This month, TFI Talks will feature a number of posts about alcohol in commemoration of Alcohol Awareness Month.
Every year, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) sponsors Alcohol Awareness month in an effort to increase public understanding of alcohol, to reduce the stigma of alcoholism, and to draw attention to the impact that alcoholism can have on kids, families, couples and communities.
At TFI Talks, we’ll be posting information, insights and tips from one of our expert staff clinicians, Leah Brennan, LMFT, CADC.
Today, Lea Brennan offers tips to help deal with these complicated issues:
For Couples: The number one tip I would offer is to notice your own relationship to alcohol. Think about it and talk about it with your spouse. Talk to one another about any specific concerns you have with your own or with your spouses’ drinking. It starts with conversation. Say: “I’ve noticed changes in your behavior lately that concern me. I want to understand what’s going on.” Hang in patiently, without anger, if your spouse begins with little or nothing to say. Prompt with gentle questions and comments.
For Parents of Teenagers: During your conversations, listen with an open mind to what they say. Be curious about their ideas. Say “Tell me more” before you offer a rebuttal to something you hear that you don’t like. You want to get them talking, sharing all their many thoughts on this challenging topic; you need to know what’s in their minds if you’re going to be able to respond meaningfully.
If your child says that weekend drinking in high school is normal and that everyone does it, you can say: “I know that it seems like everyone at school is drinking on the weekends and that you’ll feel left out. Or that you need to drink to be accepted. Nevertheless, my expectation is that you will not drink. You will be surprised at how accepting your peers will be if you demonstrate an ability to think and act for yourself.”
Make clear, many times and over many conversations, that your expectation is that they will not drink. Walk the talk by not leaving them and their friends alone in the house with access to alcohol. Don’t offer them a drink at your family dinner table. Resist the temptation to extend them wiggle room around this (“…okay, one drink only”). Remember that you aren’t your kids’ friend, trying to earn likeability points. Let them be angry with you if they must. The firmer your stand, the less confident they might feel about giving alcohol a try, and that might slow them down (or prevent them from drinking in the first place).
Be clear about consequences if they do drink, consequences tailored to what you know they value. For example, if driving is important to your teen, determine what amount of driving would be curtailed for each infraction. Cell phones can be temporarily shut down; curfews can be imposed. Discuss consequences as a family now, before a first infraction.
Finally, discuss laws about underage drinking (illegal for anyone under the age of 21) and arm yourself with specific knowledge about the consequences their school levies when students are caught drinking on campus or at school activities (football games, dances, etc.)
Don’t soft-peddle the message. The stakes are too high.
To learn more about Ms. Brennan or to make an appointment, visit her page on our website.
The Family Institute offers affordable family, couples and individual counseling at our Evanston, downtown Chicago, Lagrange Park and Northbrook locations. Visit our website to learn more.