This morning I FaceTimed my son to see how he was enjoying his Easter break away with his father (my ex). They have gone interstate, to a car show — an event that I had always insisted neither of my children would ever attend. But this year, a little boy, desperate to spend as much time with his father as possible, nagged me into allowing him to go. After our FaceTime conversation, I have realised that my initial feelings towards this event (and others like it), were founded.
‘How’s your holiday going, mate?’ I asked him. ‘Yeah good’, he replied — with the usual enthusiasm of a ten year old whose mother is invading his play time. ‘What did you do last night?’ I asked. ‘I was doing shots of lemonade at the bar’, was his reply. Mortified at his response, I frowned and asked ‘you were doing what?‘ ‘I got to do shots of lemonade at the bar’ he answered defiantly. My jaw dropped and I hustled to get myself together, trying not to react to his statement. He could see I was annoyed and flippantly said ‘yeah, so what?’ in reaction to my disapproving facial expression. I quickly changed the subject as my stomach churned with anxiety and a sudden desire to vomit. I smiled and wished him a happy day ahead before ending the call and sitting in silence, appalled by what I had just heard. So what? I hear you ask, as you read this, because I know that this story will bring ridicule and accusations of over-sensitivity, or prudishness. It will have you calling me a ‘goody-goody’ or ‘uptight’. You will think I should ‘let it go’ or ‘loosen up’. Maybe you see no issue with what I heard this morning. Maybe you let your kids do this exact same thing, while you’re all enjoying your drinks while on holidays. But you see, this is different because this is my son. And my son, is the son of an alcoholic.
For nearly three decades, I abused alcohol. For nearly three decades, I put my health and my life on the line. For nearly three decades, I suffered physical injuries after excessive drinking, including broken bones, massive facial injuries, alcohol poisoning and more. For nearly three decades, I put myself into situations that could have ended my life. I passed out in my own vomit, I passed out in bath tubs, I woke up in places I don’t recall even going to, with people I had no recollection of meeting. I risked the lives of those around me by behaving in a way that could have hurt so many. For nearly three decades, I lived in hell. So before you call me prudish or tell me that I’m being over-sensitive, you need to realise that for my son, this is different. My son is both genetically and environmentally predisposed to going down this exact same path, and for my son, I want things to be different.
Growing up in my family, my Mum rarely drank and my Dad would have a couple of beers at night, which seemed pretty normal to me. I don’t recall ever seeing Mum drunk and Dad would only get tipsy and giggly at social events like Christmas or Grand Final Day or perhaps when we were away on holidays. So even though alcohol wasn’t abused in my family, it was definitely a ‘normal’ part of life. After work you drank beer, at Christmas you opened bottles of wine. At parties there were buckets of ice, filled with alcohol that people helped themselves to and on holidays, drinking beer at lunchtime was normal. So when I was given a chance to experiment with alcohol, in a ‘safe environment’ as a teen, nobody gave it a second thought. What they didn’t realise (and couldn’t have, as I was adopted), was that given my genetic loading, with 3 previous generations (at least) comprising of multiple cases of alcoholism, that early experimentation with alcohol would lead to me living in the grips of addiction for more than half of my life.
Statistically, according to the British Journal of Pharmacology, relatives of alcoholics, are four times more likely to develop alcohol and addiction issues. Other research shows that genetics can be responsible for about half the risk of a person developing alcoholism and other addiction issues, with the remainder of the determining factors coming from genetic and environmental interaction as well as environment, itself. Environment, role modelling and how we see our peers and parents behaving, most certainly plays a huge role in how we develop our relationship with alcohol as we grow. The importance of what adolescents see as ‘normal’ has been shown to have more of an impact on their behaviours than peer pressure. So what do you want your children to think is ‘normal’? I certainly don’t want my son thinking that standing around a a bar sinking shots and getting shit-faced is something that should be considered ‘normal’. And if he’s pretending to do shots at ten years of age, what exactly will he be doing at fifteen? Medical research also shows that early initiation to alcohol may adversely impact on brain development as well as leading to mental and physical health issues in adulthood. However, while I’m on my statistical soapbox, evidence also shows that any alcohol use by parents will almost certainly increase the chances of children experimenting with alcohol and while moderate alcohol use (such as a wine over dinner, or for a celebration etc) may not carry great risk, a child witnessing problematic drinking by a parent, will almost certainly increase the risk for that child.
Alcohol is linked to 5,000 deaths and over 150,000 hospitalisations each year in Australia. Yet we continue to condone it’s use, misuse and abuse with tens of thousands of Australians misusing alcohol each and every day. Methamphetamine related deaths pale in comparison with statistics showing that in 2017, a total of 280 deaths were caused by ice use. The media has positioned the use of illicit drugs in such a way that as a society, we see alcohol as less of a risk than say, ice. In this way, we see no problem in the daily misuse and abuse of alcohol, in our homes, in public and in front of our children who learn from us, not by what we say but by what we do. We are relieved when people (potentially, our children’) are ‘only drunk’ because at least they’re not using ice. We, as a society, laugh about drunken injuries and mishaps, seeing it as no issue and just part of life. In the three plus years I’ve been sober, I’ve realised just how problematic and far reaching this issue is and frankly, it is mortifying.
I don’t care if I come across as ‘prudish’, ‘over-sensitive’ or ‘uptight’. Nor do I care if you disagree with the way I view alcohol or the fact that I will do whatever it takes to prevent my children from experimenting with it before the age of 18, because the thing is, most of you reading this are lucky enough never to have lived with addiction. For me, the only thing worse than having gone through the hell that I have endured, would be to see one of my children going through the same thing. What if they aren’t as lucky as I was — and it was pure luck — and they don’t wake up after passing out in their own vomit. What if they DO injure or kill themselves, or someone else, while driving under the influence? What if someone hurts them because they have made a poor decision about the people they decide to go home with? What if they die?
My son already has the odds stacked against him, so forgive me for not finding it even remotely amusing when adults are encouraging the ten year old son of an alcoholic (or any child, for that matter) to do ‘shots of lemonade’ at a bar.