Helping an Alcoholic Parent

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According to a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 1 in 10 American children live with an alcoholic parent. Besides the parents’ health, this can have a detrimental effect on parent-child relationships, as well as children’s futures.

This page discusses the signs of an alcoholic parent, how their behavior may affect children, and how you can approach an alcoholic parent.

Signs of an Alcoholic Parent

As a child of an alcoholic parent, some of the signs you may observe include:

  • Hiding their alcohol bottles in strange places
  • Making excuses or getting defensive when you bring up their behavior
  • Neglecting your physical needs like buying groceries and other house chores
  • Acting aggressively towards you
  • Drinking despite the negative impact it has on you and your siblings
  • Lack of personal hygiene and self-care
  • Loss of interest in things they previously enjoyed
  • Forgetting important events like a recital, sports meet, or other school events

Living With an Alcoholic Parent

If you’re living with an alcoholic parent, it’s important to keep yourself safe, along with your siblings and loved ones. This can involve ensuring the safety of children in the home by moving out or contacting the authorities.

It can also mean setting boundaries with your alcoholic parent, which involve not giving them money that they could use to buy alcohol, not making excuses on their behalf, and creating an environment that promotes sobriety. At the same time, it’s important to stand firm by any ultimatums that you propose.

As an adult living with an alcoholic parent, make sure you don’t drink with them or plan family events where there may be alcohol. Understandably, you may feel like you shouldn’t have to make such changes to your lifestyle just because your parent can’t control their drinking behavior. However, drinking in front of them or bringing alcohol to the home is the same as enabling them, and it will make the situation worse.

Effect of Alcoholic Parents on Family Life

In families where the parent suffers from alcohol addiction,

  • Children may be malnourished
  • Parents have trouble paying the bills
  • Children may have to live with an older family member because their parent is incapacitated and unable to take care of them
  • Parents may get divorced

How to Help Your Alcoholic Parent

Starting the conversation with your parent about their drinking habits can be difficult, especially if they can be emotionally reactive. Here is how you can approach the topic to help them understand how their addiction is affecting the family.

Speak to them when they’re Sober

If your parent has a habit of being reactive when they’re under the influence of alcohol, choose an appropriate time to approach them. This is preferably when they’re sober and are relatively calm. If they aren’t drunk, they’re more likely to listen to you.

Choose a Private and Comfortable Setting

Choose an appropriate time and date for the discussion to avoid catching them off-guard. Otherwise, it may seem like you wanted to trap them in an uncomfortable conversation. Unless your parent has a history of physical aggression and violence, it’s

Approach a Professional

If you’re having trouble discussing your parent’s problematic drinking habits with them, a professional can help you stage an intervention. This allows you to plan what you’ll say and prepares you to convince your parent.

Make Your Concerns Clear

Carefully explain how you’re concerned for their health and talk about the impact their drinking habits are having on your family. Mention specific examples when they neglected their responsibilities as a parent because they were intoxicated. Make sure you don’t sound judgmental or like you’re complaining. People with addiction often use confrontations as an opportunity to be aggressive, which explains the high rates of domestic abuse.

If things start to get heated or your parent starts getting aggressive, be prepared to end the conversation. Remember: your safety comes first.

Listen To Them

To have a productive conversation about how your parent’s alcoholism is affecting the family, you have to be compassionate and honest. Be open about how you’re feeling, but try to be compassionate and understand them. It’s important to remember that alcohol addiction isn’t a choice, and that they’re suffering from a chronic illness.

Give them some space to talk about their feelings because it may encourage them to reflect on their condition. If your parent seems ready to seek help, appreciate them and offer your support.

Helping a Parent during Addiction Treatment

Once your parent agrees to seek help, it’s time to extend your support during their treatment journey. The best way to do this is to help them in researching treatment options. If they’re hesitant about approaching rehab facilities, you can offer to speak to them on their behalf. And once you book an appointment, offer to go along with them.

It’s important to convey to your parent, through your actions, that you support them. This can also involve discussing anything they may want you to take care of while they’re undergoing treatment. Doing so can allow a smooth transition back to normal life.

Once your parent is admitted to a rehab facility, make sure to visit and call them on a regular basis. It’s important to show them that you’re interested in their progress and are waiting for them to return.

Treatment usually includes:

  • Detox
  • Rehabilitative therapy
  • Ongoing Therapy

What to do if They Refuse Help

While you may be prepared to support your parent in helping them get treatment, you don’t have many options available if they refuse. In that case, it’s important to look after yourself first. If you’re underage and your parent’s alcoholism causes them to be neglectful and abusive, you can report them to the police.

You can also support mental health services like support groups that you can approach as a way to work on your wellbeing and academic pursuits. These resources put you in touch with professionals, who can offer emotional support, guidance with regard to college applications, and advice on getting through everyday life.

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