Moms and dads out there: Are you worried about the genetic dangers of your spouse’s alcoholism on your children? Are you too busy trying to deal with your alcoholic spouse to properly attend to and educate your children? Well, there is good news and bad news for you.
First, the bad news. You not only need to be worried if your spouse drinks, but also if your parents, in-laws, siblings and grandparents drink. Although how the alcoholism gene travels along the genetic path from generation to generation is still being discovered, it is clear that there is a significant genetic link to addiction. Most scientists agree that children of alcoholics, for example, are 400% more likely than other children to develop alcoholism.
More bad news: The amount of alcoholism in our society is massive and affects almost half of the families in the United States. Seventy six million Americans (over 43%) of the adult population in the United States report that they have been exposed to alcoholism in their family. Research also indicates that over 10,000,000 children in the United States live with at least one adult alcoholic. Unfortunately, left to their own devices, these children face daunting odds of following in that parent’s footsteps.
Now the good news: (1) this disease is fully preventable; and (2) our society is slowly beginning to focus on these children as the vulnerable group in need that they have become.
In my conversations, interviews and studies about family addiction, several themes are constant. One is that adult alcoholics with a family history of the disease were almost universally lacking any education and information on the genetic links of the disease in their childhood. Another constant is that a sober spouse is almost always terrified about the disease affecting their children and unaware of what to do.
Unfortunately, the focus in our society for alcoholism remains treatment not prevention. Even Nancy Reagan’s massively funded “Say No To Drugs” program in the 1980s neglected to educate children of alcoholics about their increased risk of this disease. The tens of millions at-risk youth present our society with an opportunity to focus on prevention and education rather than treatment and hospital expenses decades later.
For you parents or relatives worried about such a child in your family, here are a few new and exciting charitable resources:
- Shatterproof.org: Shatterproof is a national non-profit dedicated to reducing the devastation that addiction to prescription drugs, illicit drugs, and alcohol causes to families.
- PotatoAllergy.com: This movement focuses solely on educating preteens about the addiction gene in their family — including the groundbreaking book My Dad is An Alcoholic, What About Me?: A Pre-Teen Guide to Conquering Addictive Genes. With the use of fun, child-friendly characters (the Peanut vs. the Potato), this book educates at-risk children in a never-before-seen manner about their hidden disease, ways to avoid it and dealing with peer pressure.
Marc Treitler and his family are the founders and creators of the family addiction education website www.potatoallergy.com and the authors and illustrators of My Dad Is an Alcoholic, What About Me?: A Pre-teen Guide to Conquering Addictive Genes.