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How to Help an Alcoholic Parent

    How to Help an Alcoholic Parent

    Alcohol use disorder is a very dangerous condition, both for the individual it affects and the people around them. Alcohol dependence can cause both health complications and hazardous behaviour.

    As a result, it can be frightening if a parent has alcoholism. Their behaviour can be worrying, hurtful, and upsetting. A child may fear for their parent’s, and even their own, physical and mental wellbeing.

    Even if a parent’s alcoholism is not particularly dangerous, the effects on their children can still prove problematic. They may feel unloved or neglected, and this can hurt them for years to come.

    What are the signs?

    Individuals with alcohol use disorder tend to be very good at hiding their condition. They behave secretly, concealing the extent of their alcohol consumption from others.

    As a result, it can be difficult to spot the signs of alcoholism. However, a child will have the advantage of 24-hour access to their parent, and so maybe more able to notice trends in their behaviour that others may miss.

    Some behaviours which may indicate a problem with alcohol include:

    • Irritability, mood swings, or being more aggressive
    • Behaving as though drinking is normal or routine
    • Failing to meet work or social requirements
    • Drinking in isolation or without anyone knowing
    • Being frequently hungover
    • Poor appearance or personal hygiene
    • Poor memory
    • Frequently blacking out or passing out
    • Losing touch with friends, family, or previously enjoyed hobbies
    • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when alcohol is unavailable
    • Offended or angered by suggestions of alcoholism

    The dangers of an alcoholic parent

    The effects of alcohol use disorder place the children of an addicted individual in a difficult position. Regardless of their age, the disorder can put them under immense pressure.

    The dangers of an alcoholic parent can vary depending on the age of the child but tend to be equally impactful for both children and adults. Seeing a parent struggle does not get easier.

    Impacts on children

    For young children, the dangers of an alcoholic parent are much more immediate. They depend on their mother or father to provide and care for them, and this can not be done when alcoholism is present.

    A parent obsessed with alcohol is unlikely to prioritise the necessities of home life, as they will be more concerned with how to attain more alcohol. This might mean that they stop paying bills, buying food, or maintaining home standards.

    As these things slip away, a child can feel a variety of effects. Malnutrition and discomfort can arise from low food stocks or a lack of central heating, but there can also be psychological repercussions.

    The lack of care from an alcoholic parent can make a child feel unloved or unwanted, lowering their self-esteem or self-worth as a result. They may feel depressed, causing severe disruption to their education and social skills development [1].

    The effect on a child can also be much more direct. The increased aggressiveness and short-temperateness of a parent could mean a child is subjected to domestic violence or verbal abuse.

    A small child unable to defend themselves may fall victim to their parent’s frustration at not being able to drink. In worse case scenarios, this may lead to a child being taken away from their parents, causing further distress.

    Impacts on adults

    When it comes to older children who have grown up, moved out, and have control of their own lives, the effects of an alcoholic parent are much different.

    Firstly, they tend to be much more psychological. From an independent and mature standpoint, an adult must observe and deal with their parent drifting away into alcoholism and suffering from the physical and financial problems that it brings.

    Watching a parent become socially isolated and financially burdened can be incredibly distressing, and the physical harm that they are doing to themselves can spark feelings of powerlessness.

    Alongside this, an older child may be forced into situations where they must also deal with the burden of their parent’s alcoholism.

    For example, they may have to look after younger siblings who are still in the care of the alcoholic parent, or they may need to help them financially in order to prevent them from losing their home.

    Approaching a parent

    The damage caused by alcohol use disorder is often unbearable for family members of the afflicted individual, and so approaching them about seeking treatment may be required.

    However, this can be a difficult thing to do in normal circumstances, let alone when the individual in question is a parent. An alcoholic is unlikely to listen to the criticism of others, and are even less likely to take it from their children.

    The prospect of approaching an alcoholic parent can therefore seem like an impossible task. Alternatively, speaking on behalf of a young child who needs to see change can be equally challenging.

    To maximise the chances of convincing an alcoholic parent to seek medical help, there are a few key things to remember.

    Be honest about your intentions

    When trying to approach a parent about their drinking, avoiding the topic will not be effective. It may seem good to ease into the conversation by taking the long route, but it will not work.

    Being clever or secretive will only encourage the individual you are talking to behave in a similar way, meaning they will be more likely to avoid the conversation’s point.

    Instead, it is recommended to be direct. Be honest about your concerns and how you think their drinking might be problematic. This way, an individual will be more inclined to recognise the seriousness of your concerns.

    Be compassionate and understanding

    The effects of alcoholism can be very stressful, possibly triggering some feelings of frustration when you approach your parent. This may spark anger or spite when explaining concerns.

    While this can be difficult to prevent, it is recommended that individuals do their best to remain compassionate and understanding.

    If an alcoholic feels they are being attacked, they will ignore the concerns being raised to them and become defensive. Showing an individual that you care and just want to help is much more beneficial.

    Be prepared

    When approaching an alcoholic with concerns about their behaviour, it is essential to have conducted relevant research beforehand.

    Firstly, it is important to have a few instances written down where the behaviour of the alcoholic parent has caused a problem, such as financial hardship or emotional upset.

    This is because they will automatically reject the notion that they have a problem. Denial is very common among alcoholics, so you must have a few examples prepared to demonstrate that there is weight to your concerns.

    Secondly, you must have a good idea as to how the individual can be helped. While it is important to convince them that there is a problem, you must be prepared to offer something once they have accepted your concerns.

    Therefore, research what medical treatments are available for the individual, as well as who they can talk to and where they can go. It will be easier for them to accept help if they are assisted.

    Establish consequences

    If an individual does not see the problem with their behaviour, they will have no motivation to seek treatment or change their habits.

    As a result, it is important to establish consequences for them not seeking help as a backup. If they will not help themselves, the individual must know that you will not allow them to continue drinking excessively.

    For example, an individual may not be allowed to see their grandchildren anymore, or they may not receive any more financial help.

    These are not designed to punish the individual, but to make them understand that they will not be permitted to behave in the same way by their loved ones.

    Getting support

    If you are concerned about a parent’s drinking, either your own or someone else’s, there are several places to turn to for support. A GP can help with advice regarding the physical aspects of alcoholism, as well as what treatment methods are available.

    To help with how to approach an individual who may have an alcohol problem, speak to a GP or alcohol support charity, as they will have resources to help assist you through the process.

    It can also be beneficial to speak to a member of staff at the school of an affected child. Informing teachers and making them aware of the situation can help ensure that the child receives sufficient support, preventing them from turning to alcohol themselves [2].

    [1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3016696/

    [2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3860568/

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