Beat your habit, not your kid

December 15, 1992

"When you get drunk, she gets smashed."

"Your child has a drug problem -- you."

"Substance abuse isn't a black and white issue. It's black and blue."

The message is clear and the ads are hard-hitting. In a focus group of recovering alcohol and drug abusers, they often elicit a wince, averted eyes, sometimes even tears.

In a TV spot, it's not easy watching a boy cowering in his room as a drunken, violent father bellows his name to order him downstairs. Or watching a mother phoning from a bar telling a daughter she'll be home when she feels like it and adding harshly, "Look, I don't need this from you." Afterward, the daughter tries to comfort her younger sister, who is frightened by a thunderstorm. Harder even than watching these scenes is the knowledge that those abusive parents, fueled by drugs or alcohol, could be you.

Drugs and alcohol don't mix with parenting, and a new public education campaign hopes to drive that message home. Maryland is one of 20 states to receive funds for developing public awareness campaigns highlighting the link between substance and child abuse.

With funding from the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, Maryland's Department of Human Resources and the Governor's Drug and Alcohol Commission have designed a series of tell-it-like-it-is announcements for print, television and radio. The aim is to reach people who need to hear both the bad news and the good.

The bad news is obvious -- there is a strong link between substance abuse and the abuse of children or inattention to their needs. Statistics aren't precise, but child welfare workers estimate that 675,000 children are seriously maltreated by substance-abusing parents or caretakers each year.

But the campaign seeks to do more than point fingers. It also offers parents a helping hand -- a "stressline" (410-243-7337) operated by Parents Anonymous, a self-help support group of parents and trained volunteers who can counsel and advise people who call in response to the ads. Parents Anonymous has a reassuring message: When being a parent gets too tough, there is hope. You don't have to feel alone.

That message is important for parents to hear. Habits, however bad, don't have to be permanent.

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