It doesn’t matter if you’re a teenager or a young adult – dealing with an alcoholic parent is terribly painful and challenging. More than 14.4 million adults aged 18 and older suffer from an alcohol use disorder (AUD) and many of these individuals are parents. In fact, a 2012 study found that more than 10% of children live with a parent who has a drinking problem. Unfortunately, alcoholism is a chronic and progressive disease that impacts the entire family. If your mom or dad has a drinking problem, it can be helpful to know how to help an alcoholic parent.
Identifying Whether or Not Your Parent Has a Drinking Problem
Alcohol is, by far, the most widely abused addictive substance in the United States. Although many people can drink in moderation and do so safely, others cannot control the amount in which they drink or the urge to drink. People who struggle with a drinking problem may experience problems in their financial, personal, professional, and social life. As such, alcoholism affects virtually everyone who is close to the alcoholic, causing devastating effects on friends, family members, co-workers, and children.
When it comes to children in particular, alcoholism can lead to financial, physical, mental, and emotional neglect or abuse. Alcoholism may cause a parent to neglect their child’s dietary, emotional, social, and physical needs. Alcoholism may also cause a parent to act in ways that are embarrassing or guilt-provoking for children. They may even blame their children for their own problems.
Even if a drinking problem is minor, it can still lead to immense emotional distress. Many children of alcoholics report feeling unloved, uncared for, or unhead while growing up with an alcoholic parent. Similarly, many children of alcoholics grow up experiencing issues with self-esteem and decision making. Children of alcoholics may be under a lot of pressure and stress while worrying about or caring for their alcoholic parents. Even more disturbing, some children who grow up in alcoholic homes blame themselves for the turmoil in the home, leading to overwhelming guilt and problems with codependency.
If this sounds like the environment within your home, it’s important to be able to identify the signs of alcoholism so you can spot a problem and start learning how to help your alcoholic parent.
Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism
Alcohol use disorder affects everyone differently. For example, some high-functioning alcoholics will only exhibit a few symptoms, while full-blown alcoholics may show all of the following symptoms. Here are some common symptoms and behaviors that are common among people who struggle with a drinking problem.
- Having recurring blackouts and mood swings
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking
- Prioritizing alcohol over other obligations like work, family, or finances
- Isolating from friends, family, and activities that were once enjoyed
- Continuing to drink despite a worsening physical, mental, emotional, or social problem that is caused or worsened by alcohol
- Being drunk or hungover on more days than not
- Changes in appearance, behavior, and interest
- Stealing money for alcohol or lying to friends and family about drinking habits
- Making excuses for drinking and associated behaviors
- Drinking alone or in secrecy
- Hiding bottles of alcohol around the house
- Having financial difficulty due to one’s alcohol habit
Tips on How to Confront a Parent About Their Drinking Problem
Before you start trying to help an alcoholic parent, it’s important to remember that you can’t force anyone to change. The only thing you can do is bring the problem to their attention and take care of yourself.
You may feel scared to confront your parent about their drinking habits. You may fear that they will get angry, yell at you, or even resort to violence. Or, you may fear that they deny having a problem at all. In most cases, the benefits of having a conversation with an alcoholic parent far outweigh the risks. That being said, if you are seriously concerned that your parent will turn violent or cause harm to you, you should consult a professional rather than speaking with your parent alone. Remember, your safety comes first.
If violence is not a concern, there are some steps you can take to confront your parent in a calm and collected manner. These tips can help keep the conversation relaxed and productive. When confronting an alcoholic parent, keep the following tips in mind.
- Don’t initiate a conversation with your parent if they are intoxicated – wait until they sober up.
- Ask your parent if there is a good time that the two of you can sit down and have a conversation.
- Begin the conversation by expressing your concern and love for your parent.
- Avoid telling the person they have a problem. Instead, explain why you are concerned.
- Speak from a personal perspective using “I” statements. (“I feel like…” “when this happens I feel sad because…”)
- Emphasize your reasoning for the conversation: that you are concerned about your parent’s health and well-being.
- List specific behaviors and actions that are concerning to you and how they have hurt you.
- Ask open-ended questions to encourage your parent to participate in the conversation and to open up to you.
- Ask if there is anything you can do to help or support them.
- If your parent denies having a problem, ask if you can revisit the conversation in the future.
If the conversation goes well, your parent may admit they have a problem and take the necessary steps to get the help they need.
How to Help an Alcoholic Parent Who is Refusing to Get Help
As previously mentioned, you can’t force anyone to go to rehab. Sometimes, people have to reach a point of immense pain and suffering before they realize they need help. As a result, there isn’t much you can do if your parent refuses help, especially if you are over 18.
If you are under 18, you may consider reporting your parent to a trusted family member, teacher, school principal, counselor, or law enforcement personnel. These individuals can ensure your safety in the home and take steps to push your parent into getting help for their alcoholism.
Another alternative is to consult with an addiction intervention specialist who can help your parent see the gravity of their problem and find help. Intervention specialists will work with you to stage an intervention, set your parent up with an addiction treatment program, and continue working with you and your parent throughout the treatment and recovery process.
Resources to Help Support Children of Alcoholic Parents
Although there are limited options on how to help an alcoholic parent who refuses help, there are many resources available for you to help yourself. Just because your mom or dad is refusing to stop drinking and get better doesn’t mean that you can’t take steps to improve your own life and well-being. These support groups and community resources can provide you with coping skills for yourself, support from like-minded people, and so much more.
Resources that can help support children of alcoholic parents include:
- Al-Anon/Nar-Anon – Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are 12-step groups for families of alcoholics and addicts based on Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), respectively. These are free groups that can be found in all 50 states and they provide support to family members who have been impacted by drug or alcohol abuse.
- SMART Recovery Family & Friends – SMART Recovery is an alternative to AA and NA and they have a family and friends group that supports and provides resources to family and friends of alcoholics and addicts.
- Co-DA – Co-DA, short for Co-Dependents Anonymous, is a support group for people who are in codependent relationships. Codependency is common among family members and friends of alcoholics, and this group teaches individuals how to cope and survive in these types of relationships.
- Schools – Schools have community resource officers and can provide resources to local community organizations and mental health professionals who can help students cope with their parent’s alcohol abuse.
- Mental Health Counselors – Many children of alcoholics can benefit from talking to a psychiatrist, counselor, or social worker. A professional can evaluate your mental and emotional state and help you cope.
Find Help for an Alcoholic Parent Today
If your parent is struggling with alcohol abuse and is refusing to get help, our intervention specialists can help. Contact us today to see how we can help.
Medically Reviewed: October 15, 2020
All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.