Talk to your children about alcohol

Growing up, there was never any alcohol in the family home.  My mother drank red wine at parties, a glass of champagne at Christmas and in later years, a gin and tonic with me on a Friday evening.  My father drinks a single beer with his dinner.

As a result, I don’t remember either of them ever having a conversation about alcohol with me, either positive or negative.

But even very early, I knew that alcohol was cool, and that drinking it was an excellent idea.  I remember a party that my mother hosted when we first arrived in Australia.  I would have been about twelve, and somebody brought along a wine cooler; white wine and fruit juice mixed together in a cardboard box.  

Alcohol for people who don't like the taste of alcohol.  Or appreciate anything that is good and right in the world.

Alcohol for people who don’t like the taste of alcohol. Or appreciate anything that is good and right in the world.

I have no idea who invented such a vile concoction, but it did have one redeeming feature; it could be drunk by a twelve year old.  I remember sneaking a couple of glasses of the stuff and drinking them in my room on a dull Sunday afternoon.  I also remember being surprised that the room didn’t spin and nothing felt different.

Nothing daunted, I did the same thing a couple of years later.  By this time, my mother occasionally travelled overseas for business, and when she did she would bring back a large duty-free bottle of gin, or white rum, which was then stashed in a high cupboard.  Both spirits being clear, it seemed to my fifteen year old self that I would be betraying teenagers the world around if I didn’t pour myself a glass and top up the bottle with water.  

It doesn’t escape my notice, now, that my first drinks were illicit, and underwhelming.  But what intrigues me more is that I wanted to drink so young.  Intrigues, but doesn’t surprise: I was a precocious reader, and by twelve I was reading books written for adults.  Jilly Cooper was a particular favourite, and as anyone who has read her works of utter genius knows, they are packed full of impossibly glamorous dissolutes who do things like swig champagne from the bottle at fourteen, roll up to play in international sporting matches with awful hangovers, or wake up in a rumpled bed of blondes and drain the glass of red wine that is still there from the night before. Her oeuvre is basically an ode to problem drinking, and there I was, reading them before I hit my teens proper.

Cooper wasn’t the only influence on my young mind, telling me that drinking was  a sure-fire route to the louche, beguiling person I wanted to be.  There was Dorothy Parker, and Fanny Hill.  Later there was David Bowie, eyes glittering with cocaine and booze, Cocker singing about dancing and drinking and screwing, all these twisted, glamorous deviants using drink to set them apart from the herd.

When you’re young, you want so desperately to become someone worth being.  And since you can’t see the insides of your idols, you try and mimic their outsides.  Perhaps the quips you admire come from the long swallows from the bottle they carry; their eye liner frames a world you want to see too.  You can’t sort the good from the bad, when you’re young, so you adopt things almost at random, layering personalities like charity shop finds.  

More important than the voices telling young people about the glamour of drinking are the voices that are missing: the voices that talk about the danger of alcohol and the way it can turn on you.  I knew that alcoholics existed, as a child.  I didn’t know anything else about them, though.  I didn’t know alcoholism doesn’t discriminate and doesn’t announce itself.  That you can be as respectable, and as careful, and as conscientious as you like, and you can still find yourself, one day, apologising for a drunken rant you don’t even remember.

I wish people would talk to their children about alcohol, before the world does, because the world lies to children.  

Drinkaware, a British charity funded by the alcohol industry, aims to raise awareness of responsible drinking for young and old.  Their current campaign is aimed at parents and recommends that parents talk to their children from as young as eight, to deliver messages about the potential harm that comes with drinking before the world drowns them out.

The things we teach our children are the things they take with them throughout their lives.  The voice we use becomes their inner voice.  Parents have power.  This is an area where it’s worth using that power, because if we say nothing, other people will.

Some ideas from Drinkaware about talking to your child are here.

(For transparency: this is not a sponsored post.  I reached out to Drinkaware because I noticed their campaign on Twitter and I believe in it)

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13 thoughts on “Talk to your children about alcohol

  1. I have grown up in a family of alcoholics, and believed it had passed me by,but it hadnt, i was , am one but i am good at covering it up, i have 6 children aged between 28 and 12, and my eldest daughter has had a battle from hell, alcoholism, heroin addiction, self harming, but through rehab and a relationship that has brought her happiness she has come out fighting, but no one knows about me, i am still here suffering and alone, and the saddest part is, i wish i was her.

  2. My first taste of wine was from one of those casks, that’s right – I had no appreciation back then, it was all about experimenting cheaply and being ‘cool’. I also have memories of my Mother having a bottle of Jim Beam on her lounge chair side table. She would pour small amounts on ice whilst watching her TV shows, well into the night. Later on, I would sneak little small amounts myself. But same, there was never any discussions about alcohol from my parents. I’m thankful for my own experiences now (in some ways), and the awareness coming to light – I intend to really open my own children’s eyes to the problems created by alcohol when the time comes.

    • Right. Neither of my parents are problem drinkers (so what’s my excuse?) but that’s the thing – because it wasn’t a big deal to them, it never occurred to them to talk to me about it. And I wish they had.

  3. This is great! I am gonna show the video to my kids. Thank you so much for sharing. Btw. I had random family member when were alcoholics and no one talked about it at all. Just mentioned here and there in a ridicule type manner. Ugh. Time to change he cycle though and it starts with the kids!

  4. This is really interesting. I grew up with an alcoholic father, but he was high functioning, as in able to work. His younger brother was an alcoholic who was not at all high functioning and lived at home with his parents until he finally managed to stop drinking at about 35. My dad used to talk so disparagingly about his younger brother and how much of a hopeless alcoholic he was, while all the while drinking two bottles of wine and shouting drunkenly at his family every night of the week. He kept on telling himself he didn’t have a problem with drinking because he could outwardly hold it together. He is still telling himself that.

    • My mother is the same way, high functioning. And because there are people in my family who are alcoholics that cannot function as highly, she refuses to believe that she has a problem. I used to believe I was being overly sensitive about her drinking as a kid, because she didn’t look like the drunk-all-the-time, can’t-keep-a-job alcoholic in movies, etc. especially because those roles are usually reserved for men. Mothers are loving, selfless & deserve a drink to unwind is what the media portrays. But what happens when mommy turns into someone else every night after she’s had several glasses of her wine and she’s passing out everywhere? As long as you get to school on time the next day and she goes in to work consistently, everything is fine..

      This just inspired my next blog post. Thanks for sharing this with us!

  5. Pingback: On Loving a Functional Alcoholic. | Childhood Laundry

  6. I find this very interesting. I grew up in a family where alcohol was basically non-existent. The only time I can remember my parents even drinking was on New Years Eve when they each had a glass of champagne at midnight. I was allowed to have some too, but of course declined. I had no interest in alcohol and was actually scared of it – scared of being out of control, scared of getting sick, scared of the unknown. It wasn’t until my senior year that my interest began to grow, when I saw everyone else after the weekends with their stories and their hangovers and their (what I thought was) “coolness.” A few months later I met my older boyfriend who would provide me alcohol at any time, and who had outrageous weekend parties at his house, and my alcoholic spark was lit. The rest is a blurry, bloody, tear-stained history.

  7. This is a great post. My family also didn’t have booze in the house really. Apparently my grandfather’s father was a crazy abusive drunk who ended up dying a very violent death. I learned that this summer when I told my grandparents I quit drinking. They chose that time to share with me the fact that alcoholism ran in the family. No blame really, but it would’ve been nice to have a little heads up, you know? But alcohol is a weird topic, especially for families who have issues. Denial is a powerful part of addiction, both with the addict and the family/enablers of the addict. Great post and I’m also stoked about the Drinkaware stuff I’ve seen through your Twitter. Very cool stuff. Hugs to you!

    • My paternal grandfather was apparently an alcoholic who died young from alcohol and cigarette-related reasons. But my Dad and I aren’t close, and I hardly know that side of the family (my parents separated when I was very young) so that’s all I’ve ever known about it. So, yeah, me too. But then again, I figure every family has to have one alcoholic in it, given the stats.

      • Hmmmm…that’s an interesting thought. When you put it like that, everybody should be careful with booze. I guess, duh, it’s a drug. There is a part of me that thinks of it as “us” and “them,” but maybe it’s more of a sliding scale…

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