How To Help An Alcoholic Parent
An alcohol use disorder (AUD) impacts the person who is drinking as well as the family members involved. According to research, 43% of American adults were exposed to family alcoholism, and roughly 53% of Americans attested to having a spouse or relative who drinks. Alcoholism impacts millions of Americans and has serious health effects. Those with an alcohol use disorder continue to use alcohol despite negative consequences. While someone who drinks on occasion or binge drinks does not necessarily suffer from an alcohol use disorder, it becomes a danger when someone cannot stop or control their drinking. Knowing the signs of alcoholism can help determine if help is needed.
Getting a parent help who is battling with addiction can stop the cycle of alcohol abuse, enable healthier role modeling examples, save lives, and curb health related alcohol problems. Expecting mothers can save unborn babies from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and family members can be around to see their children grow up. This can include staging an intervention, or having discussions about rehab. If domestic abuse occurs due to an alcoholic parent, getting the parent help sooner rather than later can help them deal with drinking. Having access to a counselor in treatment facilities can fight addictive tendencies as therapy can unveil underlying motives for drinking.
How To Talk To An Alcoholic Parent When They’re In Denial
For anyone battling addiction, denial can be an obstacle to getting the help needed for recovery. Taking the first step and starting a conversation may be helpful. Choosing the right time, like when they are relaxed, and approaching with a compassionate tone could make the message clear. Secondly, having a list of objective facts regarding how their behavior has impacted everyone could provide insight. Some advice for helping someone who is in denial includes:
- Use “I” statements. Such as “I feel ____ when you ____.” This reduces the risk of sounding accusatory.
- Avoid shame or blame. Addiction is not a shortcoming, it is a chronic, progressive illness. Shaming or blaming the person will not help the situation but may make it worse.
- Be specific. Share specific incidents, behaviors, or situations that will reveal how the parent’s alcohol use disorder has negatively impacted them.
- Ask what they want. Asking the parent what they want out of life can help them realign with their goals and identify how their alcohol use interferes with accomplishing these goals.
- Provide support. Tell your parent that you are there for them and that you love them. Ask them what they need from you to conquer their alcohol use disorder.
Allowing the person to express reasons for drinking could help parties realize information and strengthen bonds between the other. Lastly, encouraging them to get medical assistance with information on the benefits of inpatient or outpatient rehab could provide direction. Support groups like Al-Anon, CoDa, and others provide the support for those in need.
The Impact Of An Alcoholic Parent On The Child
Having a parent who abuses alcohol can be extremely difficult for several reasons. Firstly, a child growing up in that environment gets used to seeing a parent battle alcoholism, and if any violence is included, experiences an unstable environment. Secondly, the child may put him or herself in a premature caretaker role, unable to enjoy being a child. This could later condition the child to be codependent, resulting in relationships with those who abuse alcohol or other drugs in exchange for love or self-worth. Children and relatives of alcoholics can exhibit a set of behaviors or emotions which include:
- Feelings of shame and embarrassment for intoxicated parent.
- Preoccupation with the mental health of their parent.
- Worried about their substance abuse.
- Feeling afraid of a drunk parent.
- Feeling guilt for a drunk parent.
- Not feeling safe in one’s home.
- Feeling anxious.
- Being secretive about a parent.
- Embarrassment about having friends over.
- Caretaking for the intoxicated parent.
- School absences.
- Poor academic function.
- Socially withdrawing.
- Frustration or resentment toward the parent with the addiction.
Children and teens may blame themselves for their parent’s abusing drugs. The child or children may be a victim of abuse if they live with an alcoholic parent who engages in domestic violence. Child abuse can yield challenging behavioral disruptions in children that can harm other children. A child may also be a victim of other forms of abuse as well. Emotional abuse is very common in homes with one or more alcoholic parent.
Detox, Parent Alcoholism, And Genetics
An AUD is a complex genetic disease. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, children of alcoholics are 4 times more likely than other children to become alcoholics, although environmental factors may act as a protective factor. Genetics only make up half of one’s risk for developing alcoholism. Other factors, such as environment and upbringing, are just as important. Research is still being conducted to better understand the role that genetics play in the hereditary development of an alcohol use disorder.
Weaning one’s self off of alcohol or trying to quit cold turkey can result in withdrawal symptoms. Once the body starts craving alcohol, and the individual experiences withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, shaking, and nausea or vomiting, drinking can seem like the best way to combat these uncomfortable effects. Medically assisted detox could provide needed medications with monitoring. Since alcoholism can impact other members in the family, getting help with counseling for alcoholism can stop negative cycles of addiction.
How To Cope When A Parent Is Drinking
Since children risk becoming codependent in response to a drinking parent, it is important they find helpful coping strategies early on. Doing so can possibly help the child not take responsibility for the alcoholism present in the parent, gain perspective, and may help prevent alcohol use in the future of the child’s life. Some coping mechanisms are not limited to:
- Finding a support group.
- Talking to counselors or church members.
- Writing down and being aware of feelings.
- Utilize creativity to deal with emotions.
- Having a mentor or someone to talk to.
- If things escalate at home, seek safety.
- Initiate conversations about drinking.
- Stage an intervention to end drinking.
Fortunately, there are support groups like Al-Anon for families when a parent decides to get help for alcoholism. Not only do the parents have access to peer groups that provide support but having family members present could be motivation to be accountable for their actions. Family members of alcoholics are also encouraged to participate in support groups, such as Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA).
Start Your Journey Today
Author: Krystina Murray | Last Edited: October 4, 2021
Medical Reviewer: Theresa Parisi