Mary Jo Podgurski

Column Mary Jo Podgurski

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 68 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Fearful of father when he’s drinking

September 4, 2013

Q.I need to tell you the truth. Last week I wrote you about my friend who was getting drunk all the time, and I asked you how to tell if he was drinking too much. You answered me and then said that the question would be good for your column, and I gave you the OK to use it. Now I feel like I should not hold back. The person who is drinking isn’t really my friend. Before you think it’s me, it isn’t. It’s actually my dad. He’s drunk every weekend but goes to work all week. Only my mom and my sisters know what’s up. Can he be an alcoholic if he only drinks on the weekend? And even if he’s not an alcoholic, he’s real mean when he drinks. It scares me sometimes. Should I tell my mom that I get scared? I get mad at her because it’s like she doesn’t notice him, or at least that’s what it looks like to me. I don’t want him to get mad at me. Thanks for answering my question before. I hope you’ll answer this one. I’m sorry for lying to you.

14-year-old male

Mary Jo’s response:

I respect your courage. Writing again shows maturity. It’s OK, there’s no need to apologize.

Any time a young person is frightened or worried it’s a good idea to talk with a trusted adult. Your mom may be hesitant to discuss adult concerns with you; I think she needs to know about your feelings. She may not realize that you’re angry. It’s also possible that your dad doesn’t know how frightened you are when he drinks. Do you feel safe talking with either of your parents?

If you feel that you can’t ask your parents for support, I’d like to help you find another adult. Are there other trusted adults in your family? Could you share your concerns with a grandparent, uncle or aunt? School counselors or a Scout leader, coach or church/synagogue leader might help. Someone needs to know that you’re afraid. I will be happy to help you talk with a trusted adult if you wish. You don’t need to face this alone.

Your dad may or may not be an alcoholic, but his drinking on the weekends seems out of control. Alcoholics Anonymous states that alcohol is a problem when a person “has a distinct physical desire to consume alcohol beyond his/her capacity to control it, and in defiance of all rules of common sense.” An alcoholic will not only have an abnormal craving for alcohol but will not know when or how to stop drinking.

After you’ve shared your feelings with a trusted adult, please take a moment to think about you. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry lists some common feelings that young people experience when a parent drinks and appears out of control. I’m sharing them with you so you can begin to understand that your feelings are typical of someone in your situation. Others feel as you do.

• Guilt: Please remember that you are not the cause of your parents’ choices.

• Anxiety: You seem worried about your dad’s drinking and your mom’s silence. Anxiety can consume many hours of time as you worry about how to change things at home. Your grades may drop. It’s important to share your anxiety with a school counselor before that happens.

• Confusion: You actually have two dads – your weekend father and your weekday one. The weekend dad confuses you. Your feelings are normal in this situation.

• Embarrassment: Young people who are worried about a parent’s drinking may not bring home friends simply because they don’t know how the parent will act. Are you able to maintain friendships?

• Anger: You’ve begun to feel angry toward your mom. Anger will also cloud your thinking and may make it difficult to study and keep up with your homework.

• Depression: Are you feeling sad? Too often we pretend that a person can “just get over” depression. The truth is a person dealing with depression needs support. If your leg was broken no one would expect you to hobble around on it – you would go to an orthopedic doctor for help. The same is true when your spirit needs help.

Teens have shared their fears when a parent who’s been drinking drives and they are passengers. Our peer leaders teach young people to avoid riding in cars driven by teens who have been drinking. When a parent drinks and drives a child may be in danger. That’s not OK. You deserve happiness, security and a feeling of safety. Let’s work toward those goals immediately.

You’re also old enough to hang out at the Common Ground Teen Center (53 N. College St. in Washington). The center is open from 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. We’re starting a new group on Mondays. Created by one of our peer educators, “Wordy Stuff” will begin Sept. 16th at 5 p.m. and will be a chance to show off creativity (original poetry or art), discuss books or articles that interest you, and explore literature. We also have peer education meetings every Wednesday and Real Talk Performers meetings every Thursday.

Please remember that you’re a person of great worth. Let’s continue connecting.

Youth Champions

The following peer leaders presented at the Washington Rotary meeting on Aug. 27: Serena Green, Mackenzie Martin, David Pascoe, Logan Weakland and Taylor Wheeler. These outstanding educators demonstrated some of the interactive techniques they use to teach drug and alcohol prevention. They also showed their new video, “I’m the Least Drunk,” which can be viewed at The video is dedicated to the memory of Sierra Jane Minor.



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