20 July 2012

Why do some children drink?

The changes that come with the start of puberty may contribute to some children experimenting with alcohol, says integrative medicine practitioner Dr Raoul Goldberg.


The changes that come with the start of puberty may contribute to some children experimenting with alcohol, says integrative medicine practitioner Dr Raoul Goldberg in his book Addictive Behaviour in Children and Young Adults.

Dr Raoul Goldberg has practised Integrative Medicine for 35 years. He is the author of Awakening to Child Health and many other publications on Integrative Medicine and Child Health. Here he uses anthroposophical insights to explore the causes and consequences of addictive behaviour in children and young people.

Children and youth who have a sensitive and vulnerable disposition seem more likely to drink alcohol and do so often at a very early age (before 12 years of age). They mask their sensitivity through disruptive or aggressive antisocial behaviour or manifest it through withdrawal, anxiety and depression. Alcohol use in young people is also often associated with impulsive, defiant and other types of anti-social behaviour.

Pre-puberty and the threshold of puberty open the child to new challenges and with it also new dangers. With puberty, the teenager begins to experience a new sense of power surging through both his body and mind, a power that wishes to express itself in a host of new experiences which announce his new found independence. This brings with it a need to break out of his protected home environment and to seek to explore activities that will allow him to discover more of who he really is.

At the same time, the forces of his soul life - his desires, sensuality, sexuality, emotionality and intellectuality - take on a life of their own, creating new needs to drive him to seek their gratification. In accordance with his nature and what he meets in his environment, he will therefore open himself to new experiences and try out new things. For some teens, thrill-seeking means taking risks which might include experimenting with alcohol. Because his power of judgment and protection of parental authority is often rejected, the young adolescent is more vulnerable to succumbing to a host of temptation. And alcohol seems to be the one that is most appropriate for this time.

One may well ask why alcohol is one of the first drugs to be used by young people, beginning frequently around puberty. We may find a clue this question when we look at the use of alcohol in antiquity. It is well known that wine was used in the cult of Dionysus during the Greek civilisation from approximately 700 BC. Large quantities of wine were consumed in ritualistic and orgiastic cults of celebration, where animals were sacrificed in communal rites.The participants in these rituals were instructed to exercise self-control over the large amounts of alcohol consumed, in this way gaining mastery over their ‘inner animals’.

The forces of puberty

It thus helped to prepare humanity for the evolutionary transformation into self-individual and develop capacities to control the animal nature that emerged through the deeper fusion with the body. Puberty is the time when the child loses his heavenly connection and falls into earthly matter: limbs get heavier, the voice drops, the body becomes ungainly and clumsy. It is also the time when  the psychological forces of desire and feeling awaken, and manifest themselves powerfully through the whole body. In the years that follow, the adolescent needs to explore these awakened soul forces in order that he may gradually learn to control their animalistic power.

Is it possible that many adolescents are challenged by alcohol to get to know the raw unrestrained power of the soul and, like Dionysus in the Greek era, to wrestle with these forces in the striving to control them? Children in this vulnerable time, however, do not have the individuated strength of self to resist the heightened forces induced by alcohol, and can easily be overcome by this false sense of power. Because they are unable to work on the untamed forces of the soul through own strength, and because the will to harness the lower needs of the soul have not been exercised through the healthy developmental process, a life-long disposition for dependency can be created.

Before puberty, when the soul life is not fully awakened, alcohol is especially dangerous, since it awakens the soul forces prematurely leading to a kind of premature birth. The affect on the child is similar to what could happen when a firearm is put into his hands. These forces unleashed before puberty are very difficult to control in later life resulting in an overall weakening of self-control.

(Extract from Addictive Behaviour in Children and Young Adults: The Struggle for Freedom C 2012 Raoul Goldberg MD, published by Floris Books, available from, and most bookshops.)




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