How to Help an Alcoholic Child
In This Article
Some adults develop alcoholism or alcohol use disorder (AUD). AUD is the inability to control drinking due to a physical and emotional dependence on liquor.
Approximately 15 million Americans have AUD. Adolescents made up 401,000 of those people in 2018.
How to Help an Alcoholic Child Who Doesn’t Want Help
Minors or Children Below 18
Legal options are available to help your child if they are struggling with alcoholism but are reluctant to seek treatment.
As the legal guardian of a person under 18, you can take action and physically accompany them to therapy. Alternatively, you can hire a trusted therapeutic teen transport service to assist in bringing them to treatment.
But while it's possible to mandate a child's attendance at therapy, it's better to foster a supportive parent-child relationship and encourage them to seek help willingly. One effective technique for achieving this is to organize an intervention.
An intervention can motivate a resistant child to pursue treatment independently. Family and friends confront and encourage them to enter treatment during this process. You can consult the help of a professional interventionist if you decide to go this route.
Adults or People Above 18
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.
Explain that alcohol addiction is a serious disorder and treatment is essential for them to lead an enjoyable, healthy lifestyle. But getting sober on their own requires immense dedication and commitment, so you should emphasize that professional help is available.
You can also suggest that they have an assessment at a rehabilitation facility. Many treatment facilities allow them to see professionals and receive advice about their treatment options. Alternatively, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’s helpline for support and resources can provide guidance.
Alcohol Addiction Treatment Options
Treatment programs and facilities are available to help those struggling with alcohol addiction. The right treatment program will focus on the person's unique needs, lifestyle, health, and mental health, emotional and physical goals.
Treatment centers offer:
The recovery process typically involves a combination of group and individual therapy, medication management, educational activities, and life skills education.
Ultimately, the best treatment program will depend on your child's needs and the severity of their addiction.
Consequences of Neglecting Treatment
Addiction constitutes a brain disorder with the potential to trigger depression and other behavioral health disorders. Further, alcohol use disorder can have dire physical ramifications, including organ failure, coma, and fatality.
Those with an AUD may also face an increased risk of suicide, with 2.6% of all US deaths in 2017 linked to alcohol consumption.
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Signs and Symptoms of an Alcoholic Child
It can be hard for many parents to distinguish between typical teenage behaviors and their child’s dangerous binge drinking habits. However, there are specific signs of alcoholism or substance abuse in children or young adults.
Excessive alcohol use can include:
- Frequent or increased drinking time
- Drinking earlier in the day
- Drinking more or longer than intended
- Inability to stop
- Severe cravings or urges to drink
- Compromised responsibilities due to the habit
- Drinking despite having troubles with family or friends
- Disengagement from activities in favor of drinking
- Engaging in risky behavior while drinking
- Depression or anxiety
- Lapses in memory or blackouts
- Developing a high alcohol tolerance
- Withdrawal symptoms
- Sneaking drinks
- Physical changes such as red eyes, slurred speech, and lack of coordination
If you notice these signs in your child, they may have a drinking problem and could be at risk of developing an addiction.
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Tips on How to Deal with an Alcoholic Child
The following are some things you should do if you suspect you have an alcoholic child:
- Get your child in the right mindset to discuss their drinking habits: Timing is everything, so choose a time when they're not feeling the effects of alcohol and are more likely to listen.
- Find a private place to talk: If your son stays with you, don't address the issue in front of other family members. Have a private conversation where they will feel more comfortable expressing themselves.
- Give them a safe space to share their thoughts and feelings without feeling judged or accused: Avoid using hurtful or blaming language to help foster an open and honest dialogue.
- Be patient: Don't give up if they resist initially. Be understanding, and try to approach the conversation again later, remembering that addressing your child’s alcoholism is vital for their well-being.
- Educate yourself on treatment options: This way, you are ready to answer any questions or concerns they may have.
- Encourage them to attend support groups or 12-step programs: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and similar groups provide a safe space for your child to receive support from peers who have been through similar struggles.
- Consider family therapy: This is a form of treatment that addresses the entire family dynamic. Its goal is to treat alcoholism by improving family communication.
- Openly discuss the issue with your family and rally their support to encourage your child to seek help: Additionally, urge them not to enable your son’s alcoholism.
- Practice self-care: Take care of yourself while helping your child battle alcoholism so you can offer unwavering emotional support.
- Establish healthy boundaries: Set firm limitations for your child and let them know you will support their recovery but won’t tolerate destructive behavior.
It's important to remember that each person's needs are unique and should be addressed with compassion and understanding. Consulting a mental health or addiction professional for individualized advice on how best to support your child’s recovery is essential.
Navigating the Challenges of Alcohol Withdrawal
Withdrawal is the body’s response to suddenly stopping or reducing alcohol intake after a period of heavy drinking. It can be an uncomfortable experience that may cause physical, mental, and emotional distress.
One way of helping your child address these issues is recognizing withdrawal symptoms and knowing how to manage them. They can include:
- Mood swings
- Shakiness or tremors
- Nausea and vomiting
- Heart palpitations
- Delirium Tremens (DTs)
It’s important to note that alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be perilous and should not be taken lightly. If your alcoholic son is experiencing the above conditions, seek medical help immediately.
How to Take Care of Yourself
It's only natural for most parents to want to do all they can to help their child with AUD. But as mentioned, taking care of yourself first is essential. Caring for yourself gives you more reserves to support your child through their struggles.
Practice good self-care by:
- Eating well
- Getting enough sleep
- Talking to your therapist or support group
- Taking time for yourself to participate in activities you enjoy
- Doing something creative
- Asking for help from your family, friends, and community
- Recognizing when you need a break from the situation
When you do these things, you protect your immune system, energy levels, and cognitive abilities. All of this helps you deal with your child's alcohol problem. Ignoring them lowers your resiliency, making you less helpful in managing this crisis.
Al-Anon, a 12-step program for people affected by someone else's alcohol abuse, is an excellent way to find support. This sister group of AA provides a safe and confidential space to talk with others in similar situations.
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. So, it connects you with other parents and family members of an alcoholic to understand how to manage your life better.
Having a place to go for support, like an Al-Anon meeting, can be invaluable when your child struggles with alcoholism. This can be especially helpful if the support system at home is limited.
The Role of Family in the Healing Process
Having a family member battle alcohol abuse is never easy, but family plays an essential role in recovery since alcoholism affects an entire household. With unconditional love and support, families can be a source of strength and comfort.
Recovery from alcohol use and abuse requires time and dedication. The healing process can be long and arduous, but family therapy sessions and other forms of treatment can stop your son's drinking problem.
By engaging in healing conversations, family members can get to the root of any underlying concerns and mental health issues while providing emotional support. Through family therapy, loved ones can learn how to communicate better and navigate difficult conversations about their son's drinking habits or substance abuse.
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My Child Is an Alcoholic, What Do I Do About Enablers?
A codependent, commonly known as an enabler, is a person involved in a relationship with an alcoholic that impedes their acceptance of treatment and sustainable recovery. Enabling behaviors include:
- Taking over chores or duties from the alcoholic
- Drinking or using other drugs with them
- Giving them money for liquor
- Excusing their behavior or making excuses for them
- Being overly protective of them
- Bailing them out of jail
- 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 their behavior is dangerous to someone with AUD.
If you suspect your child has an enabler, take steps toward addressing the issue:
- Talk to the person about their behavior and how it could hinder your child’s recovery without being overly accusatory
- Point out the risks associated with their behavior
- Offer help in finding healthier ways to support your child
- Consider involving a mental health professional or another neutral third party if needed
The Differences Between Helping and Hurting
Empathy and enabling can easily go hand-in-hand. Both usually come from a place of care, compassion, and a desire to help. The difference, however, is in the outcomes.
Enabling allows dangerous and self-destructive behaviors to persist, stopping problem-solving opportunities. It comes in many forms, including:
- Giving your child money so they don't steal
- Creating excuses for their behavior
- Ignoring unacceptable behavior
- Not expressing how you feel to avoid someone becoming upset or leaving
- Making decisions or doing things for them that they should do themselves
Helping is a form of support that encourages growth and learning. It allows people to find their solutions and take responsibility for their decisions. These acts that stop enabling include:
- Providing their needs rather than giving them money they can spend on alcohol
- Not cleaning up after them
- Continuing to follow plans even if your child does not participate
- Taking back autonomy by prioritizing your needs
- Drawing boundaries
Ultimately, helping an alcoholic child depends on the family's support and dedication. It's essential to recognize that alcoholism is a serious disorder and confront it head-on.
If you're the parent of an alcoholic child, take action now. Research and consider options for support, interventions, and treatment facilities available to help your son or daughter live a healthier, happier life.
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- “Alcohol Dependence and Suicide.” Centre for Suicide Prevention, 2017.
- MedlinePlus, “Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).”U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2020.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2020.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM–IV and DSM–5.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2021.
- “Help and Hope for Families and Friends of Alcoholics.” Al-Anon Family Groups, 2019.
- Amohia te Waiora, “How to Talk to Someone about Their Drinking.” Alcohol.org.nz.
- Rotunda et al. “Enabling behavior in a clinical sample of alcohol-dependent clients and their partners.” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 2004.
- “Substance Use Disorders.” National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2020.