How to help an alcoholic parent

It can be devastating to grow up in a less-than-perfect family, not because of a mishap ordained by fate, but due to a parent allowing alcohol to ruin their life – and by extension, the rest of the family.

Addiction is a terrible thing. While you might feel a parent should have better self-control – at least for the sake of their children – the truth is that they are just as vulnerable to the dangers of alcohol abuse as anyone else. Learn how to help an alcoholic parent and help save them and their family.

Alcohol Use and Abuse Amongst Parents

In the United Kingdom, drinking is seen as a normal way to unwind and socialise, but it can quickly become destructive. It’s said that one in five children in the UK are negatively affected by the drinking habits of their parents. Sadly, the effects tend to last well into adulthood.

When a parent – whether a mother or father – abuses alcohol, the family unit becomes threatened with disintegration and other possible damage. The children become exposed to certain dangers and may be at risk of developing drinking problems themselves.

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When Mum or Dad is an Alcoholic

If you have a mother or father who is addicted to alcohol, there’s a good chance their alcoholism dominates your family’s daily reality. It’s natural to feel disappointed or even angry that a parent (who should be a role model) is allowing a drug to destroy their life and hurt those closest to them. You may feel a mix of love and revulsion for them: love, because affection for a parent is only natural; and revulsion for what alcohol is doing to them – and to you and the rest of the family.

The Pain of Growing up With an Alcoholic Parent

Children who grow up in a home where there is an alcoholic parent often suffer physical and psychological effects, directly or indirectly caused by alcoholism. Because the addicted parent is focused more on their next drink, the children are bound to suffer neglect.

Violence is another common occurrence in such homes, making it dangerous to live with an alcoholic parent. While you might want to get away from the parent who is causing the family pain, you could also find it difficult to leave them to their own devices.

However, you don’t have to be torn between two extremes any more, now that you can get treatment for your loved one.

Impact of an Alcoholic Parent on Families

An alcoholic parent often neglects or abandons their duties to the rest of the family due to the impairment of their physical and cognitive capabilities caused by alcohol. They need time to nurse their hangovers and may even encounter legal problems from time to time.

The effects of alcoholism can include financial troubles and marital problems, amongst other serious issues that can lead to the disintegration of the family unit. Even if the family manages to stay together through the years, family members are almost certain to be unhappy and may even develop co-dependency symptoms.

How to Help an Alcoholic Parent

Regardless of your age, the challenges of dealing with an alcoholic parent can be extremely painful. You must understand that you are not at fault for their behaviour; they alone are responsible and they need to want to recover if treatment can be successful.

There’s a good chance your parent is in denial, which would only make it more difficult to help them. However, if the rest of the family is also determined to get help for your loved one, there is hope. Even if your parent has to go through the journey of recovery on their own, there’s a lot you can do to help get them on that road.

Talking to a Parent with a Drinking Problem

If an alcoholic must seek treatment, they need to see why they need help in the first place. That is why you need to talk to them and let them see how their drinking problem is dangerous and destructive for them and everyone else around them.

It can be incredibly difficult to talk to a parent about their drinking problem, especially if you’re worried that they will get angry, make a scene, embarrass you, or even become violent. While your concerns are valid, it is possible to prepare yourself adequately and talk to them in an appropriate manner to avoid an ugly response.

Learn About Alcohol Use Disorder

Before you approach your parent, you need to understand the extent of their alcohol problems. You need to know if they are simply engaged in alcohol abuse or actually have an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), which is much worse than abuse.

In order to determine which category your parent belongs to, you’ll need to look at the symptoms of both abuse and alcoholism. Learn as much as you can about alcohol abuse and alcoholism, as well as the treatment options available. It can help to get other members of the family involved too.

Seek Help from a Professional to Stage an Intervention

If you’ve tried to talk to your loved one before and it turned ugly – or you really don’t want to risk a discussion ending the same way – it may be best to get a professional to help with staging an intervention. An intervention is more than a mere discussion and is properly planned.

During an intervention, family members and friends convene and confront the alcoholic in order to urge them to get treatment. A professional intervention counsellor can be a great help with advising the family on how best to get the alcoholic into treatment, as well as finding treatment programmes around you and explaining what options are available.

Practice what You’re Going to Say

Whether you’ll be staging an intervention or simply having a discussion, it’s important to prepare everything you want to say beforehand. As you write down what you’d like to say, try to stick to statements that are supportive and positive while staying away from presumptuous or hurtful comments.

Instead of saying “you” too much, allow yourself to become an active participant in the exchange by using “I” instead. You know your loved one and how they might respond, so prepare yourself for every eventuality. Remember to be as calm as possible throughout, assuring your parent that you’ll always support and respect them.

Pick the Right Time and Place

A sensitive discussion such as this has to be conducted in an appropriate place and at the right time. Pick a quiet place where you’ll have privacy and no interruptions or distractions. It’s also important that your parent is calm and preferably in a responsive mood, as this will make them more receptive to what you have to say.

Under no circumstances should you approach your parent when they are drunk or under the influence of alcohol. Also, it’s best to avoid bringing up the subject if they are preoccupied with some other issue or are upset. The last thing you want is an ensuing argument.

Approach and Listen with Honesty and Compassion

While your parent is ultimately responsible for their own wellbeing and must be ready to seek treatment themselves, you can also have a huge impact on how the situation pans out. Be sure to express your concerns regarding their excessive drinking, whilst letting them know you are ready to support them.

You also need to be ready for any negative reactions. Do your best to remain calm and go along with their resistance, if necessary. If they get upset or become abusive, don’t take it personally. Really listen to what they are saying and give them space to arrive at an honest decision, without pressure.

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Offer your Support

As much as you might like to see your parent quit alcohol overnight, it’s going to take time and effort to undo all the damage that’s been done by their addiction. Ultimately, they have to be ready to get the help they need.

The best you can do is to offer your support and hope they take it; the rest is really up to them. As you let them know you’re there for them, do your best to be sincere and empathetic, whilst taking care not to appear judgemental. Most importantly, you need to be patient.

Remain Patient

It’s won’t be easy to pretend that you’re fine with all that’s going on and nobody is asking you to be. Being patient is not about pretending, but it requires giving your parent the time and space to get their mind in the right place.

It takes time to change a bad habit – especially one that has been there for years (maybe even decades). Your loved one may even fail along the way as they receive treatment, but by providing the support they need, you can help them reach the light at the end of the tunnel.

Find the Right Treatment Plan

There are many treatment programmes available across the UK, but it’s important your parent is admitted to one that’s perfectly suited to them. That may be one that’s close to home or even in a different city.

Regardless the location, a treatment centre has to have the required expertise and facilities to adequately treat AUD. Once your loved one is ready to get help with their alcohol addiction, reach out to speak to a treatment expert about the various recovery programmes that could be a great fit.

Offer to Take your Loved One to Sober Meetings

One way to provide direct support for you parent (who is receiving treatment for alcohol addiction) is to drive them to any meetings they may have as part of their treatment. It doesn’t matter whether they have their own car or not; doing this can be very helpful.

By driving them to meetings yourself, you can be helping them to avoid the temptation of making a detour to the bar or liquor store. Also, you will be making sure they get to sessions on time, especially if the treatment centre is far from home. Plus, you can take the opportunity to discuss their progress during the journey.

If you don’t drive, merely accompanying them to and from their meetings can achieve similar results.

Dos and Don’ts

As you try to help your alcoholic parent, there are a number of things you should do, and others you should avoid doing. We understand it can be tricky to determine what to do and what not to do, but with the right guidance, you’ll be fine.

Whether your loved one has been in recovery for some time or they’re only just getting help, your handling things the right way can make a huge difference to making recovery easier – or even speeding it up.

Dos

There’s no need to ever feel clueless about what you should do in order to help your parent become a better version of themselves. While most of what you’ll be doing will be focused on them, some of it will be about you and how you treat yourself during this trying period.

Let Go of Guilt

Before anything else, you need to understand that you’re not responsible for your parent’s drinking problem. As much as you are sympathetic towards them and are ready to offer your full support, remind yourself that they are doing the drinking, not you.

Feelings of guilt will only make you more unhappy and that’s the last thing you need if you are trying to help someone else get better. As your loved one tries to get through treatment, you shouldn’t burden yourself with guilt that is not yours to shoulder.

Ensure Your own Safety and Create a Support System

There’s no doubt that alcoholism can impact you by causing detrimental effects such as dishonesty, co-dependency, denial, doubt, disappointment, frustration, shame, anger, and so on.

Your friends can form a great support system, helping you cope with the frustrations and pain of having an alcoholic parent. You might also want to consider attending Al-Anon Family Groups, which are designed to provide support for family members of people dealing with alcohol addiction. Whatever works for you, be sure to secure your emotional safety.

Organise and Communicate Your Feelings

It’s important to understand that alcohol isn’t the sole problem of an alcoholic. Addiction to the substance often stems from various emotional issues that are deep-rooted. If your parent is struggling with excessive drinking, whatever underlying issues there are will only get worse.

When you understand that there are layers of issues when it comes to addiction, it should be easier to see why you need to properly organise your thoughts and communicate your feelings when you approach your alcoholic parent. You must be careful not to allow them to get you riled.

Educate Yourself

The fact that you need to learn as much as possible about alcoholism cannot be overemphasised. As much as you should learn about the signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorders, you also need to know about details such as what to expect during treatment and other such facts.

Arming yourself with all the facts makes it easier for you to work through treatment and recovery with your loved one, because you will have a good idea of what to expect. For instance, if your parent happens to relapse at some point during treatment, you’ll understand that it’s only a part of the process and not an outright failure.

Set Boundaries

It might not be easy to set or enforce boundaries with your parents, but it’s something you certainly have to do. You can even enlist other members of the family to help. Setting boundaries becomes necessary if your parent tries to get off easy by making false promises about quitting or cutting back.

Setting limits to protect your relationships, finances and home is crucial. You can also set boundaries by not paying your parent’s bills, not buying them alcohol, not loaning them money, and not talking with them when they’ve been drinking. You can also involve the police if things take a violent turn. It is important to show that you are serious and mean business.

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Remember to Practice your own Self-Care

It’s easy to become so involved in ensuring your alcoholic parent gets the care they need that you forget about yourself. It won’t be selfish of you to pay attention to your own needs. Rather, it is beneficial both to you and your loved one, who is relying on you for support.

If your parent gets support from 12-step groups such as Alcohol Anonymous, you can get involved with Al-Anon Family Groups or attend therapy sessions. Also, take time out for yourself to engage in hobbies or other activities you enjoy.

Remain Patient and Persistent

Once you start to talk to your parent about getting help for their addiction, you’re basically setting yourself up for the long haul. You’ll have to be patient throughout and persevere for the sake of your family. This may feel like the hardest part, but it’s something you must do, because it’s worth it.

Remaining patient means you cannot give up if your addicted parent seems to be slow in getting better. It also means you cannot lose your temper too often or engage in blaming or shaming. At the same time, you have to be careful not to enable your alcoholic parent in the name of being patient; know where to draw the line.

Don’ts

As there are steps you should take in order to help an alcoholic parent get better, there are also others you should not take. If you adhere to our suggestions, you should have a greater chance of success and be able to cope better with the trying times ahead.

Don’t Blame Yourself for the Alcoholic’s Drinking or Problems

There’s really no reason to blame yourself for your parent’s alcohol problem, regardless of why they started drinking in the first place. You are not the reason for the addiction and the power to cure it is not in your hands. Your parent made their choice and, naturally, must take responsibility for it.

Remember that all you can really do is encourage them, provide support, and help them form healthier habits, as they strive to improve. Even in cases where the alcoholic parent might want to play on your emotions, don’t allow them to trick you into believing that you have anything to do with their destructive behaviour.

Don’t Believe Everything an Alcoholic Says or Buy into ‘Promises’

You should understand that an alcohol addict is often masterful in the use of manipulation and can’t be trusted to honour their word. This does not necessarily mean that the person’s character is deceptive by default. Rather, this is just what alcohol can do to anyone.

In order to prevent yourself from being disappointed, don’t buy into any promises. Instead, watch what your parent does. Also, be realistic about what you demand or expect. Don’t assume that they’ll be able to stop drinking abruptly. In fact, it’s advisable never to do that. It’s best to speak with a physician about detoxing properly.

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Love the Alcoholic Parent from a Distance

Sometimes, a bit of space is best for you and your alcoholic parent. Maintaining a healthy distance every now and then can give you a break from all the toxicity that comes with being around them all the time.

As much as it might feel like a good idea to stick around and try to help, being consistently exposed to alcoholism will only cause you to ride an emotional rollercoaster, controlled by your addicted parent. There’s absolutely no need to constantly subject yourself to this.

Don’t get on a Soapbox when Talking to an Alcoholic

It can be easy to fall into the habit of preaching to your loved one, but this is a mistake. In fact, it is one of the worst strategies you can deploy, as it won’t get you anywhere and may even make your parent more headstrong. They certainly know wrong from right, but knowing is clearly not enough.

While it might be tempting, do your best to avoid telling them what they ought to do (and not to do). Your core motive is to encourage and support them to get the treatment they need. If you keep berating them, you’ll only end up creating the wrong kind of distance between you.

How to Help an Alcoholic Who Refuses to Get Help

It is hard enough to have to live with a parent who continues to allow alcohol to ruin their life and those of everyone around them. It can feel utterly defeating if they still refuse help, no matter how hard you try to make them realise why they need treatment.

If you haven’t tried an intervention with a professional counsellor on board, now will be the time to do so. However, you must remind yourself that your parent is responsible for their choices and will ultimately have to deal with the consequences of their own actions. Sometimes, it can be a good idea to create some distance and try to keep encouraging them from afar.


FAQs

Can I Force my Alcoholic Parent to get Help?

No. As much as it might be appealing to be able to force your parent to get better, it just doesn’t work that way. If treatment is going to work, they have to be committed to it and that means seeking help on their own.

Why do I Feel so Bad?

It’s only natural to feel bad when a loved member of your family is engaging in behaviour as destructive as excessive drinking. Not only does their behaviour affect their own health negatively, but it’s bound to affect you profoundly as well.

As the child of an alcoholic, you are likely to suffer neglect and won’t get the attention you deserve. That can result in a plethora of psychological effects that can be problematic for you even for an adult. These factors and more can contribute to you feeling bad, even if you would rather not feel that way.

What Can I Do?

Your role is to provide support for your parent by continuing to encourage them to seek help. Unfortunately, you cannot force them to get treatment, but you can approach them about their problem and ensure they’re aware of how damaging their behaviour is to them and others around them.

You need to learn as much as you can about alcoholism, so you know what to expect and can back up what you say to your parent about their drinking problem. When the time is right, you’ll also need to help find a treatment plan and support them throughout. Remember that ultimately, the choice to get better is theirs. Do your best, but don’t forget to take care of yourself too.

It will hurt to see what alcohol is doing to your parent and will feel even worse when there’s nothing you can do if they don’t want to help themselves. The only role you can play is getting your loved one to the point where they understand how serious their drinking problem is and how it’s affecting them and those around them.

How do I Help my Alcoholic Parent?

The best way to help is to keep talking to your parent about their drinking problem. As you talk to them, you have to remember not to preach or sound judgemental. Learn as much as you can about alcoholism, so you’re well-informed when you discuss it with them.

You need to let them see that you’ll always respect them and they can count on you for support. Through it all, you need to be patient, because it will do no good to flare up or get so upset that you give up.

What Is a High-Functioning Alcoholic?

The classic picture of an alcoholic might be a person whose life is a total mess because of their drinking problem, but this is not the case with a high-performing alcoholic. Such a person might seem to have a normal or even great life, even if they have a serious drinking problem.

A drinking problem can seem less urgent if the person in question is a high-performing alcoholic, but this is a grave error. Alcohol use disorders come in varying degrees and it is best to seek treatment as soon as possible in order to avoid devastating consequences in the future.

How do I Know if my Parent is an Alcoholic?

Alcoholism is characterised by having an actual physical need to drink. There are a number of signs that can indicate that your parent is an alcoholic – one of the most obvious being they’ll experience withdrawal symptoms like agitation, restlessness and tremors whilst not drinking.

How can Family Members Help a Person who is Out of Control with their Drinking?

The first thing that everyone in the family should do is stop hiding the problem and pretending it’s not there. If only a few of you are aware, then involve other close family members, as well as the family doctor, family priest or anyone else who is close and can offer support.

Start with the members of the family whom your parent respects the most. Get them to talk to your parent about their drinking problem. You can also approach them as a team in a calm and non-accusatory manner. You all need to be firm and refuse to back down, every step of the way. Remember, the goal is to get them to seek treatment.

If my Parent is an Alcoholic, Will I be one Too?

No, not necessarily. While you are twice as likely to develop alcoholism, studies have found that less than half the people with alcoholic parents turn out to be alcoholics themselves. There are a number of other factors that can lead to you becoming an alcoholic that don’t have anything to do with your parent’s drinking problem.

While you are not doomed to become an alcoholic if your parent was one, it helps to be extra vigilant, as a susceptibility to alcoholism can be genetic. Also, the problems you had to endure growing up with an alcoholic parent can cause issues, even when you are well into adulthood. Meanwhile, if you’re determined never to drink, you more than likely won’t.

Why do People Drink Too Much?

One of the factors that can shape drinking behaviour is past experiences with alcohol. It is possible that a person has such pleasant experiences whilst drinking that they simply wish to keep consuming more, even if it gets too much. Personality also matters, so you may find an impulsive person drinking way more than a less-impulsive person.

For some people, they drink too much because they are stressed and alcohol helps them feel better by alleviating any negative feelings. Social norms can also play a huge role, especially in places like university campuses, where binge drinking is encouraged and even celebrated.

How Does Alcoholism Affect Families?

In a worst-case scenario, the family can split up, with the non-drinking parent leaving the family with or without the children. Broken families are indeed problematic, but a lot of damage can be done even if the family remains together.

In cases where violence is an issue, a member of the family can be seriously injured and every close relative who lives with the alcoholic may constantly be in physical danger, in addition to the psychologically damaging effects. The financial standing of the family can also be affected if the alcoholic parent is the sole provider.

What If a Parent Doesn’t See the Problem?

In many cases, an alcoholic parent will be in denial and simply won’t recognise they are doing wrong. If you have to deal with such a situation, a collective approach – whereby the closest family members approach them as a group – could be effective.

It may also help a great deal if a member of the family who is respected by the alcoholic talks to them about their problem. If all else fails, it may be best to contact a professional counsellor to help the family stage an intervention.

You may find that they are actually trying to stop drinking or have tried in the past, but were simply unable to. Another sign is that they seem to need more alcohol than before to satisfy their cravings. You should also be concerned if they’re spending too much time trying to obtain the substance (in order to drink) and less time doing what they love or need to do.

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