April 13, 2024
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Alateen Group Founded To Help Teens with Alcoholic or Addicted Parents

Passaic—When addiction strikes a parent, the whole family suffers. Teen-age children, who have a tough time finding themselves in the best of circumstances, get a double whammy when they have a parent struggling with alcoholismor drug addiction. They are bereft of a strong adult role model to lead them as they mature and are often physicallyand emotionally hurt as well.

Alateen is a lifesaver for these kids. An offshoot of Al-Anon, which helps spouses of alcoholics, Alateen uses a similar twelve-step formulatodirect group members to turn to a higher power for help and develop self-esteem and healthy coping mechanisms.

Rikki Wisotsky, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in Passaic, Teaneck and Monsey, recently started an Alateen group in Passaic for frum girls at the request of some parents in the area. “The women came to me because theyare getting help from Alanon and they thought this would be good for their daughters,” Rikki said. “Addiction is very severe, very hard to live with. It can really bring a person down and you need good, healthy skills to survive.” Wisotsky said the women sought her out since she is known in the community as a therapist who works with women and teens on a variety of issues including teens at risk, eating disorders and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Although Al-Anon/Alateen was founded for families of alcoholics, the program now helps people with a family member or friend who has any addiction from anorexia to drugs. “Teens can have friends who are in danger,” Wisotsky added. “They are cutting themselves or suicidal. Teens don’t know who to go to or who to talk to.”

At Alateen, the focus is on the teens – what they can do, what their options are, and how their relationship with God can help them. “The girls learn how to detach from the addict and empower themselves,” Wisotsky said. “The group structure gives them support. They know they are not alone and they can learn and work together, giving to each other.”

Alateen groups are kept to a maximum of 10; parents must allow their children to participate and bring them to the meetings. There is no charge; the program is supported by donations. Groups are run by a pair of volunteers who receive training from the Al-Anon World Service Office. They are known as AMIAS Sponsors, an acronym for Alanon Member in Alanon Service.

Wisotsky is a therapist, but group leaders come from all walks of life. Wisotsky is running her group with Robin (she requested her last name not be printed), who also leads a group in Clifton. Robin is a business executive who became involved in Alateen because she saw a problem in her community. “It really does take a village to raise children,” Robin said. “Even though I lived with my mom who was a single parent, both my parents knew my friends and their parents and siblings. When there was a problem, we banded together. My friends’ parents could scold me like my own parents.” Now, Robin laments the separation she sees. “Everyone is busy; they’re on their cell phones and families don’t know each other.”

The Clifton group brings together teens from surrounding towns including Orthodox girls from Passaic who don’t want to go close to home. “The Orthodox parents asked us to supervise the mixed gender interaction. We told them the group is not about playing; it’s very respectful,” Robin said.

Robin has seen a shift in the types of addiction causing havoc in our communities. “It used to be alcohol and light drug use but now prescription drugs are out of control,” she said. She saw the problem in her own life when she was hospitalized after an accident and given several prescriptions for painkillers. “They asked me what I wanted refilled when I left,” she said, stunned by the suggestion.

In her mixed gender group, Robin observes that boys and girls have different ways of coping with their pain. “Girls cry and boys get angry,” Robin said. “But once you get them talking, they all open up.” Alateen teaches them how to communicate and control their emotions. Robin gives some examples: “Say what you mean but don’t say it meanly.” Or, “Ask yourself: is this necessary to say? Is it thoughtful and kind?” The group is taught to recognize that aggressive speech is often a manifestation of a problem. “We say to someone ranting in an abusive way, halt! Are you hungry? Lonely? Tired? Angry?” I note that we could all benefit from these techniques and Robin agreed. “Sometimes I use them in my business meetings,” she said. “They should teach this in kindergarten.”

The Alateen meeting for frum girls is held on Tuesday evenings from 7pm-8pm at Tifereth Israel, 180 Passaic Avenue, Passaic. For more information call Rikki Wisotsky at 973-249-7435. For inquiries about other Alateen meetings, contact Al-Anon/Alateen of North Jersey Information Services at 973-744-8686.

By Bracha Schwartz

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