Advice On Dealing With An Alcoholic Parent

Whether you are a child, teenager or adult, having a parent who is dealing with an alcohol addiction can result in a severe and debilitating effect on your life.

Unfortunately, this situation is likely to be more common than many people believe.

In 2017, 4% of men in England admitted to drinking more than 50 units of alcohol a week while 3% of women surveyed said that they consume more than 35 units a week. [1]

Regularly drinking at these excessive levels can quickly lead to a physical and psychological addiction to alcohol, and many of the individuals surveyed are likely to be parents.

While it is not possible to force your parent to stop drinking alcohol, as they have to change their behaviour and actions for themselves, there are a number of ways to support and encourage your parent to seek help for their addiction while taking care of your own physical and mental health.

Is my parent addicted to alcohol?

While many people will attempt to keep their alcohol addiction a secret from their family members, particularly their children, there are a number of signs that may indicate that they have a problem.

These signs may be noticeable to others outside the family, however, it is possible to be a high-functioning alcoholic with the ability to hold down a steady job and keep up the appearance of a stable lifestyle.

In most cases, those closest to them will often be able to see through the cracks of their facade and may notice a number of concerning signs.

Common signs of alcohol addiction include:

  • They have expressed a desire to cut down or stop drinking alcohol but have been unable to
  • They appear to be intoxicated on a regular basis
  • They no longer make an effort with their physical appearance and do not keep up with their personal hygiene
  • They seem to constantly be having accidents or making mistakes
  • They are neglecting their responsibilities at work and at home
  • They become agitated, depressed or display other withdrawal symptoms when they are unable to drink alcohol
  • They have experienced financial and/or legal repercussions due to their alcohol use
  • They need to drink larger amounts or more frequently in order to experience the same effects
  • They frequently ask you to take on additional responsibilities due to their alcohol use, such as calling in sick on behalf of them or taking care of younger family members
  • They often miss important events and family time due to their alcohol use
  • They no longer seem interested in the activities they once enjoyed, preferring to drink alcohol
  • They spend a large amount of time obtaining, drinking and recovering from alcohol
  • They have experienced negative consequences due to their alcohol use but continue to drink
  • They become upset, angry and defensive when confronted about their alcohol use

If you are concerned that your parent is struggling with alcohol addiction and need advice on dealing with this upsetting and often stressful situation, continue reading for guidance and expert advice on the steps that you should take to safeguard your own physical and mental health while ensuring that your parent receives the support that they need. [1]

How to deal with an alcoholic parent as a child or young person

As a child or young person who relies on their primary caregivers for emotional support and security, dealing with an alcoholic parent can be particularly distressing and you may not know where to turn for advice.

Although you are not the person with the addiction, it likely still has a significant impact on your life. Thankfully, you can find support for yourself and your parent by following the advice below.

Speak to someone you trust

It’s important to remember that you are not responsible for your parent or their behaviour. While you may want to do anything you can to help them, you deserve to be cared for and looked after without the burden of worrying about your parent.

They need a special type of support that you do not have the resources or experience to provide. Therefore, you should reach out and speak to someone you trust about your concerns.

This may be a teacher, group leader or another family member who will be able to organise help for your parent. It’s common to feel guilty about doing this, but try to keep in mind that your actions will benefit your parent in the long term.

It’s also very normal to feel isolated and embarrassed due to your parent’s behaviour, and this can make it hard to speak up. Even if your parent is already receiving help for their addiction, you likely will have a lot of emotions and feelings that need to be expressed.

Consider joining a support group specifically for young people or opening up to someone that you trust.

Remember that it’s not your fault

Some children or young people believe that their parents’ addiction is somehow their fault – that if only they were better behaved or received good grades at school, their parents wouldn’t feel the need to drink.

This belief can be painful and difficult to live with, and it is crucial to understand that it is not true – alcohol addiction is very complicated and develops due to a number of factors, none of which are your fault. Even if you had never been born, your parent would very likely still have become an alcoholic.

Remember that their behaviour and actions are their responsibility, not yours.

Addiction is a type of disease that requires professional treatment to cure it, and does not develop because of the actions of the personality of another person.

This addiction is not your fault – you did not cause it, and you cannot control it.

Take care of yourself

Having a parent with an alcohol addiction can take up a lot of your time, thoughts and energy. It can be difficult to remember to take care of yourself and continue to do the things that make you happy.

You may even feel as though you are responsible for running the household and taking care of younger family members, particularly if your parent seems unable to cope with these responsibilities. [2]

It may be difficult at first, but make sure to prioritise the things that you enjoy whether that involves reading, watching TV and movies, playing sports or hanging out with friends.

You will also feel better if you get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly as well as taking care of your personal hygiene and grooming. Keep in mind that you are important and deserve to do the things that make you feel happy and healthy, no matter what else is going on in your life.

How to deal with an alcoholic parent as an adult

Even if you no longer live with your parent, their alcohol addiction likely still has a significant impact on your emotions and general well-being.

As an adult, you may feel compelled to take steps towards actively addressing the problem and encouraging them to seek treatment, and it is possible to do this successfully while still prioritising your own health and independent life.

1. Educate yourself about addiction and alcoholism

Many people find it difficult to accept that their parent is dealing with an alcohol use disorder and may blame themselves for the behaviour or grow increasingly resentful. Taking the time to research and understand the nature of addiction can help you to step back and look at the situation objectively, without assigning intent or blame to either party.

Alcoholism is a disease and requires professional treatment, just like any other illness. While your parent is responsible for their choices and actions, they are struggling with a physical and psychological compulsion that has the ability to override everything else in their life and they need help and support in order to overcome it.

2. Speak to them about your concerns

The thought of expressing your concerns to your parent can be intimidating, awkward and even scary. You may be afraid that they will react negatively and refuse to accept that they have a problem, but there are a number of steps that you can take to increase the chances of a successful talk.

Make sure to choose an appropriate time and place to have the conversation – your parent should be sober and clear-headed, with no commitments that may mean either of you need to leave early.

It’s important to focus the conversation on your concerns and how their alcohol use is impacting you, taking care to avoid judging or criticising your parent as this could cause them to withdraw even further into their addiction.

There should be enough time for both of you to state your opinions and emotions while ensuring the tone of the conversation remains as calm and neutral as possible.

Keep your expectations at a reasonable level, as your parent may need time to process what has been said before making a decision about their potential recovery.

3. Make it easier for them to seek treatment

The stress and anxiety around seeking help for an addiction can often be a barrier to treatment, and many people struggle to take the necessary steps required to receive professional support.

They may be concerned about missing work, overwhelmed at a large number of treatment centres available and worried about the potential cost of recovery.

You can help with this process by researching treatment centres and rehabilitation centres beforehand, making it easier and more seamless to commit to recovery shortly after the conversation has taken place.

If your parent may struggle to afford the treatment process, you could look into funding, loans and more affordable options so that you have the information on hand if they bring it up as a concern.

4. Consider seeking therapy

As well as encouraging your parent to seek treatment, it may be extremely beneficial for you to consider attending regular therapy sessions in order to unload your personal emotional burden onto a supportive and non-judgemental professional.

Dealing with an alcoholic parent can be stressful, demanding and heart-breaking, and you deserve to express these feelings and receive empathy from others while simultaneously learning healthy coping strategies and receiving guidance.

Burying your emotions will not get rid of them – instead, they will simmer under the surface causing pain and resentment until you bring them out into the open.

5. Get support from other people

If you don’t feel comfortable opening up to a therapist, consider leaning on friends and other family members to get you through this situation. Speaking to someone you trust can help you feel less alone, and you may find that other people share similar experiences or can relate in some way.

You may have spent years feeling isolated due to your parents’ relationship with alcohol, too ashamed or embarrassed to let anyone know what you were going through. However, you may find that when you begin to share your thoughts and experiences with others, it creates a deeper connection and causes your existing relationships to become stronger.

6. Avoid enabling their behaviour

You may want to do everything in your power to help your parent, attempting to shield them from the inevitable consequences of their addiction. This could include calling in sick to work for them, making excuses for their behaviour at family events or shouldering the majority of the housework despite your additional responsibilities.

Although your intention is to help and protect them, this behaviour is known as enabling and could in fact be making the problem worse. If your parent does not need to face the repercussions of their addiction, they may have less incentive and motivation to recover. It will likely be extremely difficult for you to take a step back and allow them to experience the consequences, but doing so could be the push they need to seek help in the future.

7. Make your safety a priority

In some cases, your parent may become agitated or even aggressive when you attempt to speak to them about the impact that their addiction is having on you and other family members. If you feel threatened, get yourself to a safe place as soon as possible. Although addiction is a disease, this does not mean that the affected person is allowed to put you in a dangerous or unsafe position.

It’s important to remember that you do not need to put up with any type of abuse despite the struggles that your parent is experiencing and that you have the right to remove yourself from the situation at any point.

Abuse does not have to be physically violent – mental, emotional and verbal abuse can be just as hurtful and damaging.