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Signs Your Son is an Alcoholic & What to Do

Coping with a son’s alcoholism is one of the most challenging experiences a parent can have. When you have a child with alcohol use disorder (AUD), it tests boundaries, affects your well-being and puts a strain on your marriage and your relationship with other family members, especially other children.

There are things you can do to help your son, but it’s also important to care for your mental, emotional, and physical health. Understanding substance use and alcoholism is one of the most important things you can do if your child struggles with addiction.

Potential Causes of Alcoholism

Several things increase a person’s risk of developing alcohol use disorder (AUD). For example:

  • Gender — men are more likely to develop AUD, so a son has a higher risk than a daughter.
  • Frequency of alcohol use — the more a person drinks, the greater the risk of him developing AUD.
  • Altered brain chemistry — alcohol use triggers dopamine release in a person’s brain, making them feel good. As their body builds tolerance, they need more and more alcohol to achieve the same pleasurable feeling.
  • Genetics — people with alcoholic parents have a higher risk of developing alcohol use disorder themselves. That risk is even higher for sons of alcoholic fathers.
  • Social pressure — spending time with heavy drinkers increases the odds of consuming higher amounts of alcohol.
  • Personality — alcoholics tend to be perfectionists and struggle to cope with frustration. Many are emotionally immature and have problems with communicating. They might also have low self-esteem or suffer from depression or other co-occurring mental health disorders.
  • Environment — people who grew up in families or spent time around heavy drinkers have a higher risk of developing alcoholism.
  • Age — the younger a person is when he first starts drinking, the more likely he will develop a problem with alcohol use.

Can Alcoholism Run in Families?

Yes. Both genetic and environmental factors play a major role in someone’s risk of developing alcoholism. A male with an alcoholic parent, especially a father, has a high risk of being an alcoholic. This is due to genetic factors that biologically increase the odds of alcoholism and environmental factors regarding what he is exposed to throughout life.

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How to Help an Alcoholic Son Who Doesn’t Want Help

A parent can help an alcoholic son, even if he is not ready to enter recovery. Parents have a significant impact on their children’s lives and what a parent does can increase the odds of a successful recovery. 

It’s important to understand codependency and know how to set and respect boundaries. Helping your son doesn't mean you have to give up your life by only focusing on his well-being, cleaning up his messes, or being his enabler. Doing those things does not help either of you. It's important to set boundaries and hold him accountable for his actions.

Avoid denial

Most parents don’t want to accept or believe that their son is an alcoholic.

They may tell themselves various things to reject or account for their son’s drinking, including:

  • It is normal to experiment at this age
  • It is not as bad as I think
  • It will work itself out over time
  • He has always been a good kid
  • I am a good parent

However, by living in denial, you are not helping your son when he requires it most. As a parent, it is essential to come to terms with your son’s alcoholism. Do your best to remove feelings of guilt or shame so you can get your son the help he needs.

Empathy Over Enabling

It’s important to understand that alcoholism is not a moral flaw. There are things a person can do to reduce their risk of alcoholism, but nobody chooses to be an alcoholic. In other words, no one sets out and says, "I'm going to be an alcoholic when I grow up." Same with substance addiction. Some people become addicted with one use, while others never become addicted with use. Yes, addiction starts off with a choice to consume, but no one chooses to be addicted for the rest of their life (even with treatment, it's a battle for the rest of their life).

Empathetic parents offer emotional support and encourage their children to confide in them about stress and other issues related to their drinking. 

While empathy is important, you also need to understand where to draw the line. You should never enable your son’s drinking. Understanding the distinction between empathy and enabling is challenging for parents. It might help to seek counseling to help you manage your role in your son’s life.

An Intervention

Intervention is one of the most effective tools parents and other family members have for dealing with an alcoholic loved one. Interventions led by an addiction professional increase the odds that the person with AUD will enter treatment and that treatment will be successful. 

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a 12-step community program that provides a network of sober support to people with AUD. AA is free to attend and is a great resource for people who have just begun their recovery journey, as well as those who have been focused on recovery for years. 

The only requirement for attending AA meetings is that the person commits to not drinking.

Residential Treatment and Detox

Some people require round-the-clock care during their recovery. Residential, in-patient treatment programs are appropriate for those who face physical health challenges during the detoxification period. 

It’s also ideal for anyone who wants to commit to working on recovery from a drinking problem 24-hours a day without any distractions from regular life. Programs at inpatient treatment facilities range from 30 to 90 days and provide individual and group counseling, family counseling, coping skills education, relapse prevention, and aftercare. 

Other Alcohol Addiction Treatment Options

Other addiction treatment options include:

  • Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP) — day programs that provide intensive care but offer more flexibility than inpatient and residential programs.
  • Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP) — programs that allow patients to live their normal lives but offer support, coping strategies, support mechanisms, and help with avoiding relapse.
  • Standard Outpatient Treatment — programs that allow patients to live at home and fulfill work and other obligations while attending treatment sessions in a counselor’s office, mental health clinic, or hospital. These programs require a stable, alcohol-free home environment.

Many people with AUD attend individual counseling sessions alone or in conjunction with other forms of treatment. These sessions use behavioral therapies that modify maladaptive behaviors and attitudes related to alcoholism. Behavioral therapies include:

The Differences Between Helping and Hurting

Empathy and enabling can easily go hand-in-hand. Both often come from a place of compassion and a place to help. However, the outcomes are different.

Enabling allows unhealthy and self-destructive behaviors to continue. This may worsen the problem rather than solve it.

Enabling comes in various forms:

  • Giving someone money, so they do not steal
  • Creating excuses for someone’s behavior
  • Not showing how you feel to avoid someone becoming upset or leaving
  • Ignoring unacceptable behavior

Empathy, support, and encouragement should come in the form of words. Communicate with your son to show him that you want to help but do not engage in behaviors that enable his bad decisions.

There is no incentive to change if there is nothing to lose. Shielding your son from the potential outcomes of problem drinking can stop him from seeing the bigger picture and understand that he needs help.

Some ways to stop enabling your alcoholic son may include:

  • Giving him food when he is hungry rather than providing him with money that can be spent on alcohol and other substances
  • Not cleaning up after him. If he creates a mess while intoxicated, leave it for him to see and deal with
  • Continue following through on plans even if your son does not participate or engage
  • Taking back autonomy by prioritizing your needs
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Taking Care of Yourself

When your son is experiencing alcoholism, you will do more harm than good if you do not take care of yourself. It is essential that your practice good self-care during this period.

Self-care may involve eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising as much as possible. When you consider these needs, you protect your immune system, energy levels, and cognitive abilities. All of this helps you deal with your son.

Ignoring your needs reduces your resiliency, leading you to be less effective in managing the bigger problem.

How to Convince an Alcoholic Loved One to Get Help

You might not be able to convince your alcoholic son to get help, but there are things you can do to encourage and support his recovery. Start by adjusting your expectations.

Accept that you might face resistance if you confront him about his drinking or suggest that he get help. That doesn’t mean he won’t eventually enter recovery. However, you need to realize you cannot control his behavior. The only thing you control is how you respond to his drinking and whether or not you enable his alcoholism.

If you choose to confront your alcoholic son, carefully think about what you want to say. The goal is to open the door to effective communication while also respecting whatever boundaries you set. Begin the conversation when your son is sober and do not attack or place blame. Explain how his actions affect you and the rest of the family and suggest treatment options. Loved ones are a big reason for alcoholics to seek help.

Support Groups for Parents of Alcoholic Children 

There is support available for parents of alcoholic sons. Al-Anon is one of the most accessible and effective support groups available. The Al-Anon program is based on the 12-steps developed by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and provides a peer support environment for those who care about people with AUD.

Questions About Treatment?

If you have questions about treatment for an alcoholic family member or want to help your alcoholic son recover, reach out to an addiction specialist by calling AlcoholRehabHelp.

Resources

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“Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).” Nih.Gov, 2017

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Effective Treatment.” Drugabuse.Gov, 2018

“Coping With an Alcoholic Child | Meetings: 888-425-2666.” Al-Anon Family Groups

Lander, Laura et al. “The impact of substance use disorders on families and children: from theory to practice.” Social work in public health vol. 28,3-4 (2013): 194-205

Nehring SM, Freeman AM. Alcohol Use Disorder. [Updated 2021 Apr 16]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-.

Rehm, Jürgen. “The risks associated with alcohol use and alcoholism.” Alcohol research & health : the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism vol. 34,2 (2011): 135-43.

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