Coping with an alcoholic parent can be difficult in so many ways. No matter how old you are, and whether you still live with your parent or not, the emotional impact of dealing with addiction in your family can be severe.
Whatever your situation, we’ve outlined advice for you to follow as you deal with looking after your parent, supporting them through treatment for alcoholism and steering them towards a better future.
How to spot the signs of alcohol addiction in parents
There are various signs to look out for if you think your parent might have issues with their alcohol intake. It may not be easy to spot some of them, especially as people will try to hide their alcohol dependence from others. However, some symptoms of alcoholism can be more obvious or harder to hide.
Generally, the warning signs of alcohol addiction include the following:
- Losing the ability to reduce or stop drinking alcohol
- Causing accidents, injuries or regularly breaking possessions as a result of drinking
- Allowing drinking to take priority over potential health problems
- Losing control of finances or failing to pay bills on time
- Showing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, such as shaking, shivering, sweating and having a low appetite
- Displaying negative changes in mood, particularly if confronted about drinking
- Failing to fulfil general responsibilities
- Missing days in work
- Borrowing money from people
How children and teenagers can deal with an alcoholic parent
It may be harder for children and teenagers to spot the signs of alcohol addiction. So if you’re the child of a parent you think might have a drinking problem, there are certain steps for you to follow:
- Don’t blame yourself - alcohol addiction in a parent is never the child’s fault. Alcoholism is an illness that can be treated with the help of a doctor or medical professional.
- Get help – turn to someone you know who can help your parent. Also, try to ask a person you trust and feel comfortable with so that you can talk about your own worries, too.
- Look after yourself - once you’ve found someone to help you get professional support for your parent, try to focus on the good thing you’ve done for your family. Then concentrate on doing things you enjoy, so that you feel healthy and as happy as possible, and prepared for what the future may bring. Talk to your friends and spend time doing your favourite activities, so that you have time for yourself as your parent does what they need to do to get better.
- Access a support group - if you need to share your feelings, there are plenty of support groups out there filled with people who’ve been in the same situation as you. Talking to these people will help you to feel less alone and give you the opportunity to see what can happen when people recover from their challenges with alcohol.
How to deal with an alcoholic parent as an adult
For adults looking to help an alcoholic parent, this will typically involve sitting down and having a conversation with them.
While it may feel daunting, this discussion could be one of the things that your parent needs in order for them to start turning their life around. Here are a few pieces of advice to help you prepare for the conversation:
- Decide on a location your parent will feel comfortable in, and a suitable time of day, such as when you know you won’t be disturbed, or when they’re least likely to have been drinking
- Make the conversation as gentle as possible. Avoid accusations and instead focus on how you feel about the situation and your own worries for them
- Try to ask questions to allow them to give their version, rather than making closed statements they may shut down from
- Don’t use intimidating labels at this early stage – avoid using terms like ‘addiction’ or ‘alcoholism’ as much as possible
- Make it clear that you’ll be there to help and support them, particularly with getting access to treatment
If the conversation isn’t as successful as you might have hoped, don’t worry. Alcoholism can severely damage self-esteem and it may be difficult for your parent to admit to what they’re going through right away. Try to put your own feelings aside for now if the outcome of your conversation is less than positive at this stage. Certainly don’t get angry or tell your parent that they’re wrong or in denial, as this could make them resist opening up even more.
If they don’t like the idea of professional support, try to encourage them to visit their GP for the sake of their own health, as they may already be familiar with this setting. Tell them that if they do want to speak to a professional organisation for support once they’ve thought things through, you can provide them with the details.
You can also continue the conversation at another point – as long as their life isn’t in immediate danger. Just give them time to react and acknowledge the situation for a day or two, letting everything you’ve said sink in. Then, pick up the phone or visit them again soon if you can to check in on how they’re doing, show that you care and see if you can go along with them to their first appointment with a professional, if they agree.
Looking after yourself as you deal with parental alcoholism
It’s always important to look out for your own mental health, especially if you’re helping someone else through a difficult time.
You may feel that you need to speak to someone about your own challenges, as you try to understand your role in helping your parent and how you can move forward comfortably with both your own life and this new stage in your relationship. There are always people out there who will understand what you’re going through, either in support groups or professional therapy settings. Don’t be afraid to reach out and prioritise your own feelings, as well as those of your family.
Options for alcoholism treatment with Life Works
At Life Works, we provide a free, no-obligation assessment for anyone looking to recover from alcohol addiction. Our highly-trained specialists have treated many people in this situation, helping families to work through all of the challenges this brings too.
We provide a range of options for treatment, including an initial detox process if required, personal and group therapy sessions, and family programmes. Our team will be able to recommend the best course of action for yourself and your family following the initial consultation.
While the current coronavirus restrictions and social distancing measures are in place, we are offering online support to both new and current patients. We continue to offer access to inpatient services where this is required. For more information on our online therapy service, please visit our Priory Connect page or read our latest online therapy blog. For the latest information on how Priory are responding to coronavirus, and keeping our patients and staff safe, please visit our COVID-19 preparedness blog. You can also find out about our approach to addiction treatment during COVID-19 by accessing our dedicated page.
This blog was reviewed by Siobhan Ward (BA(Hons) Graphic Design, MSc in Addiction Psychology and Counselling, PgDip in Addiction Psychology and Counselling), Addiction Programme Lead at Life Works.
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