also, knowing that I am not in charge of my mother's sobriety, that is her responsibility. My mother and I are both micromanagers, so part of it is separating that. I think education plays a major role in healthy living in every aspect of your life.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Could you tell us more about how family involvement helps ensure long-term recovery?

WAITE-O'BRIEN:
What is likely to have happened is that the family has become overinvolved in the person's life. When they get treatment, they then begin to understand that they need help themselves, and it shifts the focus away from the alcoholic so that person can get help, too. Without that kind of treatment, there tends to be people blaming one another, telling one another what to do, and that leads to a lot of unhappiness. In short, it teaches the family member not to enable the alcoholic.

FORD BALES:
I would agree with everything Nancy said. When I went to family myself, it was an incredible learning experience about what alcohol and drugs do, and why the person behaves the way they do. Also, the family usually is in major denial -- we need to get our own heads clear about what is really going on.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I am the mother of three daughters ages 21, 18, and 11 and the ex-wife to their father who has a cocaine addiction. He is now incarcerated and is facing time in prison. What can I do to help my children with this painful struggle and the continuing disappointments from their father? The emotional damage that they are going through seems unbearable.

WAITE-O'BRIEN:
Again, I'd recommend Al-Anon.

FORD BALES:
Alateen, also. The piece of information you could share with your daughters is that if he could do it differently, he would. But this disease is so powerful everything he does is driven by his need to find more cocaine. So he can't do anything else. His true love is the drug. If they can be sympathetic towards him, they'd probably feel less pain.

"Genetics is a predictor, but it doesn't determine the outcome. That means that having a parent that's alcoholic increases the likelihood that the child is an alcoholic, but it doesn't mean that they will be."

MEMBER QUESTION:
I am an only child and almost 41. My parents divorced when I was 18. My mom is a severe alcoholic. I married an alcoholic and drug addict and was with him for almost 20 years. I do not understand why so many people say that "I am this way because my mom was." Everyone tells me that I will be an alcoholic because my mom is. I believe in my heart that we all have choices to make and I do not like to drink. I do not like the way it makes me feel. My mom says she is this way because her father and grandfather were alcoholics. How do I respond to people always telling me if I have a drink I will end up like my mom?

WAITE-O'BRIEN:
Genetics is a predictor, but it doesn't determine the outcome. That means that having a parent that's alcoholic increases the likelihood that the child is an alcoholic, but it doesn't mean that they will be.

It sounds like what happened instead is that you are more comfortable in a relationship with an alcoholic, and that's what you learned from your mom. It is the mirror image -- still being impacted by addiction, still being impacted by the family side of it.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Do children of alcoholics stay completely away from alcohol as they grow? Or do they tend to go down the same road? Is it important that they get more help themselves as they reach the legal drinking age? What can we do to assure they don't "get" the disease?

WAITE-O'BRIEN:
Some children of alcoholics don't drink at all, and some will drink and become alcoholics. In a third group, they are able to drink socially. So it's hard to predict.

It is helpful as the child grows that they get help and support if they have grown up with alcoholism so they can understand how much they were impacted by the disease. There is no way to keep someone from being an alcoholic. The best thing is to provide a lot of information and support, and a general understanding that if the disease emerges, to get help.

The best prevention for children of alcoholics is to see their parent get sober.

FORD BALES:
From my own experience, I have talked to my girls and stepsons constantly about the disease. It's not something we've hidden. We've educated them that there is the genetic link but that's not always the determining factor.

Also, having watched college kids in today's society, there is a whole lot more education out there, but I think sometimes you're talking to a deaf ear, and I don't know the solution to that.

"For women, there's a great amount of secrecy involved in their addiction. That occurs because our culture is less accepting of a woman's drinking or drug use."

MODERATOR:
The Betty Ford Center offers gender-specific treatment. Why is this so important in the recovery process and how does treatment differ for men and women?