How I Prevented My Kids from Being Alcoholics
My three adult children enjoy drinking, but aren’t alcoholics. Can you do this as a parent, even if you yourself have had a drug or alcohol problem?
I have been married once, to a woman of Rumanian-descent, from whom I was divorced after 30 years together. We had three children, son – daughter – daughter; they are now ages 37 – 35 – 27.
All of them drink.
None is an alcoholic – nor will they become one.
Here is how we accomplished that feat – as a family.
The Ties That Bind
Anna Peele, an editor at Esquire, was first interviewed by CNN when she was still in her teens, in 2007:
Starting in middle school, her parents allowed her and her siblings to have an occasional sip of beer or wine. By the time she was in high school, Peele was drinking beer and wine regularly at family functions and social events. But it was always in moderation, Peele says. She says her parents’ attitude toward alcohol made it seem less mysterious.
“It wasn’t some forbidden fruit,” Peele says. “I didn’t have to go out to a field with my friends and have 18 beers.”
In fact, as I describe in Addiction-Proof Your Child (disguising Anna’s name), she and I traveled to Italy and Spain when she was 18, where we drank wine with lunch and dinner.
As an editor whose duties include covering food and alcohol, Anna interviewed my son, Dana, her ten-years older brother, who prefers cider (Dana is a senior software engineer for jet.com).
Following is Anna’s introduction to that interview:
I don’t like hard cider. And I suspect many men don’t either. I love beer and wine and cocktails and the occasional shot, but hard cider makes no sense to someone like me: I would never drink apple juice or virgin cider, so why would I go for the alcoholic version?
Then my brother, who throws himself into hobbies with the same gusto usually reserved by ancient Incans for virgins and volcanoes, got into it. Dana has become a self-taught expert on Stax records, urban gardening, and HTML, so when he developed a taste for the sweetest drink this side of a Shirley Temple, I gave in, understanding that I would be forced to learn about it whether I wanted to or not. Dana walked me through six ciders from across the U.S. in an attempt to change my mind about my least favorite booze.
Recently, Anna achieved quite a bit of attention for an interview she did with a budding young movie star, Miles Teller. In fact, the interview prompted a New York Times feature on celebrity interviews gone awry.
The article description read as follows: “Our latest cover star is on a quest for greatness. Sometimes that can involve a bit of dickishness too.”
I count on Anna to always drink within limits she sets for herself and to conduct herself appropriately, even when she is drinking.-Stanton Peele
Anna conducted the interview with Teller over dinner, at which alcohol was consumed. I can’t say how much the two young people drank (Teller is 28), but I can say this: I count on Anna to always drink within limits she sets for herself and to conduct herself appropriately, even when she is drinking. Or, should I say, especially when she is drinking. We expected this of her and her siblings, even as teenagers.
Here is how this is done in a case I described in Addiction-Proof:
Josh grew up in a tight-knit Italian family centered around large family gatherings. At the age of 16, his father instructed him to dress well to accompany him to a get-together among the men in their family. Josh swelled with pride – he considered himself practically an adult!
Josh’s father brought a friend with him to this family gathering. This man became tipsy, and began to harass the woman serving drinks. Josh saw his father’s older brother – the patriarch of the family – nod at his father. His father took the man aside. Josh listened in as his father told the man: “We don’t do that here. You have to leave.”
Of course, there’s more to avoiding addiction than learning how to drink properly, as I also make clear in Addiction-Proof.
The Influence of Upbringing
Anna, Dana and their sister, Haley, who is applying to enter a Ph.D. counseling program, were all inculcated with achievement values, with a desire to become positively engaged in life. All have a purpose in life!
I often encounter people who consider themselves life-long alcoholics or irretrievable addicts who’ve had children that turned out to be moderate drinkers/non-addicts.-Stanton PeeleThose of you in recovery may believe that parental attitudes and a child’s upbringing are irrelevant to how your kids turn out. You may think that I simply passed along non-alcoholic/non-addicted genes to my offspring. In fact, I often encounter people who consider themselves life-long alcoholics or irretrievable addicts who’ve had children that turned out to be moderate drinkers/non-addicts.
When they start to give me their 12-step or treatment mantra, I instead ask them, “How did you perform the modern miracle of turning water into wine? How did you break the alcoholism-addiction cycle to create healthy, moderate-drinking or moderate-using children?”
They have trouble answering, since they attribute their own recoveries to some outside force over which they had no control.
Asking the Right Questions
Here is an exchange between myself and Howard Josepher, a former heroin addict who runs the famous Exponents program in NYC and who believes nobody overcomes addiction without treatment. I asked how his daughter escaped addiction on the Hamspro Google listserv:
What kind of intervention can you imagine would have prevented your getting addicted in the first place?
What did you make sure to do raising your daughter in order for her to avoid your experience?
The only possible intervention that could have prevented me from getting addicted in the first place would have been one that helped me to be more confident in myself.
I sought help, but did not find it until the TC with its ‘can do’ concept.
Mostly with my daughter I was truthful, engaged and did my best to be someone she would be proud of.
What Howard did, I believe, was five-fold:
- Create a livable home where his daughter could be safe and secure (obviously following his termination of his addiction)
- Love her unconditionally
- Give her opportunities and encourage her to be successful
- Not prohibit her ever using (for example, marijuana) or drinking herself
- Not tell her she was born to be an addict/alcoholic
Kudos to Howard…and to all those like him!