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Bottle children or "alcohol a good friend?"

Note: People who are involved in youth work will be confronted with subject of alcohol sooner or later. Either directly in that a few kids or teenagers bring alcohol to the group (especially on camps), or indirectly when the youths swap wild stories about boozing sessions and tell the others about parties and their first experiences with alcohol. Here are 4 examples as an introduction, in order to follow up with a few questions, why and how (maybe even your) kids reach for alcohol at such an early age.

Example 1:

“That’s all part of it” said the twelve year old Phillip on his birthday, pulled a bottle of wine out of his father’s reserve and drank it with his friend. When the birthday boy could no longer stand up, his friend dragged the drunken boy to the stream to dip his feet in the cold water. In the hope that his classmate would recover, the helper made his way home. However this was not the case: a birthday also became death day for the twelve year old. He fell into the stream and drowned.

Example 2:

Bernd started to drink beer and wine at twelve years of age: secretly at first. At thirteen he switched to liquor: with cola at first and then without. He is now sixteen and already has a rehab course behind him.

Example 3:

Jens has a regular spot in the football stadium. He stands with the boys on the terraces. Even if the game doesn’t run well, the vodka and beer always flow. Jens has now collapsed, he is as blue as a violet. The ambulance, which is actually there for injured players or spectators with weak hearts, drove him away with sirens and lights and delivered to the clinic with bad alcohol poisoning.

Example 4:

Willi is the smallest in his class. At thirteen years of age, he does look particularly good – at least that is what the others say and tease him with not very nice nicknames. That annoys him as he would like to be as big and strong as the others. He tries really hard but it does not work like he imagines. However a few days ago he saw something interesting, he had seen it often, but this time he had consciously paid attention.

What happened? In the evening, as he came out of his bedroom, he saw his mother through a crack in the door and watched her bring down a bottle from the living room cupboard, she filled the glass half full and slowly drank it. As he saw this, he remembered the day before. He thought about how she had been on her feet from morning till evening, how she had so much work and then had to sort out a fight between siblings. She had really got annoyed. Willi could understand that his mother was exhausted. He wondered why she now looked peaceful and relaxed, even almost happy. These few sips from the glass had changed her somehow.

Willi thought about this for a long time on this evening and he slowly came across the idea: »I want to try some of that too.« The opportunity arose a few days later. Willi was all alone at home. It was not difficult to find the hiding place where the cupboard keys were hidden. He pulled the bottle out and poured himself a half glass, just like he had seen his mother do. He drank slowly. The stuff burned terribly in his throat at first but then it became nicely warm. His voice was somehow different than before, he could not really describe it. From now on, Willi crept up to the cupboard at every opportunity and let himself »enjoy« this »enjoyment«. He only ever drank a half glass empty; because he did not know that he could not exactly drink the stuff like lemonade. What he did not notice was that he was slowly but surely becoming addicted. At first he only got to know the good side of his »new friend«: He could handle the teasing from classmates a lot better, he was cheerful and could converse better than before.

However it did not last long. He soon noticed that he had become restless and nervous if he did not have a drink. He would hand around and dream about how he could come across his next glass of alcohol. All of his pocket money had been spent because he bought himself a bottle every now and again. He had even stolen some money from his mother’s purse. Willi felt as if he was in a strange undertow, could not and did not want to stop. After six months, he had become addicted to alcohol and had to spend the next year in a hospital to be treated for his addiction.

Group questions for the theme – alcohol

  • Which experiences have you made with alcohol?

  • Why have you already drank alcohol (thirst does not count)?

  • How did you feel?

  • In which situations do you reach for the bottle?

  • For what reasons might someone regularly drink alcohol? (Relaxation, fear, depression, failing social efficiencies, bravado or the wrong friends, ...)

  • How could the person be helped?

  • ...

  • ...

These questions can be altered or extended to suit your own situation, depending on the group and their experiences. I think that taking the moral high ground does not help. However if you can bring over the fact to the youths that alcohol is no solution, that it is no replacement drug – but that it can be just as dangerous and addictive as every other drug, then you have achieved a lot. If the youths get so far that they do not allow themselves to be manipulated at the next opportunity and do not allow themselves to be pulled into drinking through peer pressure, then you have achieved a lot as a youth leader. Most teenagers will ask themselves the question “if it really makes that much difference if they just try it once?" It is difficult for teenagers, because the social pressure and temptations are large but if someone can do without alcohol and does not experiment, they can protect themselves against addiction.

At the end of the day, we can offer the youths an alternative and perspective through beliefs. Jesus has already helped a lot of people – even those who seemed like lost causes. You won’t just find examples in the bible.

If you know someone who is in a similar situation to Willi, you should know that there is help available for him. There are numerous advice centres for those endangered by alcohol. The people who work there are trained to help people with alcohol problems. They know that an encounter with Jesus Christ can free people from addiction. Nobody needs to try and solve their problems with alcohol.

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