“The solution to adult problems tomorrow depends upon the way we raise our children today. There is no greater insight into the future than recognizing, when we save our children we save ourselves.”
Do you remember when you were young and had a wonderfully vivid imagination? The days when you spent hours building forts out of blankets or pinning barrettes in your dad’s hair while playing barber shop? It was so much fun to be a kid.
Unfortunately, not all kids are given the freedom to be so carefree and imaginative. Some children grow up in homes where they are the main caretakers. Where they are responsible for making dinner at the age of seven. Or they are responsible for getting themselves to school.
A Big Problem
It’s a startling fact, but according to a January 2000 study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, one out of every four kids in the U.S. lives in a home suffering from alcohol abuse—that’s 28% of our child population, or 19 million kids. Sadly, those numbers do not include children who live with drug abusers.
According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, children of alcoholics/addicts (COAs) are almost three times more likely to be abused “because of being left in unsafe situations by [an] alcoholic [or] addict.”
Programs Offer Hope
Recently, Pam Newton, project manager of the Betty Ford 5 Star Kids program in Dallas, a program that teaches children how to cope with alcoholism and care for themselves, teamed up with an Oklahoma organization, A Chance to Change, whose goal is to educate childcare workers about the problem.
Newton stated, “COAs think it’s a normal way of life—to be drunk all the time. They feel they’re the only one in the world with their problem because they don’t talk about it.”
“Children feel if it happens in front of them, they’re responsible for it,” said Joe Westerheide, Director of Mental Health Services for Oklahoma City’s A Chance to Change.
Newton said COAs’ lives become so engulfed in the addict’s lifestyle that the “children become separated from their own feeling and know [only] the addict’s feelings.”
“[COAs] usually look like the straight-A kids,” Newton said. “The best thing a person can do, if they suspect a child might be living with an addicted parent, is to be available to listen. The kids want to hear that they’re not alone, that what adults do is not their fault, and that people do care.”
Understanding that the addiction is not their fault is imperative to the child’s well being. They also need to know that they’re not alone. According to A Chance to Change Foundation, it’s critical for COAs to know it’s all right to talk about their feelings.
If you suspect a child is living in an addict’s home, there are many resources you can use to help them. A Chance to Change Foundation helps children and their families by offering counseling and a variety of programs.
Important Messages for Children of Alcoholics to Hear
From A Chance to Change and the Betty Ford Center
- Alcoholism is a sickness.
- It’s not your fault.
- You can’t make it better.
- You deserve help for yourself.
- You are not alone.
- There are people and places that can help you.
- There is hope.
Resources for More Help and Information
- National Association for Children of Alcoholics,www.NACOA.org, 888-554-COAS.
- A Chance to Change: 840-9000, www.AChanceToChange.org.
- Betty Ford Center: 800-854-9211.
Jill Allen is an associate producer for KWTV News. She is also a freelance writer in Oklahoma City and Edmond and is studying journalism at the University of Central Oklahoma where she will earn her BA in May.