How To Help an Alcoholic Parent

Does My Parent Have a Drinking Problem?

Research shows that nearly 20% of adults will experience extended periods of alcohol misuse or dependence at least once during their lives.[1] Many of those adults are parents. Research also shows that about 25% of children are affected by a parent’s alcohol use disorder.[2] Those effects can range from financial difficulties to physical abuse. While some parents may not know that they have a problem, others may know and may be unable to stop. Alcoholic parents often do not realize the long-term effects their substance use disorder has on their children. Whether a parent starts abusing alcohol when a child is small or is also an adult, there are negative effects. It is important to know how to identify signs of alcoholism in a parent, how to deal with an alcoholic parent and what treatment options are available.

Alcoholic Parent

What Is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is another term for alcohol addiction or alcohol use disorder.[3] It differs from alcohol misuse, which is more than two drinks per day for men or more than one drink per day for women. Alcohol use disorder occurs when someone drinks excessively and cannot stop drinking. The person may intend to only have one or two drinks but may be unable to stop. This is true even if the individual recognizes the negative effects of drinking. Addiction affects the brain and how it perceives signals, and substances like alcohol and drugs can alter how the brain functions. People seek more of the rewarding feelings that alcohol gives them because of altered brain function, which is why they have such strong cravings for alcohol.

Since substances can also change the way the brain works in terms of judgment, people tend to lose their inhibitions and ability to overcome substance cravings. This can be hurtful especially to family members who see the person’s actions as choosing a substance over family or willfully wanting to harm family members. It is important to understand that a person with an addiction has a brain disease, and the only way to overcome addiction and for the brain to function more normally again is with professional therapy. However, even with rehab and ongoing therapy, there may be some permanent and long-term effects of alcohol addiction.

Effects of Alcoholism

Short-term effects of alcohol use disorder may include vomiting, excessive sleeping, risky behavior, alcohol poisoning or other effects that subside if a person stops drinking. However, the potential long-term effects can be permanent and more severe.[4] These are some possible long-term effects of alcohol use disorder:

  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Liver damage or failure
  • Mental health disorders
  • Cancer
  • Memory problems
  • Social problems

Signs of an Alcoholic Parent

Depending on whether or not children live in the same house as the parent, some of the signs may be harder than others to identify. When a person develops an alcohol use disorder, there are usually behavioral signs. These are some common signs of alcoholism in a parent:

  • Forgetting important events
  • Withdrawing from parental responsibilities
  • Making excuses for bad behavior
  • Memory loss, confusion or blackouts
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Social isolation
  • Making drinking the top priority
  • Difficulties at work
  • New legal or financial trouble
  • Drinking in secret
  • Excessive amounts of empty bottles
  • Frequent headaches or hangovers
  • Abusive behavior or words

There may be other signs as well. For example, it may seem like the parent’s personality changes. People often demonstrate a change in appearance as well. Someone may neglect hygiene, try to dress up better to hide signs of drinking or something else. If the alcoholic parent is going through withdrawal, the person may be nauseous, have headaches or feel dizzy. Some people feel shaky, and some may even experience dangerous seizures during withdrawal. If a parent appears to be in danger, call 911.

For parents with alcoholism, there are also many potential ways that abusing the substance affects a child. The effects tend to be worse when there is physical or emotional abuse.[5] Many children who grow up with alcoholic parents also develop mood disorders and are at a higher risk of developing an alcohol addiction themselves.

How To Deal With an Alcoholic Parent

The most important tip to remember is to carefully plan what to say, and make sure every sentence is about individual feelings instead of accusations. For instance, do not say, “Your drinking is destroying your life.” Instead, it is better to say, “I feel like you may be drinking too much, and I feel like I do not get to spend much time with you anymore.” People who suffer from addiction often view confrontation as a personal attack, so statements should never sound accusatory. These are some other tips for how to approach a parent to discuss alcohol use disorder:

  • Make the point of the conversation a personal concern rather than convincing the parent that they are the problem.
  • Do not try to start a conversation when the person is drunk.
  • Unless the parent is prone to physical violence, try to have the conversation in a private and comfortable place.
  • Let the parent know that they are a valued part of the family.
  • If the conversation goes well, discuss potential treatment and a plan to help.

Resources for Helping Alcoholic Parents

Trying to help an alcoholic loved one can feel like a hopeless cause for some people. If a parent is being difficult, do not try to force the individual. A person must be willing to accept help or must be seeking help to actually take the first step in going to rehab. One valuable resource to keep in mind is a professional interventionist, which is a person who is experienced in planning and executing interventions. An intervention involves family members or other loved ones gathering to let the alcoholic parent know how alcoholism is affecting them. During the intervention, everyone reads an impact statement to provide more specific details to the alcoholic parent. There are usually consequences outlined as well. For instance, they may include no more financial support or no more babysitting grandbabies alone.

Trying to help someone, especially if that person is abusive, can take a toll on the mental wellbeing of the person trying to help in many cases. When children grow up with alcoholic parents and feel that they need to take care of them, they may sacrifice their own physical or mental health to do so. This is why it is critical to also prioritize self-care while helping an alcoholic parent. Many mental health experts recommend that children of alcoholic parents seek professional individual therapy while trying to help. Also, there are support groups. Al-Anon is one common and helpful example.

Treatment for Alcoholic Parents

There are several forms of treatment to help people overcome alcohol addiction. Keep in mind that sobriety is a lifelong journey that requires continual work, and people learn how to accomplish their goals during treatment. These are the main phases of addiction treatment.

Detox

Detox often takes place in a facility. Because alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous in some cases, medical supervision is important. Also, being in a facility where the person cannot access alcohol is better while withdrawal-related cravings are stronger and the risk of potential relapse is higher. Additionally, it helps to be in a comfortable, safe place. People often start therapy during detox as well.

Rehab

Rehab involves several types of therapy. There is usually individual therapy, family therapy and group therapy. Alcoholic parents and their family members learn how to rebuild relationships, communicate better and support one another in healthy ways. In group therapy, parents have peer support and a place to talk to others who struggle with the same issues. Individual therapy allows them to address all the personal effects alcoholism has on their lives and learn ways to overcome addiction.

Ongoing Therapy

Some people may need long-term counseling or therapy. This is especially true if the parent has a co-occurring mental health issue. Individual outpatient therapy may suffice for long-term counseling. Also, many people in recovery attend AA meetings for accountability and peer support.

Get Help for an Alcoholic Parent in New Jersey

If you have an alcoholic parent who is struggling, Garden State Treatment Center is here to help. We offer a variety of flexible treatment structures to fit various needs. Please contact us to learn more about how to deal with an alcoholic parent and how to get your loved one the necessary help.

References
[1] https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Children-Of-Alcoholics-017.aspx
[2] https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/one-four-children-exposed-family-alcohol-abuse-or-alcoholism
[3] https://www.healthline.com/health/alcohol-use-and-abuse#aud-vs-misuse
[4] https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm
[5] https://www.healthline.com/health/alcohol/adult-children-of-alcoholics