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How To Help A Parent With Alcoholism

Substance abuse can have a great impact on friends and family, especially children with alcoholic parents. No matter one's age, dealing with an alcoholic parent can be extremely painful and difficult. Fortunately, there are options out there for getting them on the path to recovery.

Does A Parent Have A Drinking Problem?

Alcohol use disorder, more commonly known as alcoholism, is the physical and psychological dependence on alcohol. A parent with alcoholism may have trouble controlling their drinking habits or choose to continue drinking even when it causes problems. Alcoholism can severely impact a person’s personal, professional, social, and financial life. The effects of alcoholism can have a great impact on friends and family, but it is often the children that suffer the most.

Unfortunately, more than 1 out of 10 children in the United States live with a parent that struggles with alcoholism. Alcoholism can lead to emotional, physical, mental, and financial abuse and neglect of children of all ages. This can be an even bigger issue for children who still live with or nearby their alcoholic parent. Children who have a parent with alcoholism will often feel unloved, un-cared for, and unimportant. One of the most common issues they struggle with is blaming themselves or thinking they should be doing more for their parent. Some people have been dealing with their parent’s alcoholism since they were born, but sometimes alcoholism develops later in life; alcohol abuse among seniors has become a bigger problem. Fortunately, no matter how old someone is or how long they have had a drinking problem, there is always help for them.

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Signs Of Alcoholism

Alcohol impacts each person differently. Some drinkers may exhibit signs of alcoholism, while others exhibit few signs— especially if they are considered high-functioning alcoholics. However, there are some common signs; these can include:

  • Blackouts and memory loss
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Prioritizing drinking over other obligations
  • Isolation from friends and family members
  • Frequent hangovers
  • Changes in appearance, behavior, and social circle
  • Drinking alone or secretly

What’s The Best Way To Approach A Parent About Their Alcoholism?

A person will not change unless they truly want to. No one can force someone to change, quit drinking, drink less, or go to rehab. The best thing to be done for a parent with alcoholism is to bring to their attention the fact that their child thinks they have a problem. Confronting someone, especially a parent, about their alcohol problem can be intimidating. Fear of them getting angry, yelling, or getting violent is understandable. It’s possible that a parent may cause a scene, embarrass their child, or use more, but the risks of having a conversation are generally outweighed by the potential benefits. If violence is a concern, then it is best to avoid having the conversation alone.

Some of the following guidelines may help improve the outcome of any conversation with an alcoholic parent:

  • The goal is not to convince a parent that they have a problem, but to let them know there’s concern that they might.
  • Never have the conversation if anyone involved is intoxicated.
  • Let them know the conversation is based in compassion.
  • Use “I” statements and avoid making accusations. Example: “I am concerned by how much you are drinking. I have noticed your behavior has been different. I am worried that your health is at risk.”
  • List any specific behaviors and incidents that are of concern.
  • If it may benefit the conversation, mention how their behavior has had a personal and hurtful impact.
  • Don’t get sidetracked with speculation, judgement, or excuses. Stay focused on the main point.
  • Maintain an open conversation so that they do not feel cornered or get defensive. It’s recommended to use open-ended questions rather than yes or no questions.
  • If the person denies there is a problem and no progress is made, try to get them to agree to have another conversation in the future.

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What To Do If A Parent Refuses Help For Alcoholism

If a parent denies having a problem with alcohol or refuses help, unfortunately, there will not be many options at that moment. It may help to reach out to friends and other family members for support in talking to them about seeking help. Another option is to seek out the services of a professional interventionist to help a parent examine their relationship with alcohol. Additionally, many resources and support groups exist that are dedicated to helping family members of alcoholics.

What Resources Are Available?


Al-Anon is the largest and most well-known support group for families of alcoholics worldwide. It is a 12-Step program modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) that helps members cope with their family member’s alcoholism. Meetings are held in all 50 states and in many countries around the world.


Most schools of all levels, from elementary schools to universities, have many resources available to students to help them cope with the substance abuse of their parents.

Mental Health Professionals

A mental health professional such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker may offer a lot of help in understanding and coping with feelings. A professional can help improve one’s mental state.

Get Help Now

If you have a parent that is struggling with alcohol abuse, help is available to you. Contact a dedicated treatment provider that can help find a rehab facility.

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