[infobox]February 8-14 is Children of Alcoholics week in the UK. This week we are focusing on writing to children and talking about some of the issues surrounding young people who have a parent (or parents) who drink too much. Our post is meant to serve as a guide, and not all steps mentioned may be applicable to everyone. If you feel like there is someone at risk at home or in school, please reach out to the clinic to to the relevant departments listed below.[/infobox]
What does it mean when my parent drinks too much?
Many children and young people have a parent that drinks too much. Surprisingly the World Health Organisation (WHO) published facts in 2014 suggesting that drinkers in the UAE consume 32.8 litres of alcohol annually, almost double the world average of 17 litres.
How to identify if my parents are drinking too much
There are a few ways we can tell that a person drinks too much:
- Drinking alone and for no reason.
- Increased tolerance to alcohol (being able to drink more and more with less effect).
- Being secretive and hiding how much you drink from others.
- Spending a lot of money on drinking.
- Feeling ill when the effects of alcohol have worn off (for example shaking, sweating, feeling or being sick).
- Feeling sad and anxious.
- Not sleeping properly.
So what does this mean for children like me in the UAE?
We know that children of parents who drink too much can be affected in many ways by their parent/parents’ alcohol intake. A parent’s behavior while drunk or intoxicated can be embarrassing for a young person, who may avoid bringing friends home or going out with the family. It often becomes a secret that they feel they must keep to stop their parents from getting in trouble, considering the laws and regulations revolving around alcohol consumption in the UAE. Keeping it a secret might also be a way to prevent breaking up the family or not wanting to betray the parent. These feelings are normal as there has always been a social stigma attached to alcohol misuse, but perhaps more so in the Middle East as there can be legal and financial implications. You can find out more about the laws on alcohol consumption in the UAE here.
Emotional affects of alcohol misuse on children
Keeping you safe is a concern of grown-ups connected to the family. When a parent is under the influence of alcohol then it can affect their ability to make good decisions and take proper care of a young person. They may even leave the child alone or with someone that is also not able to provide proper care and attention. It is not uncommon to feel unsafe or neglected, and it can be a lonely experience for everyone involved.
Varying degrees of physical and emotional abuse are also common within families where there is a parent who drinks excessively. This can have a longstanding effect, as children and teenagers may become socially isolated and withdraw from daily activities. According to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), children whose parents drink too much often experience depression, anxiety and other mental health problems.
Managing the situation at home
At this point it is important to tell you, the young person, that your parent’s drinking is not your fault. Nor can you control your parent’s drinking habits or make them better. But there are ways you can make positive choices in your life.
- If you feel it is ok to do so, talk to your parents. They may not fully realise how their drinking makes you feel.
- Talk to a grown-up you can trust. This can be a family friend, school counsellor, nurse or relative. It is ok to tell someone how you feel.
- Keeping a diary of how you feel can be another way of putting feelings into words. You never know, things may seem less scary when you put them down on paper.
- Stay safe – go to a place that you feel safe if you’re frightened. It could be your bedroom, with your brothers and sisters, or even a neighbour. Keep the phone number of someone you trust handy.
- Alcoholics Anonymous in Dubai offers family support. http://www.aauae.net/
- You are able make healthy choices for yourself. You are in the best place to see what the effects of harmful drinking habits are and can choose differently for yourself. Eating well and exercising can have a positive benefit as well. Taking part in positive and healthy activities can be a welcome distraction and ease your worries.
- Online support is available at http://www.coap.org.uk
Harmful drinking is a worldwide problem, so remember that you are not alone. You can also reach out to us at Camali Clinic for advice and support if you are scared or worried. Speak to our clinicians on the phone if you may need help and don’t know how to go about it. We work in complete anonymity and we do our best to protect and help families who are facing difficulties.