Dealing with an alcoholic family member is always a challenge, but it is even more so when that person is a parent. The issues of having a mother or father with alcoholism are way more far-reaching than one would think. If you’re still underage and living with your parents, you could perhaps ignore the problem or you might try to take responsibility.
After all, family is family, right? You should take care of the people that take care of you. Once you turn 18, you’re free to live your own life anyway. However, not everybody thinks several steps ahead. There are many people that grow into old age and still face the problems their alcoholic parent(s) have created. And they might still be asking themselves how to deal with an alcoholic parent.
Alternatively, let’s say you’ve grown up and begun your own life, and only find out later that your parents are going down a slippery slope. What do you do now? Family is family. Are you not obligated to take care of the people that raised you?
The lasting effects of living with an alcoholic parent are well-known and evident. Whether you grow up alongside an alcoholic, or see them become one after you’ve left home, the situation can take quite a toll on your well-being.
It does not matter if the person is a parent or not – in principle, people should take care of one another. Alcoholics especially, need the support. If you recognise the signs that someone is in trouble, you should do your best to help them. However, you should also understand the consequences of taking responsibility.
What Is It Like to Deal with an Alcoholic Parent?
Even if you are not living with your parents, the connection often remains. It may be regular phone calls, occasional visits, or staying in touch via social media. Although living with an alcoholic parent can take a long-lasting toll on your emotional and psychological health, so can watching a loved one deteriorate if you’re away.
You might feel frustrated with your parents or you might be worried. Either way, you might hide what you’re feeling or react in an emotional way. This is especially true if you see your parents clearly facing the consequences of their actions, be they financial or social problems.
Emotions can be hard to deal with when you don’t have a proper support system yourself. It can be humiliating to confess to having an alcoholic mother or father, even to someone you trust.
Being raised by alcoholic parents often leads to lasting self-esteem issues. This is largely due to the fact that your parents may have been neglectful or even abusive. You may also have felt embarrassed by the situation, thus alienating yourself from developing a personal life.
This still applies even if you’re an adult. For example, if they started drinking after you have left home or after a divorce, you might feel obligated to step in, even if it’s not your fault. If you know you can’t help, for one reason or another, you will be likely to feel even worse.
Poor self-esteem can lead to a number of issues for you, such as depression or anxiety. It might also directly affect your personal life.
You may yourself feeling guilty and decide that it is your duty to take care of your parents. This can make your daily life seem overwhelming, especially if you have your own family to take care of. If you are younger and live at home, you might find yourself taking on the role of the parent, thus distracting yourself from school and friends.
The stress of dealing with an alcoholic parent can cause a number of issues. It may even prompt you to start drinking yourself.
Effects of Having an Alcoholic Parent
Dealing with or taking care of an alcoholic parent is not easy, and it can cause personal problems in time. If you grew up alongside an alcoholic, your definition of a “normal life” may be skewed. If you’re already on your own, your seemingly independent life may no longer feel that way.
The emotional stress you endure growing up with an alcoholic parent can make you feel depressed, insecure and anxious. You might end up overwhelmed with guilt from not being able to care for your parents, which would adversely affect your emotional well-being.
Being overwhelmed with any emotion can force you into a dark place, especially if you feel unable to express your feelings. When you live in fear of upsetting your parents, you will eventually learn to avoid conflict. Emotional trauma can also lead to lasting self-esteem issues. That can cause extensive problems in the long-run, because you probably won’t feel able to address any problems in your life properly.
When your parents take priority over your personal life, other important aspects can end up neglected. This applies to relationships, work, and other interests. You might, for example, take time off from work or miss out on socialising with friends in order to take care of your parents.
Remember, you are not the cause of their addiction. An addiction happens from within. You cannot put your life aside completely to sustain theirs. Instead, you should do your best to help, but at the end of the day, it is their responsibility.
How to Deal with an Alcoholic Parent
If you have the option, you should certainly try to help your parents. To do so, you should help them realise they have a problem and provide the support they need to get proper treatment. If you realise your parent is an alcoholic, here are some suggestions on what you can do:
Educating yourself about addiction is one of first steps you should take. Not only will it help you understand the situation better, but it will also be an aid when you approach your parents.
Dealing with an alcoholic parent is never easy, so it is important to have someone you trust to confide in. They might offer some advice or they might simply be a shoulder to lean on.
Talk to Them
When you approach your parents, you should keep a few things in mind. First, talk to them when they are not drunk or hungover. Second, make sure to have compassion and understanding. And third, do your best in helping them see their problem instead of directly blaming them.
To do that, you can make a list of behaviours that stand out. Maybe they get angry when they drink or have neglected their personal appearance for a while. When dealing with your alcoholic parent, you can also ask open-ended questions, such as, “Why have you been drinking more than usual?” Instead of stating that they have. In addition, you can list potential consequences, such as they could lose their job if they keep having regular hangover sick days.
It can also help to provide some suggestions and resources. Ask them to attend an AA meeting or talk to a counsellor. Having an outside perspective can help people see things in a different light. For more advice on how to help, read this.
Get Additional Support
Taking care of yourself is equally as important. Alcoholism can take more than one person down. Seek support from a trusted friend, counsellor, or an addiction service. You can also attend Al-Anon (or Ala-Teen) meetings for advice.
Support may also be necessary if you fear your parents may become violent. In that case, when you host an intervention, make sure you’re not alone.
Prepare for Denial
Denial is a common occurrence with addicts. They might not know they have a problem or they might not want to admit to it. In this case, you may have to speak to them more than once.
If at the end your parents refuse to get help, you also have to be prepared to walk away. It may be tough, but if a person doesn’t want to change, there’s little that you can do to force them. It can also work in your favour. If you “give up” on them, they might finally realise how bad things have become and take further steps.
If you’re struggling over dealing with an alcoholic parent and need advice, you can contact Smarmore Castle for a professional opinion. Our counsellors and admission staff can give you some insight into what you can do and what options you have. You can reach us at 041 214 5111 (or +353 41 214 5111 for international).
Last updated & clinically assessed 26 March, 2021