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Is My Son an Alcoholic? Signs to Look For 

While many adults can consume mild to moderate amounts of alcohol without developing negative consequences, alcohol is an addictive substance that can cause many individuals to develop a drinking problem known as alcoholism.

Alcoholism, otherwise known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is an inability to control drinking due to a physical and emotional dependence on alcohol. 

If you suspect that one of your family members or a loved one is an alcoholic, you are not alone. 

Approximately 15 million Americans have AUD. Adolescents can be diagnosed with AUD as well, and in 2018, an estimated 401,000 adolescents in the U.S. had AUD.

The symptoms of alcoholism include:

  • Drinking more or longer than intended
  • Inability to cut down or stop drinking
  • Spending a lot of time drinking or suffering the after-effects of drinking
  • Cravings or a strong need, or urge, to drink
  • Drinking or being sick from drinking that interfered with taking care of responsibilities
  • Continuing to drink even though it was causing trouble with family or friends
  • No longer engaging in activities that were important or pleasurable in favor of drinking
  • Engaging in risky behavior while drinking
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Lapses in memory of ‘blackouts’
  • Developing a high alcohol tolerance
  • Withdrawal symptoms, including trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, sweating, or hallucinations

If your loved one has any of these symptoms, they may have a drinking problem. The more symptoms they have, the more serious the problem is.

Tips: How to Deal with an Alcoholic Son 

If you suspect that your son or another loved one may be an alcoholic, you should first seek a medical diagnosis to confirm their alcoholism. To do this, you can suggest or schedule a routine check-up appointment for the individual suspected of having an alcohol addiction with their doctor. A medical doctor can confirm their alcoholism, create a treatment plan, prescribe medicines, and refer them to a treatment or detox program.

Talk to the rest of your family about your son’s alcohol abuse, and ask them to support your son by not enabling them and encouraging them to get help.

You should express your concerns directly with your son and encourage them to get help. For best results, you should approach them in a private setting when they are more likely to speak openly. You should encourage them to seek treatment for their alcohol problem as soon as possible.

Some groups such as Al-Anon consider alcoholism a “family illness,” meaning that family relationships or conflicts can influence the addiction. Thus, family therapy may help address any underlying issues that cause a family member to use alcohol as a coping mechanism.

You can also encourage them to attend support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), where they can receive support from their peers who have experienced similar challenges.

Throughout this process, you should also remember to practice self-care to protect your well-being so that you can continue to provide emotional support to your loved one and your family. Consider attending a support group for family members such as Al-Anon to get advice and support from others who have experienced similar experiences.

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What to Say to an Alcoholic Son or Daughter

It’s crucial to pick the right time and place to talk to someone about their drinking problem. You should avoid talking about it in the morning, when they may be suffering from a hangover, or late at night. You should approach them when they are in a good mood and not drinking at that moment.

An alcoholic might become defensive or upset. You should allow them to talk about their experience and how they feel, and if they are ready for change.

You should approach them with empathy and compassion. They might already be upset or worried about their drinking or feel guilty, even if they don’t show it. Don’t get overly emotional or bring up the past.

If they initially push back, be prepared to follow up with them another time to show you are serious. 

My Son Is an Alcoholic, What Do I Do About Enablers?

An enabler, also called a codependent, is someone who is in a relationship with an alcoholic whose behavior hinders treatment acceptance and recovery efforts. Enabling behavior includes taking over chores or duties from the alcoholic at some point during the relationship, drinking or using other drugs with them, giving them money, bailing them out of jail, and lying or making excuses to others to cover for them.

Enablers are often close friends and family, making them difficult to identify, avoid, and confront. Moreover, enablers often think they are helping and don’t realize that their behavior is dangerous to someone with alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Al-Anon suggests that you set firm boundaries with the alcoholic to learn they cannot depend on you for their responsibilities. If you can, confront any enablers in their life and explain how their behavior is harmful to their recovery. Request that the enabler either stop the enabling behaviors or, if you can limit their contact with the alcoholic until another point in the future when they are in recovery.

The Differences Between Helping and Hurting

Empathy and enabling can easily go hand-in-hand. Both usually come from a place of care and compassion and from a desire to help. The difference, however, is in the outcomes.

Enabling allows dangerous and self-destructive behaviors to persist, which stops any problem solving from occurring.

Enabling can come in many forms, including:

  • Giving someone money, so they do not steal
  • Creating excuses for someone’s behavior
  • Ignoring unacceptable behavior
  • Not expressing how you feel to avoid someone becoming upset or leaving

Empathy and support should come in the form of words. Communicate with your son to show him you want to help, but do not engage in behaviors that enable self-destructive acts. There is no incentive for your son to change if there is nothing to lose.

Protecting your son from the potential outcomes of alcoholism can stop him from seeing the bigger picture and understanding that he needs help.

Some ways to stop enabling your son may include:

  • Buying him food when he is hungry rather than giving him money that can be spent on alcohol
  • Not cleaning up after him – if he makes a mess while intoxicated, leave it for him to see and deal with
  • Continuing to follow plans even if your son does not participate
  • Taking back autonomy by prioritizing your needs

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How to Take Care of Yourself

If you have an alcoholic child, your priority is most likely to help them. It is only natural for a mother or father to want to do all they can to help their son when dealing with alcoholism. It is essential, however, to take care of yourself first so you can help your child.

When your child struggles with alcoholism, you will do more harm than good if you do not look after yourself. It is essential to practice good self-care during this difficult time. Self-care may include eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising when you can.

When you look after these needs, you protect your immune system, energy levels, and cognitive abilities. All of this helps you deal with your son’s alcohol problem. Ignoring your needs lowers your resiliency, leading you to be less helpful in managing this crisis.

To help you deal with the emotional toll that your son’s alcohol use disorder has caused you, look for support from others in your community. One of the most effective ways to do this is to participate in Al-Anon meetings.

Al-Anon is the sister group to Alcoholics Anonymous. In these meetings, families, and friends impacted by a loved one’s drinking meet to include the Twelve Steps and Traditions in their lives.

The goal of Al-Anon is not to learn how to fix your child but how to cope with the effects their drinking has on you. Participants can share their stories, listen to the experiences of others, and engage in conversation that helps strengthen their resolve.

Having a place to go for support, like an Al-Anon meeting, can be invaluable when your son is struggling with alcoholism.

How to Help an Alcoholic Child Who Doesn’t Want Help

If your child is resistant to treatment for their alcoholism, you can force them to get help. If the person addicted to alcohol is under 18 years old, a legal guardian can bring them to treatment. You are allowed to physically carry them to treatment or hire a therapeutic teen transport service to get them to therapy.

While you can force an underage child to get help, it’s typically better for the parent-child relationship and the treatment outcome for them to enter treatment independently. One highly recommended method to get a resistant person into therapy on their own is to stage an intervention. During this process, family and friends confront the child and urge them to enter treatment. To conduct an intervention, you should consult the help of a professional interventionist, who can advise on the best treatment options and plan.

Unfortunately, you cannot force an adult child to get help in the same way you could a minor. However, you should still encourage them to get help. Interventions are the best method to deal with someone who doesn’t want help because individuals who undergo an intervention are more likely to seek treatment. 

You can also contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’s helpline for support. The SAMHSA helpline is a confidential, free, 24-hour, 365-day information service that provides referrals to treatment facilities and other support for individuals and family members facing mental and substance use disorders.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment Options

Alcohol addiction treatment options include inpatient programs, outpatient programs, and partial hospitalization programs. The right treatment option depends on the individual’s needs and the severity of their addiction.

Consequences of Neglecting Treatment 

Addiction is a brain disease that can lead to other behavioral health disorders such as depression and severe physical complications like organ failure, coma, or even death. An individual with alcohol use disorder is at a greater risk of taking their own life, and in 2017, 2.6% of all deaths in the United States involved alcohol.

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“Alcohol Dependence and Suicide.” Centre for Suicide Prevention, Centre for Suicide Prevention, 9 Jan. 2017

“Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2 Nov. 2020

Alcohol Use Disorder, NIAAA 

“Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM–IV and DSM–5.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

“Help and Hope for Families and Friends of Alcoholics.”, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., 23 Oct. 2019

“How to Talk to Someone about Their Drinking.”, Health Promotion Agency

Rotunda, Rob J et al. “Enabling behavior in a clinical sample of alcohol-dependent clients and their partners.” Journal of substance abuse treatment vol. 26,4 (2004): 269-76.

“SAMHSA's National Helpline.” SAMHSA, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

“Substance Use Disorders.” NAMI

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