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Signs Your Parent is an Alcoholic

There are few things as hard in life as watching a loved one struggle with addiction. Unfortunately, having an alcoholic family member is not uncommon. In fact, about 28 million children in the United States have alcoholic parents; 11 million of those children are under 18. 

Alcohol is, by far, the most frequently abused substance in the country. Sadly, alcoholism doesn't just impact the alcoholic; it can also cause crippling effects on the alcoholics' loved ones, especially their kids.

If a parent may be struggling with an alcohol problem, it’s essential to be aware of several warning signs and symptoms. Common signs of alcoholism include:

  • Memory loss and frequent blackouts
  • Always finding reasons to drink
  • Frequently being hungover
  • Financial problems
  • Isolation from friends and family members
  • Issues at work
  • Prioritizing drinking above spending time with family and other previously enjoyed activities
  • Changes in appearance/a lack of personal hygiene
  • Drinking alone or in secret

What Is It Like to Live With a Parent Who Has a Substance Use Problem?

Living with an alcoholic parent is challenging. It can affect how you act and feel. It can also affect your family life.

The experience is different for each person.

Here are some common examples of how people might feel:

  • Embarrassed
  • Angry
  • Sad
  • Worried about their parent's health or safety
  • Concerned for themselves, siblings, or their other parent
  • Scared
  • Alone
  • Unsafe
  • Overwhelmed
  • Depressed
  • Anxious
  • Frustrated when their parent does not change
  • Relieved when a parent takes steps to recover

Here are some common examples of how people might act:

  • Trying hard not to upset a parent who drinks a lot
  • Trying to stay out of a parent’s way
  • Unwilling to speak up or ask for what they need
  • Keep their feelings to themselves
  • Keep their parent’s problem a secret
  • Hide what their life is like at home
  • Avoid having friends over to their home
  • Missing school
  • Having trouble keeping up with work
  • Taking on adult tasks
  • Arguing or fighting with a parent
  • Harming themselves

Find Help For Your Addiction

You don’t have to overcome your addiction alone. Professional guidance and support is available. Begin a life of recovery by reaching out to a specialist today.

How to Approach Your Parent About Their Drinking Problem

The most important thing to remember when approaching a parent about their drinking problem is you can't force someone to change. As badly as you may want to, you can't make your parent stop drinking or drink less. It’s impossible to make a loved one seek addiction treatment or mental health help.  

Here are some tips for appropriately approaching the situation:

  • Remember, the conversation is intended to let them know you are concerned about their well-being, not humiliating them or trying to convince them they have a problem. Start the conversation by letting your addicted parent know how much you care about them.
  • Don't initiate the conversation while your parent is drunk.
  • List concerning behaviors you've witnessed.
  • Allow them to respond and listen. This is a two-way conversation.

How to Help an Alcoholic Parent if You Don't Live at Home

If you no longer live at home, you can still be there for your alcoholic parent. Initiate the conversation about your concern over their drinking habits and work with your addicted parent to find help locally. You can prepare for the discussion with a list of treatment centers and Al-Anon groups in their area. Help from afar by regularly checking in with your parent as they go through treatment.

Al-Anon groups help the families and friends of alcoholics, whereas AA is for those with alcohol use disorder (AUD).

How to Help an Alcoholic Parent in Denial

Drinking too much is a problem that nobody enjoys talking about. People commonly become enraged and super defensive when accused of drinking too much, whether they have a drinking problem or not. Sometimes, a parent will deny they have a drinking problem. When a person is in denial, they refuse to believe the truth about their situation. People who suffer from alcohol use disorder (AUD) may blame somebody else because it appears easier than taking responsibility for their drinking habits. 

You have to remind your parent that you are coming from a place of concern and that they can't get better if they don't get help. You must stay patient when dealing with an alcoholic parent who is in denial. If you lose your temper or grow impatient with your alcoholic parent, they will feel as if you are blaming or shaming them and will not respond well to your concerns.

If all of your efforts and patience continue to fail, you can bring in professional help and stage an intervention. An intervention aims to get the alcoholic to realize their lifestyle is affecting the whole family. 

Maintaining a Relationship with an Alcoholic Parent

One of the most common issues facing children of alcoholics is that they blame themselves, and many never feel as if they are doing enough to help their parent. This becomes increasingly true when a parent (falsely) blames a child for their drinking. Some children deal with their parent's alcoholism since they were born; others don't notice it until they are adults. 

No matter the situation, alcoholism can strain a child's relationship with their parent. However, making some added effort to be there for your parent can make all the difference in his/her recovery from alcoholism. 

Call or text your parent frequently to let them know you wish them well and that you are supporting them in their recovery journey. You can also find things to do with your parent that don't involve drinking. This will be especially helpful at the beginning when their mind only wants to think about alcohol. 

At the same time, you should be careful not to enable your parent. Providing unconditional love and support does not have to mean overlooking their unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Stay honest with your parent, and don't make excuses for them, especially if their alcoholism leads them to make poor decisions. Keep some boundaries while letting your parent know that you are there to help them with recovery.

Best Treatment Options for Alcoholism

Al-Anon

Al-Anon is the largest support group for friends and families of alcoholics. Modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.), Al-Anon features a 12-Step program for members to follow to help them cope with their loved one's alcoholism.  

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a worldwide organization of peer-facilitated support groups that helps people recover from alcohol use disorder (AUD).

SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery is known as one of the top alternatives to A.A. and is particularly popular among alcoholics who don't agree with A.A.'s spiritual focus. While SMART recovery focuses on alcoholics, the organization also has resources for friends and family members.

Co-DA

Co-Dependents Anonymous is a support group that dedicates itself to helping people struggling with codependent relationships, including people impacted by drug and alcohol abuse. Co-DA is a 12-step group program.

Growing up with an alcoholic parent can be a traumatizing experience. There are several support groups for people still coping or trying to cope with their parent's drinking, including Adult Children of Alcoholics and Al-Anon family groups. 

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Resources

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“Coping With an Alcoholic Parent.” Coping With an Alcoholic Parent - Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital

Hussong, A. M., Huang, W., Curran, P. J., Chassin, L., & Zucker, R. A. (2010). Parent alcoholism impacts the severity and timing of children's externalizing symptoms. Journal of abnormal child psychology, 38(3), 367–380

Bennett, L. A., Wolin, S. J., & Reiss, D. (1988). Cognitive, behavioral, and emotional problems among school-age children of alcoholic parents. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 145(2), 185–190

Easley, Margaret J., and Norman Epstein. “Coping with Stress in a Family with an Alcoholic Parent.” Family Relations, vol. 40, no. 2, 1991, pp. 218–224. JSTOR

Moser, Richard P., and Theodore Jacob. “Parent-Child Interactions and Child Outcomes as Related to Gender of Alcoholic Parent.” Journal of Substance Abuse, JAI, 15 May 2002

Callan, V J, and D Jackson. “Children of Alcoholic Fathers and Recovered Alcoholic Fathers: Personal and Family Functioning.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 1986

Lyon, D., & Greenberg, J. (1991). Evidence of codependency in women with an alcoholic parent: Helping out Mr. Wrong. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61(3), 435–439

Hughes, J. M. (1977). Adolescent children of alcoholic parents and the relationship of Alateen to these children. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 45(5), 946–947

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