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How to Help an Alcoholic Parent

Signs Your Parent is an Alcoholic

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), one in five adults has lived with an alcoholic parent or relative growing up.1 Recognizing the signs of alcohol addiction is a critical step in the healing journey.

Signs of alcohol use disorder (AUD) can begin subtly but worsen over time. They include:

  • Excessive drinking, including during the day
  • Blackout drinking
  • Bad behavior worsened by drinking
  • Declining physical health because of substance abuse problems
  • Co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety
  • Legal issues caused by alcohol addiction
  • Loss of job or income due to alcohol addiction
  • Smelling like alcohol 
  • Hiding alcohol 
  • Denying alcohol abuse issues or substance use disorders (SUDs)

These are all signs that might indicate your parent has an alcohol problem. In such cases, you might need to help them seek addiction treatment.

How Alcoholic Parents Affect Children

Studies have shown that AUD runs in families.Genes play a significant role in the development of alcohol abuse. An estimated 50 to 65% of people who have a parent with AUD will also develop the disorder.

Children of alcoholics have an increased likelihood of developing AUD and other co-occurring mental health disorders. This is because the children of alcoholics are at higher risk of experiencing negative events.

These events include:

  • Abuse
  • Trauma
  • Dysfunctional homes
  • Poverty
  • Instability
  • Emotional neglect
  • Witnessing violence

Adult children can still carry the effects of their parents' drinking. They should not feel obligated to help their parent if they feel doing so will be detrimental to their own life. 

If this is the case for you, take time to heal and focus on your own emotional well-being. Prioritizing your mental health is especially important. Research has shown that adult children of alcoholics have higher rates of mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. 4

You should only help your parent if you feel comfortable enough to do so. If you have any doubt about your ability to help your parent, talk to a mental health or addiction treatment provider. A self-help group, Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA), was formed to help these people.

6 Ways You Can Help an Alcoholic Parent

1. Offer Emotional Support

Some people use alcohol as a form of escape or self-medication.If your parent is using alcohol to cope with anxiety, depression, or stress, address these issues first.

Ask your parent when they developed a drinking problem and if there are emotional or social stressors that lead them to abuse alcohol. This might be helpful to do with the guidance of a mental health professional.

Most parents might not want to worry their children or talk about their problems, and instead turn to substances. By offering emotional support, you make it easier for your parent to trust you. 

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2. Talk to Other Family Members

Your parent might be hiding their substance abuse from other family members. Although you don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable, you do want to show them that other family members can offer support during this difficult time.

Make sure to only confide in family members you feel would empathetically understand your parent’s struggles. Studies have shown that a lack of family support leads to a higher risk of relapse and damages the chances of a successful recovery. 6

Reaching out to a supportive family member can create a sense of hope. It can also help encourage them to be more receptive to addiction treatment. 

3. Invest in Professional Therapy

Professional counselors are a trustworthy resource for handling your parent’s mental health and substance abuse treatment.

A mental health provider will create a personalized treatment plan for your parent to the root of their addiction. They may also offer family therapy or other treatment practices as necessary. 

In addition, treatment providers can also recommend and prescribe medications as needed. Keep in mind, sessions between a treatment provider and your parent are confidential. Never probe or interfere with your parent’s counseling without permission.

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4. Discuss Other Treatment Options 

Outpatient therapy might not be right for your parent. Convincing your parent to accept substance abuse treatment is one of the first steps in recovery. However, if your parent is looking for a solution other than therapy, discuss different treatment options. 

For instance, your parent might be willing to go through the treatment process if they find a facility located in another city. Or, they might be willing to accept therapy if there are support groups available. 

By helping your parent explore additional treatment options, you can reassure them that they will receive the professional help they need to stop drinking and achieve sobriety

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5. Wait Until They are Sober To Talk

Children of alcoholics know just how difficult it is to talk to their parents when they are under the influence of alcohol. 

Because alcoholism has severe withdrawal symptoms, your parent might not want to quit drinking. Further, they might not want to pursue treatment for their addiction. For this reason, it’s best to address them when they are sober.

6. Never Force Them Into Recovery

Always come from a place of love and understanding when you speak to your parent about alcohol addiction. Forcing your parent into treatment is never a good idea, despite the danger their drinking causes.

Evidence shows that forcing someone into treatment  is ineffective in helping them recover from their alcohol or drug addiction.7 Doing so can cause your parent to resent you and prevent them from attending treatment at all.

How to Talk to an Alcoholic Parent in Denial

If your parent is in denial about their drinking, encourage them to seek individual therapy. A trained therapist can help them understand their problem by providing a safe space to openly discuss their problems.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Use Disorder

Helping your parent understand their treatment options can encourage them to get help.

Various AUD treatments include:
 

  1. Medical detox: A treatment center that specializes in medical detox will have a medical professional to help your parent safely stop drinking. They will help minimize the risk of withdrawal symptoms, which occur after someone stops using substances.
  2. Inpatient treatment: Depending on the rehab center, an inpatient facility will offer 24/7 monitoring and daily support groups to help your parent in their beginning stages of recovery.
  3. Intensive outpatient treatment (IOP): This treatment can be beneficial for people who still need treatment but have less-severe AUD t. IOPs allow your parent to live at home but attend support group meetings and gain coping skills during the day.
  4. Outpatient treatment: These programs are the last stage of treatment for people with alcohol or drug abuse. Outpatient programs offer schedule flexibility and are an excellent way to help your parent maintain sobriety.
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Updated on June 16, 2022
7 sources cited
  1. Aacap. (n.d.). Alcohol Use in Families. Alcohol use in families. 
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Genetics of Alcohol Use Disorder. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
  3. Advanced Solutions International, I. (n.d.). Children of Alcoholics. Children of alcoholics. 
  4. CD;, T. S. H. R. (n.d.). Adult children of alcoholics: Profiles of wellness amidst distress. Journal of studies on alcohol.
  5. Turner, S., Mota, N., Bolton, J., & Sareen, J. (2018, September). Self-medication with alcohol or drugs for mood and anxiety disorders: A narrative review of the epidemiological literature. Depression and anxiety.
  6. Baharudin, Dini & Zakaria, Zaliridzal & Hussin, Abd & Mohamed, Sarina & Sumari, Melati & Sawai, Rezki & Ahmad, Zainol. . The Experiences of Family Support by People in Recovery from Drug Addiction.
  7. Werb, D., Kamarulzaman, A., Meacham, M. C., Rafful, C., Fischer, B., Strathdee, S. A., & Wood, E. (2015, December 18). The effectiveness of compulsory drug treatment: A systematic review. International Journal of Drug Policy.

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