“I really want to have kids,” says Vicky Pattison, tears streaming down her face. “I want my kids to meet you. And I’m so worried, Dad, that if you don’t stop drinking and you don’t get a proper handle on it, that you won’t meet them.”
The reality star, who is perhaps best known for starring – and partying hard – in reality TV show Geordie Shore, is sat in a therapy room on a sofa next to her dad, John, who has struggled with alcohol addiction for 30 years.
The pair are taking part in an exercise to improve their communication and for Vicky, it proves to be the perfect setting to really get things off her chest. She wants her dad to know that he needs to try harder to stop drinking – or he might not live to meet his future grandchildren.
In ‘Me, My Dad And Alcohol’, which airs August 2 at 10pm on Channel 4, we see Vicky and John explore what might’ve led to her dad’s excessive drinking, while also studying why Vicky’s relationship with booze has grown to be problematic.
“I don’t think I’m an alcoholic, but I do have a problem with alcohol,” she admits.
Here are five things we learned from Vicky about what it’s like growing up with a parent who’s impacted by alcoholism.
The roles reverse when a parent struggles
Vicky, who is 34, reflects that her childhood is littered with moments where she knew her dad’s relationship with alcohol was a problem – moments where she felt she was looking after her dad more than he was looking after her.
She recalls being eight or nine and walking back from her aunt’s house with her dad who had been drinking – he was using her as a “human walking stick” to stop himself falling over.
Throughout the documentary she almost takes on a parental role, trying to nudge him down a path of recovery, giving him ultimatums to stop drinking, checking in on him regularly. You can see how much pain and worry his relationship with booze is causing her – and it’s very much like the roles between them have reversed.
A parent’s alcoholism can shape who their children become
Watching clips of herself back on Geordie Shore, Vicky looks visibly uncomfortable. As she witnesses herself having several aggressive outbursts while drunk, she admits she never really used to watch the TV show.
It could be easy to blame appearing on the show at such a young age – she was in her early twenties – for her own problematic relationship with booze. But actually, it began even before that.
Speaking to Sky’s Beth Rigby about the documentary, she said the show definitely “exacerbated” the issues she had with alcohol, but it wasn’t the start of them.
She reflects in the documentary that her dad’s alcoholism “shaped so much of who I am and affected me probably more than I was ever aware of”.
Children of those with substance issues can have difficult relationships with alcohol themselves
Vicky loves a night out with friends, but sometimes the drinking can run away with her. In the show she discovers that her and her dad are quite similar in that their drinking tends to become worse when they feel out of control or overwhelmed in social situations.
Ironically, in a bid to feel more in control and to cope with the situations they find themselves in, their drinking can then become out of control. “Three or four drinks and I’m sociable and fun, and I can function the next day,” says Vicky. “But any more than that and I don’t know when to stop. Then I’d go as far as saying I almost can’t stop.
“For someone like me, who considers themselves driven and ambitious and in control, that is f***ing annoying. To know that you haven’t got control over one thing doesn’t sit well with us.”
Growing up with this situation can cause worries for your future children
One particularly difficult part of the documentary to watch is where Vicky learns that children can also grow to have problematic relationships with alcohol as a result of their parent’s addiction – something referred to as intergenerational transference.
This is where children, from a young age, start to learn things about alcohol in terms of what they see and hear about it. A parent’s motivations and beliefs for drinking can almost ‘pass on’ to their kids, explains Professor Tony Moss, an expert in addictive behaviour.
Vicky wants to have children and she talks about it a lot throughout the documentary. However, you can see that her own relationship with booze is worrying her in terms of how it’ll impact her children.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do when I have a baby,” she says. “It’s a very genuine concern because women are meant to want kids more than anything – certainly far more than a glass of wine. And the fact that I would struggle with that makes us really ashamed of myself.”
If a parent struggles with alcohol, it doesn’t need to define their children’s lives
In the show, Vicky meets with two other women whose dads had alcohol dependency issues. One of the women is now teetotal, the other drinks but is aware that she has the power to make certain choices in the future so she doesn’t end up like her dad, who sadly passed away as a result of his drinking.
“It can be quite a lonely place can’t it,” says one of the women. “Growing up you think your parent has chosen alcohol over you … and that’s been a bit of a struggle, but the reality is my dad was just a guy who maybe couldn’t stop at one glass of wine.”
After meeting with the other women, Vicky realises that she might not have the power to change her dad, but she has the power to change her own narrative when it comes to booze.
Vicky Pattison: My Dad, Alcohol and Me will air on Channel 4 on Tuesday 2 August at 10pm and will be available to watch on All 4.