Alateen Offers Support for Youths with Alcoholic Parents

Tanya A. didn’t grow up in an alcoholic household. Instead, her parents were drug users, and it affected the young girl.

“If I was younger and had had this, I would have avoided a lot of abuse,” Tanya said of the Alateen program she co-facilitates. “I would have had better adult relationships. But I don’t look back.” She looks ahead, working with area teenagers affected by alcoholic homes.

Tanya, Mary D. and Robin M. run the Alateen program based out of The Upper Room.

The three women, still on their own journeys, volunteer their time to help area teens break the cycle of alcoholism in the family. They leave work early or take personal time so that they can give young people the help they didn’t get.

Alateen is a support group for children ages 9 to 19 who come from homes with at least one alcoholic parent or “contributor.” Free and confidential, it gives them the tools to break the cycle of addiction, and to lead healthy, positive adult lives. The Derry-based group meets on Wednesday afternoons.

Everything was “hidden” in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Mary D. recalled as the three women visited before a meeting. She grew up one of 11 children in a home where her father was an alcoholic. “My father was drinking all the time,” she recalled. “We never had a consistent place to live. Some of my siblings spent time in foster homes.”

She married an alcoholic, had a son who became an alcoholic, and only found support when she became an adult and joined Alanon, the support system for adults affected by alcoholism. “Alanon helped bring out the things that were hidden in me,” Mary said. When she was able, she turned to helping young people. “Alateen,” she said, fulfills things in my heart.”

Mary is trying to get an Alateen group going in the Raymond-Epping area, and all three women hope the Derry group will grow. But if there’s only one child at a meeting, that’s fine too, they said. That one child needs them.

A meeting is similar in many ways to an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meeting, with the children introducing themselves and reading from inspirational material. But they try to make it fun, Robin said. The facilitators have developed games, such as a multifaceted ball with sayings such as “Easy does it” and “first things first.” The children can spin the ball and do a reading based on the saying that comes up, they said.

A child can talk as much or as little as they want. And the three women emphasized that Alateen is confidential. “We do not tell the non-drinking parent what’s been said,” Tanya said, unless it’s a report of abuse.

Central to the mission is the idea of self-control and self-realization. Robin quoted one of the organization’s many mantras, the “Three C’s” – “You can’t cure it, you can’t control it, and you didn’t cause it.”

Part of the strategy, Robin said, is teaching the children that they don’t have to engage with the alcoholic parent. Tanya gave the example of a child asking, “If I go home and see my dad drinking, can I say, ‘Why did you spend your money on beer and not food?’”

Tanya’s response would be, “How’s that going to go?” She would help the child see the best course of action is to go home, say “hi” and go to their room. “Eventually, you will have compassion for them,” she said, noting, “It is a disease.” But confrontation is not the answer, Tanya said.

The children follow the AA 12-step program, Mary said, and the group setting teaches them “how to care for themselves. It sounds selfish, but you have to realize how important you are.”

The students run the meeting, with the three adults there for support. The Upper Room provides a private space, plenty of water and refreshments. “This week we have Panera muffins,” Robin said, gesturing to an overflowing plate.

They also draw up their own code of conduct, which includes “No hitting, hands to yourself, no yelling, no annoying, share if you want to, and no interrupting.”

Teens are welcome to go to an adult Alanon group, Tanya said. But many prefer to be with their peers, who understand the complexities of teen life magnified by an alcoholic parent. The Upper Room location is a plus because Pinkerton Academy kids can walk to it, she said. “Some of our kids don’t have their driver’s licenses,” she said.

And her next statement pointed to the stark reality for these kids: “Some of them can’t ask their parent for a ride, because the parent is drunk.” And the bar is becoming lower for these children to themselves become addicted.

Tanya’s daughter, a Pinkerton student, told her, “Middle school is even too late” to start thinking about drugs, alcohol and young people. “We can make choices for ourselves,” Tanya said. “Kids sometimes don’t have a voice.” And Robin said, “We each have our own journey.”

Alateen has a Facebook page and a Web site. “We also have an Instagram feed,” Tanya said. But the easiest course of action for a kid curious about the program is to show up Wednesdays, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., at the Upper Room, 36 Tsienneto Road. Editor’s Note: In keeping with 12-step program protocol, no last names are used in this story.

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