I sure wish you could help me. I have three sons -- 16, 18, 20. My husband is an alcoholic. I am a recovered alcoholic for more than a year.
My older sons don't get along. They abuse each other, physically and mentally, and it's hurting me so much inside. They also call me names and tell me to shut up. I don't know how to handle this.
Since I'm recovered, I think clearly, thank God, and think perhaps I wasn't there when they needed me, or that I did something wrong. I feel guilty, thinking it's my fault that they act this way.
My 16-year-old seems to be okay, thank God. And thank you for any help you can give me.
You should feel proud, not guilty. You are a brave woman. You have had the courage to say no, again and again, not just to alcohol but to old haunts and old friends who might lure you back to old habits. To do this, you had to admit that you are different and that's hard, too.
Normal drinkers quit alcohol with relative ease. It's just another "no thanks" to them. The alcoholic, however, is at war with the cravings of her own body, and every day is a new battle, particularly in the first year.
You undoubtedly fortify yourself by going to many meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous each week -- one of the greatest personal support systems ever devised -- and now you're ready to do more, learn more -- and face more.
There's no point in pretending that your alcoholism didn't affect the boys. Any chronic illness -- multiple sclerosis, cancer or alcoholism -- upsets a family. Now the older ones are showing the stress. They're fighting to keep their power, after years of making their own decisions.
There's another possible explanation for their abusive behavior. If the boys drink regularly -- even beer -- they may have drinking problems, too. A six-pack a day -- or six glasses of wine -- is the same as six light drinks of whiskey or gin and that's a drinking problem.
Some people become alcoholics because of their environment, but many have biological differences.
Scientists say that alcoholics not only have a greater tolerance for alcohol and get greater stimulation from it at first but that some have a lower production of two hormones, while others have a faulty enzyme system in the liver. Some alcoholic fathers even have the same abnormal brain wave as their sons, long before the boys ever had their first drink.
Susceptibility seems to be built into the genes: About 70 percent of all alcoholics have a family history of the disease. An alcoholic grandparent, aunt, uncle or sibling heightens the risk, but not as much as an alcoholic parent. As studies on adopted children show, a child with an alcoholic birth parent is four times more likely to become an alcoholic, even though adopted by nondrinkers.
Other studies have found that boys are more vulnerable than girls, and that the disease often is handed down, father to son, while mothers will it to both sexes.
A more virulent kind of alcoholism seems to surface first, according to yet another study. A fourth of the alcoholic men surveyed -- usually those who were aggressive, even violent -- became heavy drinkers by the time they were 25, found it very hard to quit and were nine times more likely to have alcoholic sons. The other 75 percent, who became alcoholics after years of heavy drinking, found it easier to quit and were only twice as likely to have alcoholic children.
The most important new finding, however, makes the picture much brighter for your sons. If people know they are at risk, they are much more careful about drinking, and some won't drink at all.
Your sons also should know that alcoholism is a terminal illness for those who don't quit; that 18 million Americans have it and that alcohol is involved in half of the traffic deaths; nearly two-thirds of the drownings; one-fourth to one-half of the cases of domestic violence; one-third to one-half of all hospital admissions and one-third of the suicides, rapes, burglaries, assaults and child molestations. And nearly half of the homeless are alcoholics.
You can't expect your older boys to accept this knowledge easily -- they're not in a listening mode -- but the youngest should be receptive.
Alateen meetings will teach him more. He'll not only learn better ways to deal with his dad, but he'll learn that he didn't cause the alcoholism at home, that he can't control or cure it and that he's not alone.
Books will comfort him too. Three winners: When Your Parent Drinks Too Much, by Eric Ryerson (Facts on File, $12.95); Letting Go With Love, by Julia H. (Tarcher, $12.95); and Children of Alcoholism, by Judith S. Seixas and Geraldine Youcha (Harper and Row, $7.95).
He may even learn enough to help his brothers, but if they continue to disrupt the household, you'll have to send them packing. Once children have finished high school, they have no automatic right to food, clothes, shelter, money or even a higher education.
Give them the choice: They honor their parents, and each other, or they leave.
This will be the second bravest decision you'll ever make, and it will be almost as valuable, because it can stop the boys from destroying the family and themselves.
Questions may be sent to P.O. Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.