Each issue carries an
imprimatur from the
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Reprinting prohibited

Alcohol Abuse:
What You Can Do To Help Others and Yourself

by Katharine Bird

AIan had his first drink at the age of 13 during one of his parents' Saturday prefootball parties. His parents were horrified when he acted slightly intoxicated. Other guests thought it was "cute."

He took the next step toward becoming a problem drinker when he moved, at 15, to a large metropolitan area 1,000 miles from his lifelong smalltown home. Anxious about finding new friends and scared he wouldn't be accepted, Alan followed along when a new acquaintance invited him to an after-school beer party. Soon these beer parties became routine in his life.

By 17, Alan was losing interest in his schoolwork and the extracurricular activities he used to enjoy. His once-outstanding grades were slipping. Alarmed about her son's behavior, Alan's mother consulted the high school guidance counselor. Their joint efforts met resistance from Alan, who insisted, "Nothing's wrong. Leave me alone."

As the year proceeded, Alan's behavior became increasingly unpredictable. Following his friend's example, Alan began to skip school, using the excuse that he was "too tired" to get up in the morning. It was a long time before Alan's mother realized the real reason-he was "too hung over" to get up in the morning. He talked about dropping out of school altogether because it was "too boring."

Sometimes Alan's parents smelled alcohol on their son's breath or found empty bottles in the wastebasket. But Alan always downplayed their concern. "Don't worry about me. I'm O.K., Mom," he said again and again.

The situation reached a crisis when Alan's parents received a phone call from the police station early one morning saying that Alan had been arrested for driving while drunk. The officer added that he had resisted arrest, which would count against him in the courtroom. During the weeks and months following that phone call, Alan and his parents went through a lot of soul-searching. Finally, with the help of family counselors and prodded by the juvenile court system, his parents were able to make an honest appraisal of what really was going on with their son and how they could cooperate to help him.

Is Alcohol Really That Much of a Problem?

Slowly and painfully over the next year and a half, Alan made some important changes. A family counselor helped him work on such crucial issues as self-worth and personal identity. As he began to understand himself better, Alan was able to put his dependence on alcohol and on his drinking buddies in perspective.

To gain perspective on the situation yourself, the following statistics may prove helpful:

• According to a study released in June 1991 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, eight million U.S. junior and senior high school students are weekly users of alcohol.

• According to the New York State Catholic Conference 1989 policy statement on chemical dependency, more than 30 percent of child and adolescent suicides can be directly linked to depression caused by drug and alcohol abuse.

• According to a 1981 Department of Health, Education and Welfare report, three million youths have problems at home, in school or on the highways because of alcohol.

To bring those statistics home, look around you. How do you and your friends handle the question of alcohol and other drugs? When you go to parties and to school events, what's the drink of choice? Is it soft drinks or juices or punch? Or is beer an expected part of partying?

How often at school-sponsored sports events do you see people drinking, sipping from thermos jugs that could contain coffee or hot cocoa but really hold wine coolers or rum and Coke? Their behavior blows their cover.

One teen, commenting on the amount of drinking among her high school friends, says that drinking is routine at parties. "Some kids get totally drunk every week," she says.

I interviewed several alcohol abuse counselors for Youth Update. All agree that alcohol abuse is reaching epidemic proportions, affecting every family, every parish and every neighborhood in the United States.

Yes, the Problem Is Greater Than You Think

Addiction counselors report that getting teens to recognize a problem with alcohol or other drugs often is the hardest part. Especially in the case of alcohol abuse, people tend to conspire in denying that there is a problem. A pattern of denial about alcohol abuse in the home may already exist. How often have you heard an adult-your mother, a favorite aunt or uncle perhaps-say, "Thank God my kid just drinks! At least I don't have to worry about drugs."

Even when people are willing to admit there is a problem, they want to think it is someone else's problem. The typical attitude is: My neighbor is fine. This doesn't happen in my neighborhood. For you, too, the problem is complicated by your desire to fit in and follow along with what your friends and others your age consider acceptable.

Perhaps you have been a witness to the following scenario or one like it: It's Friday night at the school homecoming dance. You are there with your friends, dancing and eating pizza. Though there are strict rules forbidding drinking on school premises and no alcohol is brought into the gym, you see some people you know disappear at intervals during the evening. It's common knowledge they are going out to their cars for alcohol.

You see your friend Jessica get more and more flushed and high-spirited as the evening passes. Soon the word goes around that she is getting out of control. But she also is the center of attention, dancing with one football player after another and seemingly having a wonderful time.

Monday morning, you hear another friend say to Jessica, grinning broadly, "Boy, Jessica, you really got plastered last night!"

Too often, getting drunk is greeted with admiration, not disapproval. This admiration makes it mighty difficult for you to admit that you or a friend might have a problem with alcohol. Few of you seek help on your own initiative, counselors say. Often some sort of intervention or crisis is needed before the addict will confront his or her abuse.

Usually you agree to seek help only when a family member, friend or employer puts on pressure. Then, with your back against the wall, you might agree to got help just to stop that person from pressuring you.

That's what happened, finally, to Maria. Drinking was becoming for her the only way to party. Her personal worst came the night her high school won the basketball regional title against all odds. Hysterical with joy at their team's victory, Maria and her friends went to her home to celebrate. They drank shots of vodka followed by beer chasers.

When Maria's parents returned home, the party was all over. Most of her friends had left the house. Only Maria and her friend Peter were home: Maria standing outside the bathroom door pounding on it, yelling at Peter to unlock the door; Peter, ill inside the bathroom, refusing. Confronted by her parents, Maria began to cry and begged her parents to do something to help Peter.

The next day, Maria's parents came down hard on her. Maria says they grounded her and took away car privileges for a month. They also insisted that she go with them to talk with a counselor who specialized in addictions. This proved to be the start to her recovery.

Where to Find Help

The campaign against alcohol abuse has been stepped up. Most communities in the United States provide several places to turn for help.

• A quick resource for finding help is the Yellow Pages of the telephone directory. Alcohol abuse hotline phone numbers often are staffed 24 hours a day. You can call the hotline number and find a competent volunteer who is trained to respond knowledgeably and sympathetically to your questions. If you are worried that you might have a problem with alcohol or are worried about a close friend, you can get information from hotline volunteers on how to recognize the signs of alcohol abuse. You also can get the volunteer to give you phone num. bers of treatment centers and self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.).

Remember: The volunteers are nonjudgmental and compassionate. They only want to help you. You can remain anonymous throughout the conversation, and you can call as often you like.

• Often high school counselors are specially trained in helping you to cope with alcohol or drug abuse. Pick out someone in your school or parish whom you feel comfortable in approaching. This person could be your favorite teacher or coach or your parish youth minister. Stop in to see this person, saying something like "I wonder if I could talk to you for a few minutes."

One way to introduce the topic is to say something generic like, "I feel badly aboutor or "I'm really concerned about-." The adult will take the ball from there and help you begin to talk about what's bothering you. As a next step, this person may suggest that you talk with a counselor or that you attend an A.A. meeting. Such a person, while protecting your confidentiality, can steer you toward help.

• Parishes and dioceses frequently are equipped to help fight alcohol abuse. People in parishes are being trained to help, learning how and where to refer people in need. Catholic Charities is one source of assistance available throughout the country. At the least, a parish staff member can listen and offer suggestions on what you might do next.

Often an important part of diocesan programs is prevention or keeping alcohol from becoming a problem in the first place. The Archdiocese of New York, for instance, has a program called "Youth Dare to Care" that works to educate youth on substance abuse and peer pressure and coping skills. Teens like you go through the archdiocesan education program and then are sent out to work with slightly younger youths in junior high school or grade school.

Andrea, now in her 20's, recalls the time some years ago when her closest friends began to get on her case about her drinking. Like a lot of teenagers, she had started drinking by sipping grasshoppers and other drinks that seemed more like dessert. Then she switched to beer and gin.

Andrea says her three closest friends each came to her separately, very concerned about how much and how often she was drinking. They told her they thought she was getting out of control. They pushed her to quit drinking. Though Andrea resisted their urgings for several months, they kept after her. She finally decided that there might be something to what they were saying, and she was able to quit.

If you are faced with an alcohol problem, what can you do? The first step is to raise the topic with a friend or an adult you trust. This will not be easy, but the stakes are high. What happens in many instances, however, is that the decision is taken out of your hands. For instance, if your grades have been slipping or your behavior is getting out of hand, your parents may recognize something is wrong and ask you to see a counselor with them.

Other times, a school adviser, perhaps sensing that something is wrong, might question you about how things are going. If this happens, respond as openly and honestly as you can. It can help a lot to unburden yourself.

The adult in whom you confide might suggest a trained counselor. That professional will listen to what you have to say and then make an evaluation of what sort of help is most appropriate in your particular circumstances.

Often the counselor will suggest one-onone counseling. Other times, the advice might be to join an A.A. group. At other times, inpatient treatment in a hospital or clinic may seem best. Under the best circumstances, your parents will be involved, especially if inpatient treatment is needed. Parents can be a good line of defense in helping you fight alcohol addiction.

Self-help groups sponsored by Alcoholics Anonymous include A.A. groups for the person in recovery, Alateen for brothers and sisters of alcoholics or children of alcoholics and Al-Anon for spouses and parents of alcoholics. Self-help groups such as A.A. can provide you with invaluable assistance as you start the long journey toward recovery, one day at a time. Groups provide a place where you can share your pain and anxieties with others who understand what you are going through.

Often A.A. and other self-help groups have their regular meetings in Church-donated space. Catholic dioceses around the United States often make rooms available for these groups.

All A.A. groups operate under the same rules:

• All meetings are free of charge. Nominal fees are charged for literature.

• You are free to join and stay for as long, or as short, a time as you wish.

• No last names are used. Confidentiality is required. You are told that what you say at the meetings will be respected and is not to be repeated outside the meeting.

• You are listened to respectfully.

• You are encouraged to speak at each meeting, but you may sit in silence if you so choose.

• Meetings are friendly. Often everyone sits in a circle to encourage talking. One reason groups can prove so helpful to you is because they operate on the self-help principle: You heal yourselfwhile you help others to heal, they are helping you. Joining A.A. or a similar group for addictions can give you much welcome support r you struggle to make changes in your life.

Belief in God Can Help

Addiction counselors point out that spirituality and religious belief can play an invaluable role in helping you to overcome problems with alcohol. A.A. groups from the very beginning recognized the need to base recovery on spiritual principles. These groups start from a spiritual basis which recognizes that people need help in learning to live without alcohol.

A.A. promotes spiritual growth through the Twelve Step program. Steps Two and Three focus on spirituality directly. Step Two says that abusers have come to recognize that "a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity."

Step Three says that we have made a decision "to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him." A nondenominational group, A.A. is careful not to promote or endorse any particular religion belief.

Belonging to the Catholic Church can be a bonus in struggling against addiction. The Church's spiritual tradition has much to say about respect for individual life. This includes having a healthy respect for your body and an understanding that you have no right to abuse your body. The Church also has a strong tradition of supporting people through difficult moments and times in their lives.

This Youth Update has dealt with facts about drinking and recovering from alcohol abuse. In our society, teenagers aren't the only ones who must address this issue. But you cannot ignore the dangers to you, your health, your character. This is "news you can use"-to help yourself and your friends live well into the 21stcentury.

Katharine Bird is a project manager, writer and editor in Washington. D.C.

Youth Update advisers who previewed this issue, suggested changes and asked questions of the author are Dana Cooper, Kim Landrum, Jeremy Landrum, Lori Schrinner, Rob Schrinner and Kim Smith. All are members of St. Louis Parish in Owensville, Ohio, where Ginny and Gary Landrum are volunteer- youth ministers.


Alan's mom took a lot off him. The parents I know wouldn't give him any more chances to handle booze. They'd ground him! Do you think his case was handled well?


No, I don't think Alan's parents handled his situation well. I think the parents were very concerned about their son but were hoping against hope that no real problem existed. In short, they didn't want to face up to the fact that their son was in trouble-partly because they feared it would reflect on them as parents.

It has been my experience (as a parent and in interviewing counselors who work with alcoholic families) that all too often, in real life, people find themselves avoiding unpleasant truths until something happens that forces them to confront a situation.


What would be most helpful as a first step with someone who I know is drinking too much?


Talk to your friend. Tell your friend you are really concerned about the way he or she is drinking. Tell your friend you really care about him or her a lot. Try to get your friend to confide in a trusted adult--a parent, a school counselor, a parish youth minister.


Most teens aren't going to talk to their parents first. So how could they possibly get into a treatment program? Don't you need a parent's permission?


You can go to A.A. meetings without telling anyone you are going. If you need wheels to get there, it will be harder, but A.A. group members will try to help you over the phone and even in getting transportation.

You can approach school counselors and parish staff without talking to your parents first. It is likely that they will advise bringing your parents in as a means of helping you to overcome your difficulties. Help from your parents should be vital in the struggle to overcome the hold of alcohol. For inpatient treatment, parents would have to become involved.

As a general rule, most parents would want to be included, because they care about you and your well-being.


I want to order print copies of this
Youth Update.

Bulk discounts available!


Paid Advertisement
Ads contrary to Catholic teachings should be reported to our webmaster. Include ad link.

An AmericanCatholic.org Web Site from the Franciscans and
Franciscan Media     ©1996-2014 Copyright