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Updated on September 27, 2022

Alcoholic Parents

Is Your Parent an Alcoholic? Signs to Look For

Alcohol abuse affects not just the person who is drinking, but also the other family members. This is why alcoholism is often classified as a family disease.

Alcohol addiction and substance abuse usually affect the entire family unit, and it is particularly hard on children of alcoholics.

As a child of someone who struggles with alcohol addiction, it can be difficult to identify the signs of the disease, regardless of age. This is because alcoholism is thought of as a progressive disease, typically beginning with milder symptoms before becoming more severe. 

In the early stages, distinguishing the signs of alcohol addiction from moderate use can be difficult. Sometimes the signs are only apparent as the disease worsens and begins to affect multiple areas of family life. 

Some of the earliest signs of alcoholism to look out for include:

  • Increased irritability and mood swings
  • Blackouts caused by drinking
  • Creating excuses for drinking
  • Drinking in place of other activities that used to be commonplace
  • Drinking alone or drinking secretly in an effort to hide it
  • Isolating from loved ones
  • Feeling sick, unwell, or shaky when not drinking
  • Pronounced increase in tolerance for drinking

It is crucial to recognize the signs of an alcoholic family member and seek help. Failing to do so could allow the disease to progress further and often into dangerous territory.

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How to Deal with an Alcoholic Parent

It is impossible to force others to change, and it is not up to children of alcoholic parents to make them quit drinking. However, children must deal with parents who have an alcohol addiction, as ignoring the problem could lead to further fractured relationships and more complicated family problems.

The best thing to do is to bring attention to the matter by letting your parent know there is a problem.

Alcoholism, like many diseases, has treatment options that can lead to improvements of the condition. If you are concerned about your parent’s drinking, there are many things to consider when taking the next step to finding addiction treatment for your loved one.

How to Deal with an Alcoholic Mother 

It is always difficult to talk to parents about excess drinking habits.

It is more difficult for some people to speak with their father, but it is more difficult for others to broach the subject with their mother. While there is no easy way to have this talk, the most important thing is to make your mother aware that you think she has a drinking problem.

Treatment will only become a reality after she admits that she does indeed have a problem.

There are many reasons why mothers turn to alcohol, and addressing the underlying causes might help them see the problem. The most important thing, however, is to keep the conversation casual and supportive

People usually get angry or defensive when being confronted about their drinking habits. However, they usually know they have a problem but will not admit it. Mothers are no exception to this.

The best thing to focus on is how to get your mother the treatment she needs.

How to Deal with an Alcoholic Father 

Talking to fathers about their alcohol addiction is often more intimidating than talking to mothers.

This is because of several factors, such as pride, ego, and in some cases, the fear of physical violence. But there are several things that you can do to minimize these fears and potentially get through to your father.

These include:

  • Try and speak with him when he is not drinking
  • Offer positive support
  • Speak in a kind, gentle, and empathetic way
  • Refrain from villainizing
  • Use non-blaming language

If you can have a one-on-one, face-to-face conversation with your father, it may be less intimidating and perhaps more impactful than staging a large intervention.

Try to find some alone time with him, without interruptions or distractions. Also, try suggesting treatment options, and if he is not ready, give it some time before suggesting again.

If these attempts repeatedly fail, it may be necessary to stage an intervention.

Whichever way you decide to broach the subject, make sure you have treatment information on hand to make it easy for him to obtain help if he is receptive.

Children of Alcoholics: How are They Affected? 

Alcoholic parents falsely assume that their drinking doesn't affect anyone else but themselves. This is a huge misconception because children of alcoholic parents are the ones that are most affected.

Sadly, the effects of living with an alcoholic are so intense that they last a lifetime. They affect how kids develop into adults, influencing how they see themselves and the people around them. 

Common Characteristics of Children of Alcoholic Parents

Children of alcoholic parents develop certain characteristics to cope with a dysfunctional family dynamic. They may assume different roles to survive (e.g., a caregiver, a hero, a rescuer, or becoming a scapegoat). They typically do so unknowingly. 

The roles that children assume play a huge part in how they grow up as adults. For example, those who assumed the "rescuer" role may always take it upon themselves to "fix" things. A "scapegoat," on the other hand, takes the blame for anything that goes wrong, even if it's not their fault. 

Children of alcoholics may take on too much responsibility, even for things beyond their control. For others, they develop an indifference to responsibility after realizing that their efforts have been ineffective.  

Children of alcoholics are affected in very similar and harmful ways.

Some of their common characteristics include:

  • Inability to trust themselves and others
  • Hypervigilance in social life
  • Being extremely wary during social interactions
  • Hypersensitivity to comments from other people
  • Being extra cautious in their personal communications
  • Prioritizing other people's needs more than their own
  • Physical or emotional withdrawal during conflicts
  • Feeling a sense of disconnect from their feelings of anger
  • Have a higher risk for self-harm
  • Inability to appropriately express feelings
  • Strong escapism or avoidant behaviors
  • Lesser capacity to deal with other people's negative emotions
  • A "black-and-white" thinking, seeing circumstances and people as "all good" or "all bad"
  • Creating crisis, even if there isn't any
  • Lack of self-worth and low self-esteem
  • High tolerance for poor and inappropriate behavior in other people
  • Constantly seeking other people's approval
  • Inability to establish a sense of normalcy
  • Deep, persistent feelings of inadequacy

These characteristics stem from an alcoholic home which typically has:

  • An atmosphere of fear and a sense of emotional chaos in the home
  • Increased conflict such as arguing, physical violence, and/or fighting
  • A lack of healthy communication and emotional support
  • A lack of structure and schedule
  • A lack of a familial role model
  • Financial problems

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How to Help an Alcoholic Parent if You Don’t Live at Home

It is difficult enough to talk to a parent about their drinking problem, and the situation is sometimes even more difficult if you do not live in the same home as the parent.

It can be hard to stay in touch when you know that alcohol leads to problems inside and outside their home, but it is crucial that you keep in touch even more if you want to help them. 

While you cannot force your parent to stop drinking, some things you can do to help an alcoholic parent if you do not live at home include:

  • Gathering up courage and opening a dialogue
  • Finding the right time to talk
  • Framing concerns as “I” statements  
  • Emphasizing that you love your parent and are concerned about them
  • Refraining from accusations
  • Using concrete examples 

Your parent may not want to talk about it, but doing so may be the difference between them seeking treatment and continuing down a path of despair.

How to Maintain a Relationship with an Alcoholic Parent

Many adult children of alcoholics find it difficult to stay close with their parents, but making an extra effort to keep in touch could help them significantly. 

Maintaining a relationship could be as simple as calling or texting your parent to let them know they are in your thoughts. If you feel safe being around them, make plans to do things together that do not involve alcohol.

Taking your parent’s minds off alcohol can help them feel more clear-headed and potentially help with a decision to seek treatment and recovery.

Make sure you stay honest with your parent and be careful not to enable them. Unconditional love and support involve not overlooking an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.  

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How to Help an Alcoholic Parent: Best Treatment Options

If your parent recognizes that they have an alcohol problem and are ready to begin the road to recovery, many treatment facilities and treatment programs are available.

Some proven recovery and treatment options for substance use and abuse include:

  • 12-step programs (such as Alcoholics Anonymous)
  • Individual therapy
  • Support groups
  • Group counselling
  • Dual diagnosis treatment (for concurrent mental health disorders)
  • Outpatient treatment
  • Inpatient treatment
  • Al-Anon Family Groups
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)

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If you have any questions about treatment centers and other treatment options, speak with your local healthcare provider for recommendations or referrals to local area programs.

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  2. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. "Chapter 1 Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy," Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2004. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 39.) 
  3. Bartlett, R., Brown, L., Shattell, M., Wright, T., & Lewallen, L. . "Harm reduction: compassionate care of persons with addictions," Medsurg Nursing : official journal of the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses, 22, 349–358.
  4. Burns, Randi. "The Effects of Parental Alcoholism on Child Development," University of Northern Iowa, 2010.
  5. Hussong, Andrea M et al. “Parent alcoholism impacts the severity and timing of children's externalizing symptoms,” Journal of abnormal child psychology vol. 38,3 : 367-80. doi:10.1007/s10802-009-9374-5.
  6. Lund, Ingunn Olea et al. “A Cohort Study on Long-Term Adverse Effects of Parental Drinking: Background and Study Design,” Substance abuse : research and treatment vol. 9,Suppl 2 77-83. 15 Dec. 2015, doi:10.4137/SaRt.S23329.

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