How To Cope With Alcoholic Parents

Updated October 21, 2020

Alcohol dependence is more than the excessive intake of alcohol. It is an addiction disorder that affects the everyday functioning across all spheres of the individual’s life and those around them. Living with an alcoholic parent is not a comfortable experience, and no child or adult should be subject to it.

Some days may be harder than most, and sometimes you could despair. In this article, we would help you understand the concept of alcoholism and how to cope and get better from an alcoholic parent. Some might ask, ‘Instead of telling me to cope with my alcoholic parent, why don’t they just stop drinking?’ The chances are that it is not easy to stop anymore. Some parts of their brains are wired to take alcohol at the slightest convenience and inconvenience. Moreover, your parents’ habits come with a lot of struggle, which directly or indirectly affects you. You also require just as much care and therapy as your parents as they embark on the road to recovery.

When Drinking Becomes A Problem

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Most of us have had at least one or two drinks in our lifetime. Alcohol in moderation is not wholly wrong; some scientists even argue that a few sips of red wine could boost cardiac function.

Alcoholism is a chronic medical condition characterized by the inability to control alcohol intake because of its physical and emotional dependence. Alcohol addicts are preoccupied with not only consumption of it but thoughts of acquiring alcohol as well. In 2018, it was reported by National Survey on Drug use and Health (NSDUH) that 14.4 million adults aged 18 years and older had alcohol use disorder, and that is just in the United States alone.

According to the World Health Organization, ICD-10, most people with alcohol dependence present with at least 3 of the following features in one year to be diagnosed:

  • A strong desire to take alcohol in this case, they feel that they cannot help it.
  • They find it difficult to control the amount of alcohol they consume when they start and stop the intake.
  • They experience withdrawal symptoms like vomiting, tremors, sweat, etc. when alcohol intake is low or has stopped.
  • They try to increase the amount they consume because they become more tolerant of lower doses to achieve the effects they were getting from lower doses.
  • There is gradual neglect of alternative sources of pleasure, and their interests in other activities reduce.
  • They continue alcohol intake, even when there is evidence of the harmful effects, whether physical or emotional.

Suppose you suspect that any/both of your parents have alcohol use disorder. In that case, chances are they are going to need a lot of professional help. Sheer will power and motivation are not enough.

Impact Of Alcohol Use Disorder On The Family

Alcohol abuse has a ton of adverse effects. Its consequences not only resonate in the lives of people who have the condition, but also on their children, friends, and loved ones. Some of them are:

  1. Destroy the family relationship and dynamic.

Coping with a loved one who is battling with alcoholism is not a work in the park. Oftentimes, it can destroy the relationship you had with the person. Alcoholism causes the individual to neglect their regular everyday duties. For example, a person who usually remembers picking their kids from school does not do so anymore, because he/she was out drinking till late and forgot. The individual is also unable to stop at will, which further frustrates and strains the relationship, especially if they promise they would.

  • Marital discord
  • Divorce
  • Stress
  • Jealousy
  • Codependency
  • Infidelity
  • Domestic violence
  • Worsening of domestic issues.
  1. Ruin family finances
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In this case, the family’s finances are used to fuel the addiction. All the trouble that comes with poor financial decisions falls on the other family members, leading to debt and even legal issues. To top it all, the person could have low productivity at work and risk termination, further worsening the economic problems the family would face. Others are:

  • Poor credit card history
  • Overdue bills as a result of inadequate finances or forgetfulness
  • Treatment of any alcohol health-related problems
  1. Child neglect

Growing up with an alcoholic parent has a widespread and lifelong impact on the child. It affects many aspects of how they relate with their peers, teachers, and authority figures. Some of them may experience a rollercoaster of emotions and behavioral changes to help them cope with the situation. some of them include:

  • Self-blame, feeling guilty that they are the cause of the addiction
  • Attention seeking behavior
  • Depression
  • Continually worrying about their parents drinking, getting into fights and legal troubles
  • Having trust issues
  • Feeling embarrassed by their parents
  • Feeling emotionally detached
  • They may have trouble at school like failing in school, being disruptive in school
  • Withdrawing from peers, friends
  • Feel emotionally numb
  • May have low self-esteem
  • They could develop impulsive nature

How Then Do I Cope With My Alcoholic Parents?

Coping with alcoholic parents might seem challenging. However, there are certain things you should understand to help you ease stress or deal with the situation much better.

  • It Is Not Your Fault

Say it with us, ‘You are not the reason for your parents drinking habit.’ Often, children of alcoholics think they are the ones who drove their parents to alcohol abuse. Look, whatever sense of responsibility you feel towards your parents, reducing or putting it away, would help your mental health and help you cope better. You cannot solve the problem for them, so why are you so hard on yourself? The best you can do is provide support.

  • Talk To Someone About It
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Having an alcoholic parent can make one feel so isolated and withdrawn. It may not be so easy to tell your parents that their alcohol abuse is affecting you. Even when you do, it is not a guarantee that everything would go back to normal. Try to talk to someone about the issues you face at home. It may not necessarily be an authority figure, your friends, a support group, even a mental health specialist. It can do well to relieve the stress from home, and if there is any case of abuse, you can get help faster.

  • Acknowledge That Your Parents Might Need Help

Alcoholism is not a one-time thing or just a passing phase if the individual involved is not ready to put in the necessary work to get better. Most children may not understand this. Some may even deny the extent of their parent’s alcoholism to protect them or shield themselves from embarrassment. It is entirely understandable that this happens. However, this does not help your parents in any way, and it may further prolong the problem. Owning up to the fact that your parent has alcohol abuse is one of the first steps in taking charge of your life.

  • Show Them You Are Concerned

Most child and adult children of alcoholics may not find it easy talking to their parents about their alcoholism. We understand that some parents would take a defensive stance, and some may flat out deny that they have a problem. Regardless, they need to know how it makes you feel and the effects it has had on you so far, it may even help motivate them to seek help faster.

  • Be Informed About Alcoholism

To cope with your parent’s alcoholism, you need to understand what it is, the role or part to play in their recovery, and its consequences. This helps you avoid certain unhealthy emotions. It could give you insight and some assurances along the way, allowing you to support your parents in the best way you could.

  • Develop A Healthy Coping Mechanism

Earlier in this article, we went through the unhealthy ways in which children with alcoholic parents cope. Substituting those habits little by little for healthier ones such as journaling, self-assurance that you are not at fault, talking about the problem, dancing, and so on could help you.

  • Acknowledge The Feelings You Have About It

Sweeping away or neglecting your feelings about your parent’s alcoholism is quite common. It is entirely reasonable to want to resent your parents at that point or feel bad. Do not try to stifle, talk to friends, close relatives even. You deserve to feel the way you do.

  • Accompany Them To Seek Help

You could show your parents more support by accompanying them to see the mental health physician or professional, especially if they feel embarrassed. It is a significant confidence boost for them and a sign that they are trying to do the right thing.

  • Find A Safe Place
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On a final note, if you know staying with your alcoholic parents is becoming increasingly dangerous or you cannot cope with the living conditions, you could stay with a trusted friend or relative. If that is not available, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE or call 911.

At BetterHelp, we are committed to helping you and your loved one get through this trying time. Living with alcoholic parents can have negative, lifelong impacts on families and children. So seeking professional help promptly is crucial to the recovery process.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. Why does my parent drink so much?

Like most mental health conditions, the cause of this is multifactorial. There is an interplay between genetics, the environment, and part of the brain involved in pleasure and reward. With excess alcohol intake, the brain changes favor the pleasure function, and the individual would drink solely for that. Afterward, the pleasure aspect goes away, and then they start to drink to take care of the withdrawal symptoms.

There are some predisposing factors to why alcoholism may eventually develop in an individual. Some of them include:

  • History of alcohol and drug abuse
  • History of mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia
  • Peer pressure
  • Culture
  • High-stress levels, for example, starting a new job, winning a lottery, having a baby,
  • Low self-esteem
  • Having a parent who has alcoholism
  • Starting to drink at an early age
  • Prior history of trauma: the death of a loved one
  1. How do I recognize alcoholism in my parent?

The symptoms may vary from person to person. Although certain behaviors are common among people that abuse alcohol, some are:

  • Making excuses to drink
  • Agitation
  • Aggression
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Frequently drinking alone
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Impaired judgment
  • Easily distracted
  • They usually run into problems with the law.

Physical symptoms which characterize alcoholism include:

  • Neurologic: poor coordination of movement, slurred speech, and tremors
  • Digestive: Nausea, vomiting
  • Psychologic: Anxiety, insomnia, hallucinations, confusion
  • Others: sweating, dizziness, increased heartbeat, palpitations, fever, difficulty with breathing, alcohol craving.

Coupled with the ticking, at least 3 of the criteria for the dependency proposed by world health organization in 12 months is enough to diagnose alcohol dependence.

  1. If my parent abuses alcohol, does it mean I would do the same?

Having a parent or relative who abuses alcohol is a risk factor in developing alcoholism in the future. However, it does not mean that it is guaranteed you would produce the same habit. Like we said earlier, a lot of factors are responsible for the culminated development of alcohol dependence. The environment, culture, and the stressors you deal with also play a role in it.

The best way to ensure that you do not develop alcoholism in the future is not to drink. However, if you must, do so in moderation.

  1. Why do I feel this bad about my parent’s drinking habits?

Life at home may not be so good the right now, seeing other families enjoying the ‘normal’ of a family unit, while yours is being threatened by your parents drinking habit can be tough and often heart-breaking. For many reasons such as embarrassment, frustration, disappointment, sadness, etc. you may feel bad about your parent’s condition.

You get to witness the dangers of Drinking first-hand and how your parent gradually changes their behaviors and attitude towards life in general. You are subject to their varying day to day moods, which could oftentimes depend on how much they had to drink that day or how bad they may feel from drinking.

You often find yourself walking on eggshells in your home as you do not know if the next word you say or the following action you would take would tip them off. Hence, your self-doubt and agitation start to develop. Often, you do not want to talk about what is going on at home to friends and relatives. So, you isolate yourself in a way. You also want to protect your parents.

  1. Does alcohol addiction have any other complication?

Alcoholism is a disease with its medical, legal, and psychological complications which not affect the body alone but the mind as well.

Associated health conditions include:

  • Liver disease includes liver cancer, liver cirrhosis, alcoholic fatty liver disease, hepatitis, which can all affect the liver function.
  • Heavy Drinking can affect digestive functioning and cause the individual to develop gastritis, stomach, and esophageal ulcers, and even pancreatitis.
  • It can worsen diabetes
  • It can reduce libido and sexual performance
  • Eye problems such as poor vision, paralysis of the eye muscles
  • It could cause stroke and heart failure.
  • Congenital disabilities such as miscarriages, fetal alcohol syndrome, and several neurodevelopmental disorders can result in alcohol use in pregnancy.
  • Neurological conditions such as dementia, memory loss, disordered thinking, memory loss, tremors.
  • Bone damage, alcohol causes thinning of the bones. It can lead to osteoporosis, easy bruising, and bone marrow damage.
  • A weakened immune system which can predispose one to a ton of diseases such as tuberculosis, pneumonia
  • It increases the risk of coming down with cancers like cancer of the liver, stomach, lips, mouth, esophagus, breast, colon.
  • It could predispose one to a host of mental disorders such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders, impulse control disorders, and personality disorders.
  • Drug interactions, for instance, if they mix their regular drug with alcohol.

Legal Consequences like embezzlement, debt, stealing, murder, domestic violence and so on

Others: motor accidents, drowning, having unprotected sex, unemployment, suicide, abuse of other drugs (as alcohol and drug abuse could go hand in hand), work accident.

  1. Can you treat alcoholism?

Alcoholism can be treated, and the main principle it runs on is alcohol withdrawal. The treatment may vary from one person to another, but the goal of achieving recovery never changes. There are several phases of treatment of alcoholism; it includes:

  • Stimulate a detoxification process to help the body get rid of the alcohol
  • Behavior modification therapy- relaxation, aversion therapy, and assertiveness training
  • Introducing better coping mechanisms in place of alcohol.
  • Supportive groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
  • Counseling and therapy to address stressors
  • Medications such as disulfiram, which causes an unpleasant reaction, nausea, and vomiting in response to the intake of alcohol, Acamprosate, which helps recalibrate the brain to its premorbid state.

For the above therapy to be the full-on effect, your parents need to acknowledge they need help and work to get better.

  1. What do I do if my parent refuses help?

Most people with alcoholism tend to deny that they have a problem with it. Sadly, if your parents do not acknowledge help or seek help, their chances of getting better are much lower as there are few options available to them for therapy.

If their alcoholism is causing domestic abuse at home or causing them to abuse and neglect you, the best you can do, especially if you are a child, is to report them to appropriate law enforcement, family, or school authority. Try to get them to help you, and maybe they could get your parents to seek professional help.

  1. Why is it only my parents that have a problem with alcohol, other people drink, but they do not develop alcoholism?

People have different reactions and varying symptoms of alcohol abuse. They a lot of people that struggle with alcohol dependence globally, and some are parents, teachers, even friends. Most of them have loved ones and a family just like yours. There is a high chance that they feel the same as you do and are going through similar pain just like you.


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