Focus on Children of Alcoholics
- Background on the Issue
- Questions for Your Community
- Programming Ideas
- Public Service Announcements
A Publication of the National Association of Broadcasters
About This Publication
Focus on Children of Alcoholics was produced by the
National Association of Broadcasters with the assistance of the National
Association for Children of Alcoholics. The goal of the publication is
to help radio and television stations across the country play a part in
helping children from alcoholic families find the support they need. The
publication is part of STAR (Stations Target Alcohol Abuse Reduction),
NAB's comprehensive alcohol abuse education campaign.
For more information about STAR, contact:
NAB, 1771 N St., NW, Washington, DC 20036.
Often, the people hurt most by alcohol abuse don't even
drink. They are the children of alcoholics, and they desperately need
our help and attention.
Today, there are an estimated 28.6 million Americans who
are children of alcoholics; nearly 11 million are under age 20. Many of
these children and young people are exposed to chaotic family environments
that offer little stability or emotional support. And many will develop
serious behavioral and emotional problems that will keep them from living
happy and normal lives.
It doesn't have to be this way. Effective prevention measures
exist to help children of alcoholics cope with life's many challenges.
By providing these youths with the support they need, family members,
friends, doctors and entire communities can be a steadying force, bringing
hope to young lives where it is sorely lacking and preventing more problems
down the road.
A Tough Environment
All too often, the alcoholic homefront is armored by denial,
delusion and steadfast adherence to a strict "no talk" rule.
Consequently, children of alcoholics don't always understand what is happening
in their families and, not too surprisingly, some believe it is all their
fault. The predominant feeling for many children isn't sadness, anger
or hurt; it is overwhelming confusion.
Tasha, age seven, put it this way: "Mom says Dad is
drinking again. Dad says he isn't. ... I am confused. I'll just try hard
to figure it out."
Growing up in such an environment can lead to real problems
later in life. According to Dr. Hoover Adger, Associate Director of Pediatrics
and Adolescent Medicine at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore,
Maryland, children and adolescents living in families where a parent or
another caretaker abuses alcohol often develop "unhealthy living
"They may not learn to trust themselves or others,
how to handle uncomfortable feelings, or how to build positive relationships,"
according to Adger, who also serves as Program Vice President of the National
Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACoA). The result, he says, is
that these youths are at higher risk for school failure, depression, increased
anxiety and problems of their own with alcohol. And not only that, but
children of alcoholics are at increased risk of accidental injury, verbal,
physical or sexual abuse, and neglect associated with their parent's excessive
Making Things Better
No child of an alcoholic should have to grow up in isolation
or without support. The key to helping these youths is to provide them,
first, with basic information about alcohol and alcoholism and, second,
with skills they can use to cope.
Information. Children of Alcoholics need accurate
information so they can understand that alcoholism is a disease and has
nothing to do with them. By learning about such things as denial, blackouts,
relapse and recovery, youngsters can make better sense of what's happening
at home. Accurate information about alcohol and alcoholism also helps
children of alcoholics come to terms with the fact that they are not to
blame and they can't make it all better.
According to the experts, it's critically important to provide
these types of information in "age-appropriate" ways so youngsters
don't become overwhelmed or even more confused. Important messages for
children of alcoholics to hear include the following:
- Alcoholism is a sickness.
- You can't make it better.
- You deserve help for yourself.
- You are not alone
- There are people and places that can help.
But most of all, children of alcoholics should remember
this: you can get help and feel better even if your parent doesn't stop
Where can we reach children of alcoholics with the right
messages and information? The answer is anywhere in PSAs, presentations
at youth group meetings, classroom discussions, a poster at the pediatricians'
office or a brochure posted at the local community center. And often,
providing children of alcoholics with the information they need means
simply sitting down with them, one on one, and talking it through.
Empowering children of alcoholics with life skills helps
them cope with the inevitable challenges they confront from day to day.
For example, children of alcoholics who face difficult situations with
family violence, neglect and other problems can learn a variety of coping
and "self-care" strategies to stay safe. Others may allow their
feelings to build up until they are ready to explode many children of
alcoholics, in fact, complain of frequent headaches and stomach aches
associated with stress. For these youngsters, learning how to identify
and express their feelings in healthy ways is key.
Generally, the experts say that children of alcoholics need
to learn to love and respect themselves through experiences where they
have opportunities to succeed and thrive. They need help developing strong
social skills, coping strategies and a positive vision of life. And, more
often than not, this help must come from outside the family.
Many prevention and early intervention programs exist today
to help youngsters develop these sorts of skills. Student assistance programs
in many schools, for example, may offer education and support groups,
face-to-face counseling, and other prevention strategies. In addition,
many alcohol treatment centers offer children's programs, and church youth
and community groups regularly provide children with lessons and skills
they can draw on as they face life's challenges.
The key point is this: Trained professionals aren't the
only ones qualified to help children of alcoholics. Anyone who can show
they care and any program that brings youngsters together in constructive
ways can make a difference. The most important thing, say the experts,
is for children of alcoholics to develop healthy relationships with others.
Broken promises, harsh words and the constant threat of abuse make "Don't
trust" the rule for many of these youngsters.
As a result, simply caring about a child from an alcoholic
family is often all that it takes to start.
Children of Alcoholics:
- Alcoholics are more likely than non-alcoholics to have an alcoholic
father, mother, sibling or other relative.
- Studies suggest an increased prevalence of alcoholism among parents
who abuse their children.
- Children of alcoholics tend to score lower on tests that measure
cognitive and verbal skills. They are also more likely to be truant,
drop out of school, repeat grades or be referred to a school counselor
- Hospital admission rates for children of alcoholics are substantially
higher than rates for children from non-acholic families: for substance
abuse, the inpatient admission rate is three times that of other children;
for mental disorders, the rate is almost double.
Ideas for Stations
In this section, we offer lots of ideas for programming,
community outreach and public service activities broadcasters can undertake
to focus their communities' attention on helping children of alcoholics.
TIPS FOR NEWS AND OTHER PROGRAMMING
Get the Facts. In news reports and other programming,
try to show the extent of the problem. To get a sense of how many children
are living with alcoholic parents in your area, talk to teachers, social
workers, school guidance counselors, doctors and others about how often
they encounter children from alcoholic homes. Discuss the potential risks
to these children behavioral and emotional problems, physical and sexual
abuse and provide concerned adults with a local resource to call for information
on how to help children they know who might be in trouble.
Ask the Experts. Contact local experts who know about
and can help you convey to your audience the best strategies for helping
children of alcoholics. These could include pediatrician, child psychologists,
youth counselors, alcohol counseling and treatment professionals, and
others. Ask your contacts for background information, invite them to appear
on the air in talk shows and other forums, and interview them for news
Profile Local Programs. Produce a news profile of
a local program providing assistance to children of alcoholics. Maybe
there is a student assistance program at a local school or a special youth-oriented
program offered by an alcohol treatment center. Whatever the case, interview
program coordinators about the problems facing children of alcoholics
and about the strategies programs follow to help the children they serve.
Be sure to provide your audience with information on how to sign up.
Note: If it appears there aren't many programs
serving children of alcoholics in your community, try to find out why
these children are not getting the attention they need.
Talk to Grown-up Children of Alcoholics. Contact
local treatment centers and other area resources to ask for help in pulling
together a group of two or more grown-up children of alcoholics who have
been successful in coping and getting on with their lives. Be sensitive:
many may wish to remain anonymous or to keep their backgrounds private.
Interview them about their childhood and the challenges of living with
an alcoholic parent. Find out what it took for them to turn the corner
to a brighter future. Ask if they have any words of encouragement to share
with children who are living with alcoholic parents today.
Produce Intervention Pointers. In a series of brief
news segment or public service spots, offer easy-to-grasp pointers for
adults who may know a child from an alcoholic family. Encourage them to
try to talk to the child, to say it's not the child's fault, and to direct
the child to activities and programs that can help.
Talk Directly to Youth. Produce public service spots
for broadcast during children's programming highlighting key messages
that children of alcoholics need to hear. You might even want to produce
a special youth-oriented spot providing information on alcohol and alcoholism.
Also, use PSA spots and other children's programming to highlight community
programs and activities Boy and Girl Scouts, Little League, youth soccer
that offer opportunities to develop important life skills. Be sure to
provide youngsters with phone numbers and sign-up information for all
programs and activities you cover.
List Local Resources. Make sure in all of your reporting
on alcohol abuse and prevention topics that you include contact numbers
and addresses for local resources people can call if they feel they have
a problem. Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon family groups are always good
places to start. Also contact city, county and state health departments,
as well as area treatment programs, to see if they have hotlines and other
services. Look in the Yellow Pages under "alcohol treatment."
Al-Ateen (for teens affected by parents who drink) can be reached through
Al-Anon or Alcoholics Anonymous.
Dramatize the Problem. Produce a dramatization of
the challenges facing children in alcoholic families. Portray a child
in need of help as a parent engages in excessive drinking, ignores the
family and threatens to become violent or abusive. Show how the child
finds help through a student assistance program at school, a youth group
in the community or even a caring neighbor. Broadcast the program when
children and families are watching, and be sure to tell your audience
where to go for more information and assistance.
Organize a Youth Hotline. Work with other organizations
to create a community hotline for local children from alcoholic families
who want to talk or need help. Contact youth service organizations, youth
counselors and others who can staff the phones and direct the youngsters
to community resources. Advertise the hotline in schools, during children's
programming, in community centers and elsewhere. Seek out major advertisers
as possible hotline sponsors.
Produce a Video for Schools. Package together an
assortment of programming on alcohol and alcoholism for use by local teachers.
Encourage teachers to use the video in the classroom to provide students
with basic information about alcohol, and basic messages and coping strategies
for children from alcoholic families.
Produce a Youth Calendar. Make it a continuing priority
to report on upcoming activities for children in your community. Include
all activities that bring kids together to socialize, learn and have fun!
Broadcast the calendar during children's and family programming.
#1: All too often, it's the innocent children who suffer
when their parents abuse alcohol. The worst part is they can't help themselves.
But you can. Call the National Association for Children of Alcoholics
for information about what you can do to help a child you know who may
be at risk. The number is 1-888-554-COAS. Call today.
#2: You know, it's often the case that the people hurt most
by alcohol don't even drink. That's right, it's the innocent children
who suffer when their parents abuse alcohol. If you know a child who may
be suffering, the most important thing you can do is show you care. Tell
them it's not their fault, that they aren't alone, and that there are
people and places that can help. Give them the information and the care
they need to get on track to a brighter future.
For more on what you can do to help children of alcoholics,
call the National Association for Children of Alcoholics at 1-888-554-COAS.
#3 If your mom or dad drinks too much, you're not alone.
Across the country there are millions of boys and girls just like you.
The important thing to remember is it's not your fault. All you can do
is live your life. And there are lots of folks who can help. Call the
National Association for Children of Alcoholics at 1-888-554-COAS
or (community resource) for more information You'll be glad you did.
TIPS FOR CHILDREN OF ALCOHOLICS
For family members, neighbors, teachers and others in a position
to talk to a child from an alcoholic family, it's important to know
what to say. Here are some tips for youngsters from the National Association
for Children of Alcoholics:
DO talk about how you feel. You can talk with the
safe people in your lifemaybe a close friend, or relative, a school
counselor, a teacher, a minister or others. Sharing your feelings is
not being mean to your family. When you talk to someone, you might feel
DO try to get involved in doing enjoyable things
at school or near where you livethe
school band, softball, Boy or Girl Scouts, or others. Doing these types
of activities can help you forget about the problems at home, and you
could learn new things about yourself and about how other people live
DO remember that feeling afraid and alone is a normal
way to feel when you live with alcoholic parents. It's confusing to
hate the disease of alcoholism at the same time that you love you alcoholic
parent. All people have confusing feelings. Having two different feelings
at the same time is the way many kids feel about having alcoholic parents.
DO remember to have fun! Sometimes children from
alcoholic families worry so much that they forget to be "just a
kid." If things are bad at home, you might not have anyone who
will help you have fun, but don't let that stop you. Find a way to let
yourself have fun.
DON'T ride in a car when the driver has been drinking
if you can avoid it. It is not safe. Walk or try to get a ride with
an adult friend who has not been drinking. If your parents are going
out to drink somewhere, try not to go with them. (If you must go with
them, sit in the back seat, sit in the middle, buckle up and stay calm.)
DON'T think that because your parent is an alcoholic
you will be one too. Most children of alcoholics do not become alcoholics
DON'T pour out or try to water down your parent's
alcohol. The plain fact is that it won't work. You have no control over
the drinking. You didn't make the problem start, and you can't make
it stop. It is up to your parent to get help. What your parent does
is not your responsibility or your fault.
MATERIALS AVAILABLE FROM NACoA
The National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACoA)
has a toll-free number and a World Wide Web site providing information
and materials for parents, children, teachers and others.
The toll-free number is 1-888-55-4COAS (2627). On
the Web http://www.health.org/ Be sure to highlight this helpful
resource in your reporting and public service spots on the problem.