Is your drinking problematic? What can you do to be a better role model?

As much as some parents would like to pretend that it's not the case, the truth is that our children learn more about alcohol from watching Mum and Dad and their socializing habits than from anywhere else. There is no way around it - parents are key role models when it comes to their kids' attitudes towards alcohol and future drinking behaviour. Of course, this can be great if both parents are responsible drinkers and have positive attitudes towards alcohol that are conveyed effectively to their children, but it can be a potential nightmare if the reverse is true.

Alcohol is a part of many adult Australians' lives and, if we're going to be completely honest, most 'slip-up' at some point or another! No-one is suggesting that parents who enjoy a drink occasionally are bad parents and should stop enjoying themselves, but on the other hand it is important for parents to every now and then take a good, hard look at their drinking behaviour and consider what their children may be picking up from watching them on a day-to-day basis. As confronting as this can be, for some it can be devastating when this self-examination results in the discovery that their drinking is in fact problematic and that they may need help.

People drink alcohol for lots of reasons - to have fun, to relax or to fit in with friends. Lots of people try alcohol and it is important to remember that most Australians drink responsibly. However, drinking too much can lead to severe problems.

The following may be signs that drinking is putting you at risk of harm and you may need to seek professional help:
  • missing work due to your drinking.
  • drinking in dangerous situations (e.g., driving while drunk).
  • drinking-related legal problems.
  • having to drink more to get drunk.
  • withdrawal (e.g., shaking, sweating, feeling sick or vomiting, sweats, sleep problems), or drinking to relieve or avoid withdrawal problems.
  • drinking more than you want to drink.
  • no longer doing what you really enjoy (e.g., going to the beach, surfing, shopping).

If you are experiencing any of these, it may be time for you to try to reduce your drinking at the very least, or stop drinking altogether, at least for a period of time. As a guide, if you have been drinking a lot for years and you get signs of withdrawal when you try to cut back or stop drinking, you may need to stop drinking for a minimum of three months. This is so your body can get used to being without alcohol. During these three months, any depression and anxiety caused by alcohol should also settle down. Usually, very heavy drinkers have the best results by stopping drinking altogether. If you have had withdrawal problems when you’ve cut back or stopped drinking in the past, or you are a very heavy drinker, you should speak to a health care provider about doing a supervised withdrawal from alcohol.

Realistically if these are issues you are dealing with it would be hard to imagine that your children are not being affected by your behaviour. In my book I wrote about a Year 12 student I had met called Peta who believed her mother was an alcoholic.

Peta did not approach me for advice or information – she simply wanted to share her story. She was concerned that even though I warned about some of the short-term harms associated with alcohol, I failed to mention the possibility of dependence. Her mother had had a problem with alcohol for as long as she could remember, although she believed that it had got worse since her parents' divorce. Just some of the incidents that she shared with me were as follows: the nights that she had to try to put her mother to bed after she had become to drunk to make it to the bedroom; the many times that her mother had either driven her to or from school intoxicated; and the evening Peta had to take her to the emergency department of the local hospital after a drunken fall had resulted in a broken arm.
Peta was definitely street-smart. It was quite obvious that she had had to grow up very quickly and as a result, she had a very mature attitude towards alcohol. She rarely drank, and when she did, it was usually a very small amount. She had seen the 'ugly' side of alcohol and it had impacted upon her life in an enormous way. She wanted more young people to know that this was a very real consequence when alcohol was abused.
Of course, this is the extreme end of the drinking spectrum (research suggests that about one in ten drinkers will experience some sort of issue with alcohol), and there are other types of problematic drinking that may also have an impact on a child's attitude towards alcohol. 'Binge drinking', for example, sends powerful messages to young people about how adults socialize. It is also important to remember that many adults regard 'binge drinking' as something only teens and those in their early 20s do, when in fact the reality is that Friday afternoon drinks with people from work can easily be classed as 'bingeing' for some if we look at the behaviour honestly!

Alcohol is not going to go away. It is going to continue to play a significant role in many Australians' lives. It is such a huge part of what defines us as Australians that it can be quite challenging for many of us to acknowledge that it actually can cause major problems in some peoples' lives. Positive conversations with your children about alcohol and the role it plays in your family will assist your sons and daughters to develop a healthier attitude towards this popular drug. As a parent it is vital that you discuss that some adults experience problems with their drinking. Too often, the fact that alcohol is a significant community issue is ignored in favour of highlighting the youth alcohol problem. Sharing any useful strategies that you may have developed in helping friends and family members in this area could assist your child to deal with their friends they believe are exhibiting similar problems.

If you think you are drinking too much and would like help, you should see your GP or local community health or alcohol treatment service. For some that can be terribly confronting, if you would rather speak confidentially and anonymously to someone for advice call the Alcohol and Drug Information Service in your state and territory. The trained counsellors can offer advice or information on details of your nearest service. If you go the DARTA website you will find a list of the services and their contact numbers.


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