1 in 5 people in the UK are affected by their parent’s drinking. In this blog, Savannah describes her own experience growing up with a parent who drank too much, and why it is critical we challenge our language and attitudes around alcohol.
I grew up in a very uncertain environment. As an only child to my single mum, my life was endlessly lonely and filled with the constant fear that something bad would happen to my mum. I would find hidden bottles stashed around home, she would spend days ignoring me, sleeping all the time, or just completely disinterested. I learnt to truly treasure the glimmer of time where she would be mostly sober. Even then, it was when she was recovering from days-long drinking, so she would be feeling the after-effects. My caring role never stopped.
As I got older, the complexities and reasonings behind my mum’s drinking became clearer, and the sooner I realised that there was nothing I could do to fix her or to encourage her to get help, no matter how hard I tried. It became a horrible waiting game of which way was her life going to go – would she succumb to the benefits of addiction recovery and accept the help that was very much there, or would she keep drinking her life away? Sadly, the latter happened, and she died in March 2018, aged 58.
As I continue to engage in volunteering work around the impact of alcoholism, it is still never easy to talk about alcohol. Firstly, there’s the fear that comes with rejecting alcohol, not just in social settings but even at work. I couldn’t escape the notion that alcohol was very much a necessity to enjoy life. Sometimes, I might get asked why I choose to be a non-drinker, and get cut short when I describe my experience of living with a parent who drank. This can be hurtful as it feels like while they understand the harmful connotations of alcohol, they are choosing not to engage further in case it might put them off.
It’s almost suffocating and a painful reminder that others’ relationships with alcohol appear to be so positive and care-free, while I can never shake the feeling that it took my mum away. I acknowledge that as an individual, I have a lot of work to do to reframe my own relationship with alcohol, and I never assume that someone else is not an addict. It is important to remember that although someone may be speaking in socially positive terms about alcohol, they could be suffering their own battles deep down.
There is a fundamental need to address the way we talk about alcohol. We need to consider the enablement of addiction in the form of greeting cards adorned with sparkly ‘gin-dependence’ slogans and tackle the risks of brands retaining their alcoholic logos on advertisements for alcohol-free or non-alcohol products.
Language around alcohol is equally important too. All too often, it is still associated as an end of day stress relief, or something to look forward to after a long week. Other messaging presents ‘life-hacks’ for hiding alcohol, forgoing the severe risks of over-consumption and perpetuating harmful stereotypes about alcoholics hiding drinks from their families and friends.
All experiences of growing up in a household where alcohol was very much present are valid and we need to be able to spread our concerns about social alcohol use and the ways in which alcohol is glorified in the media without being shunned as boring or party poopers.
Written by Savannah
This blog was published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alcohol Health Alliance or its members.