Expert advice on dealing with an alcoholic parent

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When a parent drinks, it can affect the entire family. Whether you're a child, young person or adult, and are living with your alcoholic parent, or in another home, their alcoholism may be impacting on your life. Having to learn how to deal with an alcoholic parent may be challenging.

If you're uncertain about whether your parent is addicted to alcohol, we can help you to identify the signs and symptoms of a drinking problem. We'll also look at how best to manage an alcoholic parent or alcoholic parents, to make sure the entire family doesn’t have to live with the effects of the addiction.

The signs of alcohol addiction

Alcohol addiction can be different from person-to-person. However, some recognisable symptoms can include the following:

  • Drinking more or for longer than originally intended
  • Being unable to cut back or stop drinking
  • Frequently having small accidents or making mistakes
  • Experiencing health problems as a result of drinking, but continuing to drink in spite of these
  • Withdrawing from financial, family and other responsibilities
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms as a result of not drinking
  • Becoming less concerned with appearance or hygiene
  • Becoming defensive in response to criticism

Some people with alcoholism may not display many symptoms. They may appear to be performing well at work and maintaining good relationships with people around them. However, as the child of an alcoholic parent, you may have seen the following:

  • They drink specific beverages, and only at certain times and in certain situations
  • They have asked you to cover up their alcoholism, such as calling in sick to work or borrowing money
  • They miss events or responsibilities as a result of drinking

If you're worried about your parent, knowing what to do can be difficult. It's challenging trying to learn how to help an alcoholic parent and get them back on track, especially if you're young.

Dr Declan Leahy, Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Chelmsford, explains: "Children of parents with alcohol addiction are in a unique position to be able to identify problems and support their parents through recovery, but it's just as important for them to look after themselves and access the support they might need too.

“The effects of having a parent with alcohol addiction are far-reaching and can be significant, so it's important not only to consider the parent and their recovery but also what we can do to help their family and friends."

Below, we have outlined the steps that children, young people and adults can take when concerned about their parent, to help both themselves and the person they care about.

Advice for children and young people with alcoholic parents

If one of your parents is addicted to alcohol, it's important to remember that it's not your fault. You may feel responsible, and believe that you're the cause of their drinking problem, but this isn't the case. Alcoholism is an illness, and your parent will need a doctor or medical professional to help them get better.

Never feel that you have to help your parent all by yourself. Speak out and talk to someone you trust about getting support for your alcoholic parent. While you may be worried about reaching out, it's important that your parent gets the help that they need.

Having or living with a alcoholic parent can make you feel lonely, as you may feel too embarrassed to say anything. However, it's important to make the effort to join a support group and talk to someone you trust. Don’t bottle up your feelings.

When you're worried about someone else, you can also forget to take care of yourself. However, remember that you're important and it's crucial to look after your health and wellbeing too. Plan activities that you enjoy, such as reading, watching TV or hanging out with friends.

Advice for adults with alcoholic parents

If you want to take steps towards addressing your parent's alcohol abuse and talking to them about it, you need to be prepared for the conversation. Beforehand, think about the following:

  • Choose a time and place that's safe and private, where your parent will feel comfortable
  • Try to use phrases starting with “I” rather than “you”. For example, say: “I'm worried about you” or “I'm concerned about the amount you’re drinking”
  • Ask open ended questions, such as: “I'm worried you're drinking more - why do you think I’m worried?”
  • Mention specific instances or events. For example you could say: “I'm concerned about the amount you're drinking when you get in from work”
  • Stick to positive language and avoid generic labels like ‘alcoholic’ or ‘addict’
  • Try to keep your parent relaxed during the conversation
  • Use a concerned tone rather than a disapproving one, where you speak in a kind, gentle and sympathetic way
  • Be solution-focused and positive in the way you address the next steps
  • Make it clear that you won’t facilitate their drinking, and make sure you stick to any boundaries you put in place

Your parent may not accept they have a problem to begin with, particularly if they think their drinking is under control. If they deny they have an issue with alcohol, be proactive and put forward some solutions. Ask them to visit their GP, contact an organisation such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or possibly try private therapy.

Dr Declan Leahy says: “Sometimes, personal intervention or comments from family can have great motivational impact. However, input from therapy staff can be critical in helping the individual to make and sustain the decisions that are needed for lasting change.”

If your parent does decide to seek help, it's important to express your support. Call and visit when possible, to show you're thinking about them and rooting for their recovery. You may also choose to attend family therapy together to help heal your relationship.

Getting support for you

If you've grown up with a parent who has suffered from alcoholism, this may have had an effect on your own emotions and mindset.

If you feel that your life has been affected by your alcoholic parent, it's important for you to find a safe space where you feel comfortable to talk. This may be with a therapist or support group, where you can talk freely to people who understand, helping you to feel less isolated and move away from any buried feelings that you're holding on to.

How Priory can support you and your family

For someone who's ready to receive treatment for their alcohol addiction, Priory offers a free and confidential assessment, where one of our experienced therapists will be able to help your parent to recognise the treatment that's most beneficial for them.

Our experienced addiction team is also able to help the families of people in recovery. Dedicated family support groups and family therapy sessions are available when someone that you care about is going through treatment at Priory.

Contact us to make an enquiry or for more information

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