The following is the first in my series of resources and information on various topics for School Counsellors from A-Z.
1. What is Alateen?
Alateen is a group for children of alcoholics. Approximately 6.6 million children under the age of 18 in Canada live in a home with at least one alcoholic parent. So when discussing this with students you can assure them they are not alone, although to them it may feel like it. Children of alcoholics often hear the messages don’t talk, trust or feel. School Counsellors can help these young people change those messages. Here are two great videos about how Alateen can help.
One teens story:
I was so scared at home. I never knew if my dad would be drinking when I got home from school. Actually I never knew what to expect. Mom was always threatening to leave dad and all four of us (my brother and sisters) would often line up at the door to leave, but we never did. None of my teachers ever knew that there was alcoholism in my home. They often told me how lucky I was that I must have had great parents. I guess that was because I behaved so well in school, trying to be the perfect child so no one would find out my secret.
I was embarrassed and ashamed that my dad drank too much. I was also angry a lot (meaning almost every day) . I was angry with both my mom and my dad. Sometimes I was angrier with my non alcoholic mom because I did not understand why we stayed and put up with the drinking. I saw her reaction to his drinking and that had an impact on me.
Often times I would also throw my dad’s alcohol down the sink or hide it around the house so he could not find it. Little did I realize that doing that was just making me sick emotionally. I often felt irritable and unreasonable, but I never knew why. I was in denial about alcoholism being in my family.
Here is a journal entry I wrote in the first few weeks I decided reluctantly to go to Alateen, because I thought it was their problem, not my problem.
“ I wish I could work out my problems. I hope Alateen will help. Mom really doesn’t care about anyone but herself (at least that what she’s pretending to do). I think she needs me as much as I need her, but how do we solve this problem? I depend on mom and dad. I am not mature. I get mad at every little thing without wanting to. I hope Alateen will help with this too. I would try to help myself if I knew how. I remember thinking about killing myself, but I would never go through with it because I was too scared and I did not want to really.”
I’m so grateful I did not go through with harming myself because Alateen did work. Actually my whole family got help. I learned everything I could about how alcoholism affects families and things slowly, but surely got better and better. I recognize that alcoholism affects everyone in the family each to a different degree. Today, I look for the good in everyone and everything. I recognize that I don’t know where I would be today if it were not for Alateen. If you are a teen living with a parent who drinks too much Alateen can help. Reach out!!
There are young people we see in our offices with similar stories. Children of alcoholics often keep their parents drinking a secret, but teachers and School Counsellors can often spot that something is wrong and reach out to these students. Sometimes students show up in our offices sad and scared because mom or dad had been drinking on the weekend and they are feeling helpless and hopeless. Recommending Alateen can help. As School Counsellors we can identify these children using CAST Children of Alcoholics Screening Test.
You as a School Counsellor should not underestimate your ability to have a life long impact on children who are living with a loved one with an addiction. You may be the first person in this child’s life that they have felt safe enough to share what is happening . You may be the one to give them permission to share openly what they have been feeling and going through. This can be life changing.
Things children of alcoholics need to know:
- They are not alone
- Their parents drinking is NOT their fault. They did not cause it ,they cannot control it and they cannot cure it.
- Alcoholism is an illness. You do not need to feel ashamed.
- Alcoholics can and do recover.
- There is hope and help for alcoholics and their family.
- They can live a happy and productive life whether their parent is drinking or not.
- They can be resilient.
- They need to understand alcoholism. If their parent had diabetes they most likely would learn all they could about the disease. They can learn and understand about alcoholism as well.
- The only person they can change is themselves.
- It is not a dishonour to their mom and dad to talk and tell the truth.
- Reaching out takes courage and strength.
- You as the School Counsellor are there for them.
Sentence Completions for Children of Alcoholics:
- As a child of an alcoholic I …
- I feel …
- I wish …
- I want my mom …
- I want my dad …
- I wish …
- I plan to …
- I want to change …
- I need to learn to …
- It would help me if I …
- Kit for students
- NACOA National Association for Children of Alcoholics
- For those young people who cannot make a group meeting Alateen has an online chat which you can find by clicking here.
- 10 ways to help children of alcoholics
- Books for COA’s
- A haiku deck that you can use to get the conversation started
Soft is the heart of a child . As a School Counsellor you can make a difference in the life of a child dealing with addictions . I am sure many of you already do. Please keep up the life saving work.
Please stay tuned for my next Counsellor Talk on Bullying.