How To Cope With An Alcoholic Parent
Content Warning: Please be advised that the following article discusses potentially triggering topics, such as abuse, addiction, and family dysfunction. Read with discretion.
One in four children and teens in the US live in a family where substance use, dependency, or addiction occurs. For an adolescent or young adult, living with a parent who experiences dependency on alcohol can feel distressing, confusing, and scary.
Symptoms or consequences of your parent’s dependency or substance use could impact your personal life, such as school, sleep, meals, homework, and the ability to connect with your parent healthily. You might feel confused about how to proceed or where to reach out for support in these situations.
Resources are available for teens and adults impacted by a parent’s substance use. These may include therapy, school counseling, support groups, families, friends, or addiction resources.
What Is Alcohol Dependency?
Alcohol dependence, often called addiction or alcoholism, is defined as a physical or psychological craving for alcohol that may cause those affected to drink frequently, experience withdrawal when without alcohol, and often experience conflict in relationships with family, friends, and oneself.
Upon quitting a substance, physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal may occur, such as:
Anxiety or depression
Cravings for the substance
Changes in appetite
Fast heart rate
Changes in blood pressure
Anyone of any age, gender, social status, race, class, ethnicity, and identity can experience a dependency on alcohol. Additionally, alcohol addiction is around 45 to 65% hereditary, meaning those with a parent dependent on alcohol may have a greater risk of experiencing dependency themselves.
Why Is My Parent Drinking So Much?
As a teen with a parent who experiences alcohol dependency, you may wonder why your parent drinks so much or why they seem to choose not to stop. In these situations, it can be beneficial to note that addiction is a mental and physical health condition, not a choice, and many factors can go into quitting a substance.
During dependency on a substance, the brain goes through physical changes. The areas of the brain that impact thinking, feeling, and decision-making are negatively impacted by alcohol and addiction. These changes can result in a difference in behavior, emotional outbursts, and difficulty making sound decisions.
The reason an individual may start drinking can vary. Often, people start drinking socially or with friends and find they struggle to stop when others are able to. Alcohol dependence can come on suddenly or without warning, and quitting can feel challenging for many people.
Methods For Coping With A Parent’s Alcohol Dependency
If your parent is often drinking and shows symptoms of alcohol addiction or dependency, you may be wondering how to cope. You can take advantage of several resources and find support.
Reach Out To Close Family For Support
If you have another parent or caregiver that is not drinking, and you feel safe opening up to them, consider reaching out. Additionally, there may be distant or close families that you connect with who could be a resource for you, such as grandparents, aunts and uncles, or adult cousins.
Speak up about your experiences with your parent. Explain your concern and let the person know how your parent’s behavior impacts you. Your family may be able to reach out to your parent and discuss treatment options with them.
Utilize Help Lines And Community Resources
As your parent’s child, you are not responsible for fixing or healing your parent. Another adult may be able to refer your parent to a program or resource in your community. If you are experiencing emotional, verbal, physical, or sexual abuse from your parent with dependency, tell someone as soon as possible.
If you are an adult experiencing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788. You can also use the online chat.
If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.
Talk To A School Counselor
If you’re enrolled in high school or university, your school may have resources available for those impacted by addiction in the family. Talk to your guidance counselor or school-offered mental health provider to receive guidance, resources, or advice regarding your situation. If there are any local support groups, they may be able to point you in their direction.
Journal About Your Experiences
Studies show that expressive writing, like journaling, can benefit your mental health and allow you to release suppressed emotions. Consider keeping a journal about your experiences with your parent and how you feel. In the future, you might come back to read the journal to remember how these times impacted your mental health. If you have a therapist, you can impart your journal entries as you discuss your parent’s dependency and how it affects you.
Know Addiction Is Not Your Fault
Addiction is not your fault. Try not to internalize your parent’s drinking. Although it can be normal to feel upset, scared, or distressed by your parent’s dependency, there is nothing wrong with you as a person. If you struggle with this idea, talking to a counselor can be a beneficial place to discuss these emotions further.
Find A Safe Place
Ensure you feel safe at home. If you are experiencing abuse or feel at risk of harm, reach out to someone you trust or call the Child Help Hotline. If you feel safe but need to leave home temporarily, see if there is a family you can stay with nearby. You may need to get parental permission, but if you speak to your parent, it is possible that the situation could work out for you both.
If you need space while living at home with your parent, some ways to get out and take a break can include
Going on a walk with a pet
Spending time in nature
Participating in after-school activities
Joining a club
Enrolling in university (if you have applied and are accepted) and living in the dorms
Visiting a friend’s house
Going to the gym
Studying at the library
Going to a support group
Going to therapy
Practice self-care whenever possible at home, school, and throughout your day. One beneficial self-care and emotional control method is mindfulness, which is the practice of learning to be present in each moment and controlling your nervous system.
Other ways you can care for yourself include:
Practicing a musical instrument or singing
Going to sleep on time each night
Seeing a doctor when you feel sick
Eating a healthy and balanced meal
Practicing sleep hygiene
Crying when you need to
Spending time with friends
Taking a shower or bath daily
Keeping your bedroom clean and clear of clutter
Practicing deep breathing
Advocate For Yourself
Know when to advocate for yourself. If your parent is crossing a boundary or causing you to feel disregarded or upset, let them know. Communicate how their actions impact you, and be honest about what you need.
Tell your parent if you want to see a counselor or live with another family. Being honest can prepare you for communication skills later in life, and your parent may appreciate that you felt comfortable opening up to them about your feelings.
Attend A Support Group
Support groups for teens experiencing a parent with alcohol dependency exist in many cities and online. One popular group is called Alateen, a subset of Al-Anon, a support group for those struggling with alcohol addiction. Alateen offers an online chat option for those looking for online support.
If there isn’t a chapter of an alcohol support group for adolescents or young adults in your area, consider reaching out to your school counselor or an adult you trust for potential resources. You might be able to find a support group for teens experiencing stress, trauma, or familial dysfunction as well.
Reach Out To A Counselor
Many teens and young adults try counseling to deal with the impacts of their parent’s substance dependency or use. A counselor can be an empathetic resource. Counselors often know about addiction and how it impacts families and young people. They may offer resources, worksheets, or take-home assignments to help you deal with your emotions during this time.
For those who are unable to commute or feel safer at home, online therapy is an option. Online counseling is often more affordable than traditional in-person therapy and offers teens and adults a way to connect with a professional from any location with an internet connection. Studies show that online counseling is especially effective for teens experiencing depression or anxiety symptoms.
For those under 18, an online platform like TeenCounseling can be reached with parental permission. For young adults or teens over 18, BetterHelp offers similar services through a database that matches individuals with licensed counselors for various specialties.
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