How To Cope With An Alcoholic Parent

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated August 2, 2022

Alcohol (or intoxicant) dependence is more than the excessive intake of liquor. 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 addicted caretaker 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, especially when it feels like the alcoholic cannot love you back. In this article, we will help you understand the concept of this common disorder and how to live in the care of an alcoholic parent. Some might ask, ‘Instead of telling me to live with my caretaker, 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 drink at the slightest convenience and inconvenience. Moreover, your caretakers’ habits come with a lot of struggle, which directly or indirectly affects you. You also deserve to receive treatment just as much as your caretakers as they embark on the road to recovery through supported and safe means such as online therapy.

When Parental Drinking Becomes A Problem

Are You Struggling To Support People You Love Through Addiction?

Alcohol use disorder is a chronic medical condition characterized by the inability to control intoxicant intake because of its physical and emotional dependence causing psychological distress. Alcoholic parents are preoccupied with not only consumption of it but thoughts of acquiring any type of it 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 post teenagers' substance abuse disorders in the United States alone. According to the World Health Organization, ICD-10, most people with intoxicant dependence present with at least 3 of the following features in one year to be diagnosed:

  • A strong desire to drink in this case, they feel that they cannot help it.
  • They find it difficult to control the amount of intoxicants they consume when they start and stop the intake.
  • They experience withdrawal symptoms like vomiting, tremors, sweat, etc. when their intoxication level 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 intake, even when there is evidence of the harmful effects, whether physical or emotional.

Suppose you suspect that any/both of your caretakers have such a disorder or alcohol problem. Chances are they are going to need a lot of professional help and coping skills. Sheer will power and motivation are not enough.

Impact Of Alcoholic Disorder On The Family

This specific type of addiction 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:

Destroy the family members' relationship and dynamic.

Coping with a parent struggling with addiction is not a walk in the park. Oftentimes, it can destroy the relationship you had with the person and their romantic relationships with their romantic partners as well. Addiction causes the individual to neglect their regular everyday duties. For example, alcoholic fathers who usually remembers picking their kids from school does not do so anymore, because they were out engaging in alcohol use 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
  • Physical and sexual abuse
  • Worsening of domestic issues

Ruin family finances

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 health-related problems

Child neglect

Growing up with a caretaker with substance use has a widespread and lifelong impact on children of alcoholics and many children experience repeated abandonment from parents who abuse alcohol. It affects many aspects of how they relate with their peers, teachers, and authority figures. Children of alcoholics of them may experience a rollercoaster of emotions and behavioral problems or psychological problems to help them cope with the situation. This can carry on into adulthood as adult children of an alcoholic, and children of alcoholics often need their own adolescent psychiatry. Some symptoms include:

  • Self-blame, feeling guilty that they are the cause of the addiction
  • Attention seeking behavior
  • Depression
  • Continually worrying about their caretakers drinking, getting into fights and legal troubles
  • Having trust issues
  • Feeling embarrassed by their caretakers
  • 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
  • Increased risk for drug and alcohol use at a young age

How Then Do I Cope With My Caretakers If They're Addicts?

Coping with being a child of parental alcohol abuse might seem challenging. However, there are certain things you should understand to help you ease stress or cope with the excessive drinking much better.

  • It Is Not Your Fault

Say it with us, ‘I am not the reason for anyone else's drinking habit.’ Often, children of alcoholic families think they are the ones who drove their caretakers to substance use. You cannot solve the problem for them, so why be hard on yourself? The best you can do is provide support. Seeking out support groups to work on these interpersonal relationships and for emotional support can be beneficial even into adulthood. This higher risk of blaming oneself for someone’s alcohol or drug problem can lead to negative effects throughout a child’s life, such as trouble forming good relationships in the future.

  • Talk To Someone About It
Are You Struggling To Support People You Love Through Addiction?

Having a caretaker in alcoholic households who is struggling with substance use disorders can make one feel so isolated and withdrawn. It may not be so easy to tell your caretakers that their substance use disorder is affecting you. Even when you do, it is not a guarantee that they would stay sober, reach out to a treatment provider, and everything would go back to normal instead of living in an unstable environment. Try to talk to someone about the issues you face at home. It may not necessarily be an authority figure, your friends, support groups, even a mental health specialist or support group. 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

Alcohol addiction 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 of parents with substance use disorder may not understand this. Some may even deny the extent of their caretaker’s alcohol use disorders to protect them or shield themselves from embarrassment of their family life. It is entirely understandable that this happens. However, this does not help your caretakers in any way, and it may further prolong the problem in your family life even into adult relationships. Owning up to the fact that your parents have a substance use disorder is one of the first steps in taking charge of your life.

  • Show Them You Are Concerned

Most child and adult children of parents with substance use disorder may not find it easy talking to their caretakers about their dependence. We understand that some caretakers would take a defensive stance about their alcohol or drug problem and refuse treatment, and some may flat out deny that they have a problem. Regardless, they need to know how it makes you feel and how it has affected you so far, it may even help motivate them to seek help faster.

  • Be Informed About the Disorders

To cope with your caretaker’s alcoholism and how it has affected you, 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 caretakers 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 caretakers who are addicted to alcohol and drugs 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 caretaker’s dependence to drugs and alcohol is quite common. It is entirely reasonable to want to resent your caretakers 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 caretakers more support by accompanying them to see the mental health physician or professional for treatment, 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 by seeking treatment facilities.

Treatment providers and treatment facilities, such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) which is a national association that offers resources on addiction treatment, offer safe, secure, and confidential treatment for people with substance use disorders. Additionally, American addiction centers are located all around the country. Treatment is crucial for the addict and the family. An additional facet of addiction treatment is to seek family therapy through mental health services. Family therapy sessions allow everybody involved to recover from the difficulties involved with alcoholic parents.

However, the addict may not be willing to seek the treatment process through a treatment provider and treatment facilities. If you have a parent with untreated substance use disorders who refuses to seek treatment, it is important to seek treatment for yourself. While they may refuse to get better, treatment can offer you a safe place to handle the incredible difficulties of parents with substance use disorders.

  • Find A Safe Place

On a final note, if you know staying with your caretakers is becoming increasingly dangerous or you cannot cope with the living conditions due to their substance use disorder, 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 parents with substance use disorder can have negative, lifelong impacts on families and children. So seeking professional help, such as BetterHelp's therapy services, promptly is crucial to the recovery process.

Commonly asked questions found below:

How does my drinking affect my child?
What are the characteristics of a child of an alcoholic?
How do I deal with my mom drinking?
What are the characteristics of being an alcoholic?
How does alcoholism affect the family structure?
How do you love an adult child of an alcoholic?
Why does my mom keep drinking?
Is alcohol a genetic disease?
How do I talk to my parents about drinking?

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