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Updated on November 29, 2022
5 min read

Alcoholic Parents

How to Help an Alcoholic Parent

Children should not be responsible for an alcoholic parent. However, they will have to deal with them.

Alcohol addiction is a severe problem. Ignoring it could lead to fractured relationships and complicated family problems.

The best thing to do is to let your parent know there is a problem. If you are concerned about your parent’s drinking, this article outlines a few things you can do.

How to Approach an Alcoholic Parent

Talking to your parents about their addiction can be intimidating. Factors like pride, ego, and threats of physical violence can make it hard to broach the subject.

People tend to get angry or defensive when confronted about their drinking. Being supportive, empathetic, and kind is essential when discussing their addiction. They’ll feel more encouraged to seek help if they have support.

How to Avoid Conflict With Your Alcoholic Parent

Talking to your parent about their alcoholism can get messy. However, there are things you can do to minimize conflict and get through to your parent.

These include:

  • Avoid talking to them while they’re drinking
  • Avoid talking to them when they’re drunk
  • Offer positive support
  • Do not villainize them
  • Use non-blaming language
  • Do not corner them
  • Avoid judging them
  • Frame concerns as “I” statements

Remember that the point of the conversation is to show concern. Avoid outright telling your parent that they have a problem.

Try to spend some alone time with your parent to avoid interruptions or distractions. If these attempts repeatedly fail, it may be necessary to stage an intervention.

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Signs of an Alcoholic Parent

Alcoholism is a progressive disease. It can be difficult to identify signs of the disease early on.

However, there are early signs of alcohol addiction that you can look out for. These include:

  • Increased irritability and mood swings
  • Blackouts caused by drinking
  • Creating excuses for drinking
  • Drinking in place of other activities
  • Drinking alone or in secret
  • Isolating from loved ones
  • Increased tolerance for alcohol
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms

If you recognize some early signs of alcoholism, seek help as soon as possible. Without proper treatment, the disease could worsen to dangerous levels.

How are The Children of Alcoholics Affected?

Alcoholism is often called a family disease. This is because everyone around you can be affected by the disease.

Living with an alcoholic can be stressful and traumatizing. The effects are so intense that they can last a lifetime.

Children who grow up around an alcoholic can affect how they grow up and see themselves. Often these kids can grow up to be alcoholics as well.

Common Characteristics of Children of Alcoholic Parents

Children of alcoholic parents develop specific characteristics to cope with a dysfunctional family dynamic. They may unwillingly assume different roles to survive, such as:

  • A caregiver
  • A hero
  • A rescuer
  • A scapegoat 

The roles that children assume affect how they grow up as adults. For example, a “rescuer” often tries to "fix" things. A "scapegoat" will take the blame for anything wrong, even if it's not their fault.

How Do the Children of Alcoholics Behave?

Children of alcoholics may take on too much responsibility, even for things beyond their control. Others may develop an indifference to responsibility.

These children may develop a cynical view of life or have “black-and-white” thinking. They may develop traits such as:

  • Inability to trust themselves and others
  • A cautious and hypervigilant approach to social life
  • Hypersensitivity to criticism
  • Prioritizing other people's needs more than their own
  • Physical or emotional withdrawal during conflicts
  • 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
  • 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

What Causes These Characteristics?

The traits and characteristics that a child can develop in an alcoholic home are caused by environmental factors. Growing up in an alcoholic home 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

Available Resources for Children of Alcoholics

If you are in an alcoholic household, it’s essential to seek help and support. Fortunately, there are available resources to help you and your family:

  • Al-Anon: Al-Anon is a 12-step that also provides support for friends and family members of alcoholics
  • SMART Recovery: SMART recovery offers local and online meetings for friends and family.  
  • Individual therapy: One-on-one therapy sessions that can help you work through your feelings and problems
  • Adult children of alcoholics/dysfunctional families: A 12-step program for people who grew up in dysfunctional or alcoholic homes
  • National drug and alcohol treatment hotline: the national hotline provides information on local treatment options and counselors for families

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How to Maintain a Relationship with an Alcoholic Parent

Although it can be challenging to stay close to alcoholic parents, it’s essential to keep in touch. You can call or text them to let them know that they are in your thoughts.

If you feel safe around them, you can plan activities that don’t involve alcohol. Keeping their mind off alcohol can help clear their head and potentially seek treatment.

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. 

Treatment Options for an Alcoholic Parent

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

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

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Summary

Living with an alcoholic parent can be difficult. At worst, it could be dangerous. However, there are ways you can help your parent seek treatment.

An alcoholic household can significantly affect a child’s growth and development. They can even become alcoholics when they get older.

Fortunately, there are treatment options to help your parent recover from alcoholism

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Updated on November 29, 2022
6 sources cited
Updated on November 29, 2022
  1. Lander et al. "The impact of substance use disorders on families and children: from theory to practice." Social work in public health, 2013. 
  2. Horigian et al. “Family-Based Treatments for Adolescent Substance Use.” Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 2016.
  3. Witkiewitz et al. “Advances in the science and treatment of alcohol use disorder.” Science Advances, 2019.
  4. Waldron et al. “Parental separation, parental alcoholism, and timing of first sexual intercourse.” The Journal of Adolescent Health: Official Publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, 2015. 
  5. Molina, B., et al. “Antisocial Alcoholism in Parents of Adolescents and Young Adults With Childhood ADHD.” Journal of Attention Disorders, 2020. 
  6. Lund et al. “A Cohort Study on Long-Term Adverse Effects of Parental Drinking: Background and Study Design.” Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment, 2015.

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