Tag Archives: alcoholism help

Children of Alcoholics Discuss Life ‘in a War Zone’

Blaire Sharpe and Phillip L. Woods know all too well about the pain that comes with growing up in an alcoholic home. But both have overcome that pain to create successful lives and enjoy the kind of peace they never had as children.

Alcoholic father threatening wife and childIn her new book, “Not Really Gone,” Sharpe (a pen name) describes the damage done to children when mom or dad, or both, depend on the bottle to get through life. “Growing up in an alcoholic family is like being raised in a war zone,” she writes in the book. “Life is, as best, unpredictable. Threats lurk; traps are set; people explode; survival becomes the goal.”1

Today Sharpe works as a mental health counselor in a Detroit suburb. She says she used a pen name for the book to spare her family the embarrassment of what occurred during her turbulent childhood into adulthood, and to protect herself, too.

Woods grew up in rural Indiana, his father an alcoholic and proprietor of a bootlegging business. He speaks many times throughout the book about wanting to kill his father, yet he eventually overcame these feelings of anger.

“To truly understand my feelings on a gut level, one would have to have lived in our home, where tension and fear were always present because of my father’s unpredictable outbursts,” he writes in the book.2

In an interview he explains, “I wanted to preserve my history for all my children and their children. I had a need for them to know they are descendants of an alcoholic, my father, and that if it is in any way genetic, that they are predisposed to the affliction.”

Genetics and Environment Both Contribute to Alcoholism

The link between genetics and alcoholism is no longer a question of “if,” but “how.” Research published in December 2014 in the academic journal Molecular Psychiatry showed how a network of genes, not just one gene, conspires inside the brain to create alcoholism. Using RNA sequencing technology, scientists from the University of Texas at Austin made this breakthrough discovery by analyzing tissue from the brains of alcoholics.3

Research also shows that children of alcoholics can grow up with a myriad of problems, including low self-esteem, helplessness, loneliness, guilt, fear of abandonment and chronic depression.4 Those factors can lead to alcoholism in and of themselves, Sharpe says.

Children of alcoholics can grow up with a myriad of problems, including low self-esteem, helplessness, loneliness, guilt, fear of abandonment and chronic depression. Those factors can lead to alcoholism in and of themselves.

“It can be difficult to extract a pure environment where alcoholism is the only causative factor with all other psychological and health issues being effects,” she explains. “Alcoholism, addiction, depression, anxiety, abuse of all types, financial distress … all these things are so interrelated—or at least often concurrently present—that it can be like a chicken and the egg scenario. Researchers like their research pure, controllable, and easily replicated. … It’s a blend of genes and environment. There is no one component that says, ‘If you’re raised in this environment, you’re doomed.’ Or ‘If you have this gene, you’re doomed.’ But there is a heightened possibility that if you choose to go down this road (of drinking), then things are dangerous.”

So how can those who grew up with alcoholics avoid the pitfalls of addiction, and further, take precaution to help their children avoid suffering the same fate?

Sharpe explains how a diabetic who loves cake would be smart to avoid eating cake. “If a diabetic thinks there even is a possibility of eating a second piece of cake because it tastes so good, then they are putting their life in danger.”

The same can happen with the child of an alcoholic who may think it is safe to be a social drinker. And that very much is Sharpe’s story. Even though she was well educated about the dangers children of alcoholics face, she found herself in the abyss of alcoholism twice in her life.

Sharpe has been sober for 15 years, but she tried to get sober 10 years before that and relapsed. She had a counselor tell her the first time around that her problem was not that she was an alcoholic, but that she was the product of an alcoholic environment. Sharpe later came to learn that she was both, she says.

When Mom or Dad Drinks: Hypervigilance and Living Life on Edge

Drunken woman with whiskey glassWhat is it about an alcoholic home that produces children who grow up fearful and tense, often turning to the bottle in an effort to slam the brakes on their anxiety?

“When you’re used to living your life on edge, as children of alcoholics do, there’s a hypervigilance (an acute awareness of your surroundings),” Sharpe says. “You’re always gauging what’s going on, scanning the crowd, analyzing micro-expressions. Once you get past using it as a protective mechanism, it can serve you well in life.”

A recovering alcoholic can prevent her own children from developing that sort of angst by providing a calm, stable environment.

A recovering alcoholic can prevent her own children from developing that sort of angst by providing a calm, stable environment.

“In our house, drinking is not a normal thing. It’s not part of our daily life and there is no ‘normalization’ of alcohol,” Sharpe says. “We go to our in-laws and everybody is drinking. The kids notice it, and they notice a difference between how those people behave and how their own mother behaves.”

Honesty about mom or dad’s problem with drinking also is a must, Sharpe adds. “We have open conversations about it all the time. They know their mom goes to meetings, and what they are all about. It’s a very eclectic group of people I hang out with. I’m sure they would wonder ‘why would she be friends with that person?’ if they didn’t know (that she was a recovering alcoholic).” That doesn’t mean coming out and saying “Mommy’s an alcoholic” when your children are in kindergarten is a good idea. There needs to be an age-appropriate progression, Sharpe says. When they are younger, maybe explain there is no beer or wine in the house because mommy doesn’t like what alcohol does to people. When they’re ready, explain how alcohol negatively impacted your own life and why you choose to abstain from it.

Cruel World: Sympathy Is Often Scarce for Alcoholics and Their Children

Being the child of an alcoholic can be very stigmatizing. In one poignant scene in Woods’ book, he describes being rejected by a girl’s father when he arrives to take her on a date.

“Alcoholics are seldom seen as sympathetic characters, even today,” he writes. “There is inequality in society’s treatment of them. Their families, even innocent children, are painted with the same broad brush and treated just as poorly. Of course, there are always kindhearted individuals who might feel sorry for the alcoholic family, but society as a whole does not. This is the discrimination that touched me directly in my childhood.”

Woods credits his grandfather, a “teetotaler,” for helping him get past the hurt and self-pity of growing up in an alcoholic home. He immersed himself in all the good, functional people in his life, even before his mother sent him to live with his granddad.

“The fear of ambiguity was replaced by love and affection,” he explains.

And that’s exactly how Sharpe has tried to rear her own children, she says—with predictability rather than the uncertainty she grew up with. “I tell them I’m sorry when I’m wrong, and as a result it’s OK for them to tell me when I’ve done something wrong. We forgive each other very quickly. That’s a very healthy relationship.”


1 Sharpe, B. (2015). Not Really Gone. (1st ed. Vol. 1). Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.

2 Woods, P. (2015). Miles from Home: The Journey of a Lifetime (1st ed., Vol. 1, p. 13). Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.

3 Farris, S.P., et al. (2014, December). Molecular Psychiatry. Transcriptome organization for chronic alcohol abuse in human brain.

4 Sher, K. (1997). Psychological Characteristics of Children of Alcoholics. Alcohol Health & Research World. 21, by

While You Wait: Talking to Your Boss Before Alcohol Rehab

In this post, we’ll be continuing our series about the best ways to fill your time before you start addiction treatment. Today we’re talking about one of the most difficult steps you have to take before heading off to treatment: talking to your boss.

Before you talk to your boss, one important step is to get informed. Find out more about your insurance policy and the amount of time you can take off. Under the Affordable Care Act, mental and behavioral health benefits are considered essential services. All healthcare plans must cover substance abuse treatment.[1] This information will be very helpful and useful to know. You are also protected by law—specifically the Americans with Disabilities Act—when you are an addict.[2] (There are some exceptions to this law if you are currently using illegal drugs.) Once you have that information, it is time to schedule a time to talk to your boss.

When to Talk to Your Boss About Alcohol Rehab

Man talking to bossThe timing is important when you talk to your boss about going to alcohol rehab. On most occasions, you don’t want to tell them before you have a date lined up for treatment.The reason for this is if treatment takes longer than you planned, you may find yourself without a job before you were expecting it. You also don’t want to wait too long,or they may hear rumors from co-workers about your alcohol addiction treatment.

The best idea is to avoid discussing your plans for alcohol rehab with any co-workers—or anyone at work—until you have spoken with your boss. If making sure you have a job when you return is a priority, wait until you have some solid information to give to your supervisor(regarding the dates you will be gone).

How to Talk About Alcohol Rehab with Your Supervisor

You might be anxious or apprehensive to have this conversation with your boss. That’s understandable because you are simultaneously admitting that you have an alcohol addiction issue and that you will be away from work for a given period. In some cases, your boss may not be surprised at all that you are seeking alcohol addiction treatment. Even if you think that you’ve kept your alcoholism completely separate from your job, the chances are that those who work with you have picked up on the signs.

Most bosses will be glad that you are getting the help that you need to heal. However, it might be impossible for them to hold your position open in wait for your return. It’s not personal, but their business must function in your absence, and if you hold a key position to your employer’s operation, then it may be necessary for them to hire someone when you leave – and it’s not necessarily fair for that person to be fired when you come back.

Don’t lose hope. Keep things positive, and burn no bridges. Don’t blame anyone or cause a fight. You never know when a position will open up again. If not, you can always get a great reference to take with you. After you complete alcohol rehab, you can use that reference to get a new job.

Are you currently in this stage where you are not sure what to tell your boss about alcohol rehab? Feel free to contact us at Michael’s House. We are here to help you move forward.

[1] https://www.healthcare.gov/coverage/mental-health-substance-abuse-coverage/ Mental Health and Substance Abuse Coverage.

[2] https://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/PHD1091/PHD1091.pdf Are You In Recovery From Alcohol and Drug Problems? Know Your Rights.

While You Wait: Preparing Yourself Mentally for Alcohol Rehab

This is the first of a six-post look at preparing for alcohol rehab. Today we talk about getting ready for rehab when you have to wait for treatment to begin.

Beginning treatment as soon as possible is always best. However you may face delays due to waitlists at your treatment program of choice. You may have to wrap up a few things at work or home before you can leave. Travel logistics may mean beginning treatment a few days or a week from now as you arrange flights or other transportation. As long as you remain mentally prepared, these delays don’t have to derail your recovery. Preparing yourself involves staying focused, relaxed and informed. It involves maintaining your commitment to starting a drug and alcohol-free life.

Contemplative manRecovery involves change. This is no secret. You want change at this point. Anything is better than the stagnation addiction provides. However there is also security and comfort in the routine thoughts and actions surrounding alcohol use. Don’t let stepping outside this comfort zone keep you from continuing with recovery. As you mentally prepare for rehab, you will begin to think about change and about life after recovery. You may worry about what the future holds. It is okay to be afraid and to worry. These are natural reactions to change. It is not okay to let this fear take over and reverse your decision to get well. Stay mentally prepared for rehab by remembering why you want rehab. Make lists of the pros and cons of continued drug use. Ask friends and family members to help you stay motivated.

Your fears about the future may be more than a reaction to change. They may stem from a co-occurring anxiety issue. Anxiety and alcohol addiction often overlap.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America[1] explains, “About 20 percent of people with social anxiety disorder also suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence…Although alcohol can temporarily reduce symptoms of social anxiety – which is the reason many turn to it – alcohol can also increase anxiety, irritability, or depression a few hours later or the next day. Even moderate amounts of alcohol can affect one’s mood and anxiety level.”

You may have begun drinking to self-medicate anxiety symptoms, or these symptoms may have arisen as a result of your drinking. No matter the cause, know that feeling more than just generally worried about rehab is perfectly normal. Acknowledge that it is okay to feel as you do, and don’t let these feelings keep you from recovery.

Woman in hoodie on beachMentally prepare yourself by practicing relaxation and stress relief techniques. Take deep breaths, go for walks, and distract yourself with favorite hobbies or entertainment. Reach out to professionals when feelings are too much to manage on your own. Your future rehab center will be more than happy to talk with you on the phone and help you mentally prepare yourself any time during your wait.

A wait before rehab provides the perfect opportunity to learn more about addiction and recovery. Take this time to read about your disease and about just what treatment involves. Learn about the science and statistics behind rehab. Read first-hand accounts from people now in active recovery. These actions will help you mentally prepare for rehab. They take fear of the unknown out of the equation, as you will learn just what to expect during your treatment.

Mentally prepare for rehab by spending time with friends and family while you wait. Loved ones can help distract you when you begin to worry about the future. They can help provide motivation if your commitment begins to falter.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration[2] shares, “Family members may have a stronger desire to move toward overall improved functioning in the family system, thus compelling and even providing leverage for the patient to seek and/or remain in treatment through periods of ambivalence about achieving a sober lifestyle.”

Let your friends and family support you as you mentally prepare for rehab. If you struggle to manage your worries or stay committed, lean on loved ones to get you through. By choosing treatment and beginning the path to recovery, you give yourself the opportunity to become a better parent, child, sibling and friend.

Make sure you check out our second installment in the “While You Wait” series: Talking to Your Boss Before Alcohol Rehab. Call Michael’s House to learn more about beginning your recovery as soon as possible. Prepare yourself for a better life by choosing our integrated, professional care.

[1] https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/social-anxiety-disorder/social-anxiety-and-alcohol-abuse. “Social Anxiety and Alcohol Abuse.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Web. 6 Apr 2017.

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64269/. Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 2004. Web. 6 Apr 2017.