Counselors and therapists should pay more attention to how alcoholism affects members of the LDS Church, particularly how adult children of alcoholics take harmful emotional issues into their own marriages.
Speaking at an Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists Symposium Thursday afternoon, Edwin Hutchinson said because of prohibitions in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints against drinking liquor, many counselors overlook the fact that alcoholism affects Mormons. In the United States there are 74 million people who have alcoholic relatives."There are children sitting in your classrooms, chapels and Scouting programs who have at least one alcoholic relative," said Hutchinson, a clinical social worker practicing in Provo.
Perhaps the most affected are adult children of alcoholics. Even if the children don't drink, they carry with them unhealthy behaviors nurtured to protect themselves against abusive alcoholic parents. He said studies show such behaviors take as long as five generations to finally disappear from families.
He pointed to his own experience. A convert to the LDS Church, Hutchinson was raised by an alcoholic father and has to deal frequently with such learned behaviors.
Startling statistics show a quarter to a half of alcoholics had alcoholic parents, he said. Statistics also link alcohol to 80 percent of child sexual abuse cases. He said that may be part of the reason that Utah has one of the highest child sexual abuse rates in nation.
"It is frightening that our culture has such a significantly high proportion of dysfunctional families. This is something that the LDS people don't usually talk about unless we speak about it openly," Hutchinson said.
Alcoholism forces children to stop talking to their parents, destroys trust and numbs feelings, he said. While these feelings act as a protection from an alcoholic parent, during marriage they hinder communication and intimacy.
"There are individuals waiting for you to reach out and say, `I care. Do you want to talk?' We shouldn't be there to teach, but to love. Not to talk, but to listen," Hutchinson said.
He said LDS Church members should not be embarrassed to speak abouty parents or relatives who have alcohol problems. He said in such cases, what LDS people believe about alcohol may get in the way of helping solve emotional family problems linked with the disease.
He said he started talking about his study of adult children of acoholic parents with one person and found seven others in his Orem neighborhood with similar experiences. All of these years, Hutchinson said, they thought they were crazy, but were only victims of their alcoholic parents.
"Children of alcoholics are not mistakes. They are people waiting in the dark to be helped," he said.