This is a guest blog written by MDC coalition member, Nita Privette.
My name is Nita Privette and I am an adult child of an alcoholic. Is that the way I would introduce myself in an Al-anon meeting? I’ve never been to one but probably should have. The impact my daddy’s alcoholism has had on my life is undeniable. He took his life when I was 11 years old. The night before he died was one of those nights that any child of an alcoholic can recall. Parents fighting…the smell…children crying. My last conversation with my daddy was when I told him I did not want him for my daddy if that was how it was going to be. I’ve lived with that as well as the sound of my mother’s voice telling me my entire life that I was a born alcoholic.
I had little contact with my daddy’s family after his death. I began reconnecting with them several decades ago. I admit that part of the reason was to research whether what my mother had been telling me regarding the genetic propensity of alcohol and drug addiction in the family was true. What I have learned is shocking. Beginning with my grandfather who was, as described by family members, a mean drunk. His death certificate cites his cause of death to be chronic nephritis and pneumonia. An article was published in the JAMA a couple of years after his death in 1930 discussing The Role of Alcohol in the Etiology of Nepritis (here).
While I have not spent the time to research further scientific findings on the subject, the body of my findings are anecdotal found in family history. My grandfather had 8 children who lived to be adults. Of those children, at least half were alcoholics. 2 committed suicide and another had an alcohol related death. One of my daddy’s brothers was a self-described sober drunk remaining sober for over 50 years. Of the offspring of that generation, 6 are addicts, including my sister, and there have multiple suicide attempts and 1 suicide. The next generation has fared little better with another half dozen addicts, 1 overdose death, and 4 suicides. A correlation between addiction, mental illness and suicide could certainly be made.
My point is that my mother was indeed correct. I am a “born alcoholic”, meaning I have the genetic components to have an addictive personality. Consequently, I have never tasted alcohol as I am certain I would love, if not the taste, the sensation. I have to be extremely careful with pain killers of any kind. I knew which one of my children would be the most susceptible to addiction because of his, I don’t know any other way to describe it, his addictive personality. I gave my children the same warning that my mother gave me. He did not heed it and therefore has battled an opioid addiction for almost 20 years.
My parents’ and my generation bore the stigma of addiction in secrecy and shame. I refuse to allow it to be a stigma in our family. It is a disease that must be recognized and treated. While doing all the right things to keep from enabling addicts, our society must be proactive in removing the stigma and dealing with the root causes, genetic and otherwise, while finding solutions for life-long recovery.