Unless you live on a private, remote island, you know someone affected by alcoholism. Our country is riddled with alcoholics — from those living on the streets to those flying commercial aircrafts. And in most of these cases, an innocent victim is the child of the alcoholic. Studies estimate that over 11,000,000 children in the United States currently live with one or more alcoholic parents.
These children are not only victimized by erratic, dysfunctional and often abusive behavior, but they are also burdened by a hidden danger — the alcoholic gene.
As our civilization has known for centuries, alcoholism can jump from one generation to another. Tragic stories of alcoholic grandfather, fathers and son are scattered all across our country, and, recently, science has backed up what we have always known. Study after study has shown that children of alcoholics can be up to 4 times more likely to develop the disease than their peers.
So are these kids doomed? Left to their own devices, they may in fact be destined to repeat the life of their alcoholic parent. A 400% increase in alcoholism in these children shows that even in this age of medical advancement, rehabilitation centers and government programs, the genes are all powerful when it comes to alcoholism.
But there may be one simple solution that millions of parents, teachers and counselors have overlooked — knowledge. Yes, a child armed with the knowledge about their hidden disease is much more likely to beat it. Simply knowing the basics about their genetic predisposition for alcoholism, for example, has shown to be extremely effective in reducing drinking.
A landmark New York State study proved this decades ago (Yes, Alcoholism is Hereditary. But There are Ways to Fight Off The Disease, September 23, 1987, New York Times). As published in the New York Times in 1987, this study showed that the children of alcoholics who did not know of their higher risk drank three times as much and seven times as often as those children of alcoholics that simply knew they might be predisposed to alcoholism.
While this small amount of knowledge and understanding may seem trivial to adults, the sad fact of alcoholic families is that these children rarely are told of their increased risk. The New York study found that only 5% of those children surveyed knew that children of alcoholics faced an increased risk of developing the disease.
What we have in front of us as a society is an opportunity to significantly reduce the power of the family alcoholism cycle by some simple education. So instead of focusing on “Say No,” we need to be shouting “Say Yes” to learning about your genetic pre-disputation to alcoholism.
PotatoAllergy.com is a new, charitable movement dedicated to this precise cause — educating children of alcoholics about their alcoholism genes and what they can do to prevent the disease. Armed with its groundbreaking book My Dad is an Alcoholic, What About Me?: A Pre-Teen Guide to Conquering Addictive Genes, Potato Allergy provides these children with education, peer and professional support, and a forum to ask for help.
And one must wonder, if studies show that simply knowing about a genetic predisposition to alcoholism can reduce drinking by 300%, what can an entire movement do?
Marc Treitler and his family are the founders and creators of the family addiction education website www.potatoallergy.com and the authors and illustrators of My Dad Is an Alcoholic, What About Me?: A Pre-teen Guide to Conquering Addictive Genes.
Photo: “Tiki’s Bar & Grill” by Rob Bertholf is licensed under CC BY 2.0
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