By Claire Walla
For those who struggle with issues related to alcohol addiction, there’s Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and for those affected by people who struggle with alcohol addiction, there’s Al-anon. But what about those for whom others’ excessive drinking is also linked to peer pressure and the struggle to fit in? Those for whom a sense of identity and moral values are still being developed?
For teenagers, there’s Alateen.
On December 1, the new East End chapter of Alateen will hold its first meeting at St. Anne’s Church in Bridgehampton. While there are currently scores of well-populated AA and Al-anon meetings nearly every night of the week at locations across the East End, until now the closest Alateen program to the East End had been held up island in Mastic.
“I see that Alateen is so needed in this area,” said Alateen co-founder Patty*. Patty started going to Al-anon meetings three years ago because she said her family has a history of alcoholism and she had developed damaging coping mechanisms.
But she took a special interest in Alateen a year and a half ago in the wake of a cataclysmic family tragedy: in 2010 her grandson, who lived up island, died from an accidental drug overdose at the age of 15.
And with other grandchildren currently in high school in East Hampton, she said she has noticed a spate of “out-of-control” parties among high school students on the East End.
“Drugs are so prevalent and so easy to find,” she added. “Kids need places to go to talk about their feelings.”
“I think [Alateen] is an absolutely wonderful thing,” said Pierson High School Guidance Counselor Linda Aydinian.
Due to a lack of outside programs on the East End that address alcohol addiction, Aydinian said she and her fellow guidance counselors can recommend private counseling for students facing difficult situations, but that’s about it. Now, they have the option of offering teens the support of a group composed of their peers. Aydinian said she’s already circulated fliers around the school about the program.
Alateen follows the same principles of Al-anon: it is governed by a system of rotating leadership, it is completely non-denominational and it’s totally anonymous — members are strictly barred from repeating anything uttered during the course of meeting, a rule Patty said Al-anon members take very seriously.
However, unlike Al-anon, which is open to people of all ages, Alateen provides this structure exclusively for teenagers, many of whom do not deal with or internalize others’ alcohol abuse the same way as adults.
“A 13-year-old isn’t necessarily going to resonate with a 48-year-old,” explained Jennifer*, who co-founded the Alateen group with Patty.
“It’s a safe place to talk about your fears when you’re witnessing a lot of drinking around you, whether that drinking is being done by your family members or your peers,” added Patty.
Both Patty and Jennifer have been actively involved with Al-anon — for three and 14 years, respectively — and both sing its praises.
“I feel like it helped save my life,” Patty said in an interview last week.
She went on to explain that the program provides coping mechanisms for people who have suffered or are suffering through relationships with those who have addiction problems.
She said that for many teens, addiction often leads to co-dependent behavior, which can manifest in teens taking on too much responsibility at home, lying to cover-up for other people’s bad habits or generally feeling unwanted or unloved.
According to Jennifer, the biggest asset of a program like Al-anon or Alateen is anonymity.
“What we say in that room stays in that room,” she stated. “We can say anything we want and it is honored.”
“I could share my guts and it would be OK, ” — Patty chimed in — “And I have.”
Jennifer, who has two young daughters herself, said a program like Alateen is desperately needed in this community.
“There are so many people out here who go to Al-anon and AA meetings, and those people have to affect the people in their lives,” said Jennifer.
Having lived much of her life with alcoholics who have been close family members, she added that she wants to be able to give kids the opportunity to have an outlet and to deal with these issues before they reach adulthood.
“That’s why I’m doing this,” continued Jennifer. “Because I’d like to save another kid.”
* Names have been changed to respect the program’s anonymity.