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Reducing Your Risks

If you were raised by someone who drank too much or used other drugs, then having to deal with these substances can create an uncomfortable and potentially risky situation. Understanding how you feel about alcohol and drug use and learning more about your risks can help you make more informed choices about your own behavior. It will help you anticipate situations in which alcohol or drugs might be used and plan how you might handle them.

Because of your family experiences, you already know that substance use is not a harmless pastime. It can wreak havoc on the person who is using, as well as others around them. Although not all people who drink a lot or use other drugs will become addicted, there is always a degree of risk involved. And if you have a history of substance abuse in your family, you need to know that you are at high risk because of genetics as well as environmental factors.

Studies show that if you are the son or daughter of a problem drinker, then you are three to four times more likely than other people to become addicted to alcohol or other drugs.

Experts believe that the odds are similar for sons or daughters of parents who abuse other drugs.

Furthermore, if you don’t have a lot of experience with “normal” drinking or you have been exposed to other kinds of drug use, then you may not have a healthy standard against which to gauge the appropriateness of your own behavior. If you don’t know what is normal, then it is easier to act in unhealthy ways without fully realizing it.

Problems with alcohol or other drugs can begin the first time you start using, especially if you are at risk because of your family history. Although no two people begin their substance abuse in exactly the same way, there are many commonalties in the stories told by recovering alcoholics and drug users. One recovering alcoholic tells her tale:

My first experience with alcohol when I was a teenager was remarkably different from what it was for my friends. Drinking gave me a sense of comfort and relief that I had never felt in my life before. I thought that I had tasted heaven. I felt calm, complete. That was it. I just never wanted to stop feeling those feelings. I would do anything to get them back.

I started stealing alcohol from my parent’s liquor cabinet. I even stole from my friends’ houses. I have never been able to drink like most people. I could never get enough.

How to protect yourself

Some people from substance abusing families feel comfortable drinking responsibly, in moderation. Others feel more at risk, and prefer to abstain entirely from all substances. You may call some attention to yourself in the process, but you will find that most of your friends and colleagues respect your choice.

You may also discover that many more people than you suspected share your feelings about not using and are more comfortable talking about it because you have already done so. A few people may challenge your stance, particularly those who are uncomfortable with their own drinking or drug use. They may make rude remarks about you being a “party pooper” or a prude. Just remember: you have a right to make this choice and once you find a comfortable way to say “no,” your conviction will likely deter other people from harassing you about it. If you’re in a situation where other people’s substance abuse is making you uncomfortable, leave. Remember, you always have choices, even though it might not feel that way.