My Mom’s an Alcoholic; My Parents are Divorcing; What Do I Do?

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Reader’s Question

I am a 14-year-old girl. My mom drinks alcohol, and she acts differently when she does. My dad says she’s an alcoholic and they are getting divorced. I get negative messages from each of them about the other one.

I call my mom an alcoholic when she drinks. We’ve got into fights before. She can’t hurt me, but I hurt her. She can act stupid when she is drunk, so I treat her like a little kid. That’s when she goes all wacko on me, and I yell at her, and then I hurt her when she punishes me. I am a violent monster.

Psychologist’s Reply

You are dealing with two of the most difficult situations a child can be in: divorce and a parent who is addicted to a substance. I imagine both situations leave you feeling angry, helpless and out of control. These are very typical feelings for kids dealing with these problems, but most especially with addiction. Unfortunately, being affected by addiction is not uncommon. Substance abuse problems plague anywhere from 45-68% of the U.S. population, and approximately 19 million children are exposed to parental alcohol dependence, alcohol abuse, or both. So please know that you are not alone.

When dealing with a parent who is an alcoholic, it is critical for you to receive help so that you know what to expect and how to behave. Although your father may have been a good resource in the past (and may be again in the future), the divorce is preventing him from being as helpful as he could be right now. Thus, it may be better to find outside resources like Al-Anon, Alateen or Families Anonymous (groups for the families of loved ones who are addicted). People who attend these groups generally find that talking with others who are experiencing the same type of issues is very beneficial.

You didn’t mention whether the “hurt” you inflict upon your mother is physical or emotional but either way, it is not helpful for anyone. The situation will not be improved by hurtful behavior; it will only make things worse. You are not a violent monster. But you do need to find ways to deal constructively with your anger. Counseling could be of great assistance in learning how to deal with your mother when she’s drinking, as well as working through your own feelings of anger about her behavior. In addition to learning new ways of coping, it would be good for you to talk about what’s going on and realize that you are not alone, because addiction can be such an isolating illness.

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Counseling could also be useful in helping you deal with the divorce. Although divorce is never fun or ideal, healthy divorces occur when parents do not put their kids in the middle. You should not have to listen to either parent talking negatively about the other one. It is their divorce, not yours, and you have every right to love both parents equally. Consequently, whenever they want to talk about the other parent, it may be best to ask not to be put in the middle, change the subject, or simply end the conversation. Counseling can help you deal with the emotions you have toward the divorce. If you have a family counselor, she or he may also be able to work with your parents to make the divorce process a smoother one. However, if counseling is not an option, a lot of communities have groups for children dealing with divorce.

Whatever you choose to do, please do get help. It can make a huge difference.

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