How to Deal With an Alcoholic Parent
Having a parent who drinks can be very painful and confusing. Your parent may have promised to stop drinking time and time again, but they never do. It’s important for you to understand that alcoholism is an addiction and that your parent must commit to professional treatment in order to truly change. In the meantime, deal with their alcoholism by supporting your own well-being and keeping yourself busy. You might also try to convince your parent to get the help they need.
Coping with Your Parent and Getting Help
Stay away when your parent is drinking.It’s completely understandable to want to help your parent or “watch” them when they’re drinking, but they may not behave the same when they’re drinking as they do when sober. Some parents might start fights with their spouses or even the kids when they’re drinking. To minimize your chances of getting caught in the crosshairs, stay away.
- Find a safe place you can go to when your parent’s drinking gets out of control, such as a tree house, a library, a neighbor’s house, or a local park.
Don’t take responsibility for your parent’s condition.At the end of the day, your parent’s behavior is their choice. They’re the adult and should be looking out for you, not the other way around. Don’t blame yourself for their alcoholism or claim total responsibility for “fixing” the problem.
- The only way an alcoholic can truly get better is by committing to rehab. You can’t do this for your parent; they have to do it on their own.
- Even if you're an adult, you're still not responsible for your parent's addiction. They have to accept ownership for their situation in order to change.
Talk to your parent about getting help.Although you can’t control your parent’s choice to get help, you may be able to convince them. If you have siblings, plan to sit your parent down when they are sober and plead with them to get help. Showing your parent your concern may push them to finally get the help they need.
- If you're a teen, you might say, “Mom, we’re really worried about you. We don’t want to have to go live with foster parents. Can you please go see a doctor?”
- Adult children may say, "Mom, I can tell your drinking has gotten worse. I want my kids to grow up knowing their grandmother, but if you continue down this path, I don't think they'll be able to. Will you please get help?"
Tell another trusted adult about your parent’s alcoholism.If talking to your parent doesn’t make a difference, involve another adult. Turn to your other parent, an aunt or uncle, grandparent, a family friend or a trusted adult at your school. Tell them what’s happening and ask them to talk to your parent on your behalf.
- Sometimes, people don't want to listen to close family members, such as kids and spouses. They may be more likely to listen to a non-family member.
- Consider choosing someone whose opinion your parent cares about, such as a close family friend.
Seek help, if you’re in danger.Alcoholics may violently lash out at others when they’re drinking. If this happens to you or your siblings, seek help immediately. Call another family member or a neighbor for help. If you fear that your parent may hurt you, your siblings, or themselves, call the emergency department.
- Once you’re in a safe place, you might also call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD.
- If you're an adult and your parent is being violent, contact emergency services.
Caring for Your Emotional Health
Develop strategies to fight stress.Your parent’s alcoholism can affect your own health and well-being. You might worry a lot about your parent’s health, their job, or their safety. Keep stress at bay by practicing relaxation techniques and self-care.
- Try relaxation techniques like guided imagery, meditation, yoga, or deep breathing to fight stress.
- You might also do self-care activities like massaging away tension, taking a warm bath, or watching your favorite TV show.
Set personal boundaries.An alcoholic parent may violate your personal limitations in many ways, such as constantly asking you for money, needing rides from you, or forcing you to lie for them. Know that you have a right to say "no" to this kind of behavior and enforce healthy boundaries.
- By keeping firm boundaries, you're letting your parent see the consequences of their drinking behaviors. It can help them realize that they need treatment. If law enforcement gets involved, treatment may be offered through the judicial system.
- For example, you might tell your parent, "This is the last time I'm loaning you money." If they ask again, remind them of your rule and say "no."
- Another example of a boundary you might set is to refuse to spend time with your parent while they are drinking.
Get enough sleep.Sleep is extra important when you’re dealing with a stressful home environment. Plus, if you're an adolescent, you need adequate sleep to support your growth and development. If you’re having trouble getting the recommended eight to ten hours per night, start a bedtime routine.
- For instance, if you stay up late on your phone or computer, shut them off at least an hour before bed. Instead, do some reading, work on a crossword puzzle or listen to soft music.
- If your parent’s drinking keeps you up often at night, tell another adult. You need to be able to sleep restfully through the night without worrying about your parent.
Get regular physical activity.Exercise is really great at helping you fight stress and support your emotional well-being. The endorphins, or chemicals, released when you exercise may even lift your mood if you’re feeling down.
- Try to do at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week.
- If you don’t participate in physical education or sports at school, try going for a walk or run around the block with your dog or turn up the music and dance in your room.
- If you're an adult, try signing up for a gym membership to keep yourself active.
Journal to express your thoughts and feelings.It can feel good to release all your frustrations about what’s happening at home with your parent. Write down what you’re going through in a journal. If you have a hard time journaling, write as if you’re explaining your day to a good friend.
- This journal doesn't have to be pen-and-paper. You can keep one on the computer, a tablet, your phone, or even online.
- If writing doesn't help, try drawing what you feel instead. These can be comics, illustrations, or scribbles.
Talk to a counselor.The stress of an alcoholic parent can wear on you, affecting your physical health and academic or job performance. Before things start to unravel, reach out and talk to a counselor. This professional is trained to help you cope with stress and find better ways of managing in school or work.
- If you are a student, you may be able to make an appointment with your school counselor.
- If you are an adult, get an appointment through your job by talking to human resources or ask your family doctor for a referral.
- Get support and ideas for coping by joining Al-Anon () or Alateen, a nonprofit organization that offers support for people who care about someone with a drinking problem.
Get some distance.If you can, it may help to distance yourself from an alcoholic parent. As upsetting as that may be, it may be the only way you can protect your health and well-being.
- If you're a child, see if you can stay with other relatives or friends for a few days.
- If you're an adult, limit your visits to give yourself a break from your parent's bad habits.
Distracting Yourself from Home Life
Focus on your studies or career.If you want to take your mind off what’s happening back at home, throw yourself into school or work. Make an extra effort in all your classes and schedule in time to study after school each day. If you are an adult with a job, try to focus on keeping your performance up to par.
- If you have trouble studying at home, visit a coffee shop or library. If your grades are falling, considering seeking out a tutor to help you.
- If your parent's condition interferes with your job performance, ask for some time off to pull yourself together.
Get involved with extracurriculars.Staying busy can help you better cope with your parent’s drinking. The more productive things on your schedule, the less time you’ll have to sit around worrying. Plus, getting involved in sports, clubs, and organizations at your school or in your local community can keep you away from home a lot.
Develop hobbies.Do you have any interests outside of school, work, or extracurriculars? If so, commit extra time to pursuing those interests. If you don’t have any hobbies, consider what you like doing and figure out hobbies that might match your interests.
- For example, you might start writing stories or poems, playing a musical instrument, or babysitting for extra cash.
QuestionIs there something I can say or do to scare my parent into quitting drinking?
Licensed Professional CounselorLicensed Professional CounselorExpert AnswerUnless someone is intrinsically motivated to change their behavior, they won’t do it. The good news is, if you know what they care about most (hopefully you), keep showing them how their behavior is hurting you. If you find yourself in the position of taking care of them or “rescuing” them while they are drinking or after, stop. Allow them to experience the negative consequences themselves. At some point, you may decide that in order to take care of yourself, you need to live with another family member or friend. Sometimes when parents lose their kids, that’s when they realize they need help.Thanks!
QuestionHow can I help my other parent (non-alcoholic) not be so depressed?
Licensed Professional CounselorLicensed Professional CounselorExpert AnswerThere are many reasons for depression in the spouse of someone who has a drinking problem. Some of it can be alleviated through social support. Invite your other parent to go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting with you. There you can both connect with other people who can support you both. Do an Internet search to find a meeting in your area.Thanks!
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