Alcoholic Parent: Signs, Risks & Treatment Options

Alcohol abuse disorders, otherwise known as AUDs, or alcoholism, represent a medical condition in which an individual continues to intake alcohol over prolonged periods of time, often many years, despite its negative consequences on their physical and mental health, as well as their private and professional lives. Current data suggests that more than 17 million Americans suffer from a form of AUD, making alcohol addiction the most common substance abuse issue across the nation.1

However, while alcohol can be severely detrimental to the individuals struggling with AUD, it also has the potential to enact serious negative effects on their families, friends, and loved ones. Alcohol abuse disorder can often cause detrimental mental, physical, and emotional consequences to children of alcoholic parents and lead to the development of emotional neglect and physical difficulties in families where one or both parents are struggling with alcoholism.2

However, even in the absence of the more severe consequences and traumas stemming from growing up with alcoholic parents and dealing with their behavioral patterns, children experience a wide range of negative emotions, such as feeling unimportant, uncared for, and unloved. All this can leave the children of alcoholic parents struggling with self-esteem in the later portions of their lives and can experience bitterness and resentment toward their families due to the hardships they had to endure while growing up.2

This is why it’s important to be able to recognize the earliest signs and symptoms of dealing with alcoholic parents and be familiar with the available methods for helping them. What’s more, it’s essential to learn more about the methods you can use to deal with alcoholic parents who won’t get help and find a way to assist them and, through assisting them overcome their alcohol addiction, find a way to improve your own quality of life.2

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of an Alcoholic Parent?

It can be difficult to exactly pinpoint the signs of an alcoholic parent, since many alcoholism symptoms can be individual in nature and vary from one person struggling with an alcohol abuse disorder to another. Alcoholism impacts different people in different ways, leaving some individuals with an AUD exhibiting some symptoms, and others exhibiting completely different symptoms.3

However, there are also many universal signs, common for many individuals with an alcohol use disorder, that could point to the fact that you’re dealing with an alcoholic parent who requires professional assistance to overcome their AUD. These include:3

  • Changes in behavior.
  • Changes in appearance.
  • Changes in social circles.
  • Drinking secretly or alone.
  • Experiencing frequent hangovers.
  • Experiencing financial difficulties.
  • Experiencing workplace difficulties.
  • Experiencing difficulties with friends and family.
  • Isolating from family members and friends.
  • Prioritizing drinking from all other obligations and responsibilities.
  • Making frequent excuses for bad behavior and drinking.
  • Showcasing irritability.
  • Experiencing frequent mood swings.
  • Suffering from memory loss and blackouts as a result of excessive drinking.

All these signs of alcoholic parents can be the first step in determining whether or not your parent or parents are struggling with a form of alcohol use disorder. You can also explore the following questions. If you answer yes to two or more of these questions, you might be dealing with alcoholic parents who requires professional help in overcoming their addiction:3

  • Do your parents need higher doses of alcohol to start getting intoxicated?
  • Do your parents have psychological or physical problems worsened or caused by excessive drinking? Do they continue their harmful habit despite the problem?
  • Do your parents ever drive a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol?
  • Have your parents stopped engaging in their hobbies and replaced them with alcohol intake?
  • Do your parents continue drinking even though their habit is causing continual problems in their family life and marriage?
  • Do your parents seem anxious or ill when they’re not using alcohol?
  • Do your parents have a tendency to miss professional or personal obligations due to their drinking habit?
  • Do your parents often forget their responsibilities to you as a child in terms of picking you up from school, preparing food, or taking general care of you because of their drinking?
  • Do your parents often express strong urges to drink?
  • Do your parents spend large amounts of money on purchasing alcoholic beverages?
  • Have your parents experienced several failed attempts at stopping their drinking?
  • Do your parents drink large amounts of alcohol over prolonged periods of time (e.g. every day or several days a week)?

How Does Having an Alcoholic Parent Affect a Child?

There are numerous negative and harmful ways in which dealing with an alcoholic parent can affect a child, potentially causing different types of traumas to children. These negative effects can be both physical and psychological with varying degrees of severity depending on the type of neglect, emotional difficulties, or abuse the children are dealing with due to their parent or parents engaging in excessive drinking habits.4

However, before delving into the numerous negative effects growing up with alcoholic parents can have on children and adults, it’s important to provide a brief overview of all the restraints children of alcoholics often have to grow up with:4

  • Growing up in an alcoholic household can lead individuals to believe it’s bad or unacceptable to discuss their problems, issues, and feelings with their parents.
  • In families where one or both parents are struggling with alcohol addiction, children rarely receive validation for their feelings and are unable to receive assistance with their problems.
  • The unpredictable family atmosphere of dealing with alcoholic parents from an early age makes it difficult to adopt healthy communication techniques and prevents children from developing positive communicative patterns.
  • Children of alcoholic parents often have to place their own needs and desires behind the problems of their parents, creating an unhealthy family dynamic with reversed roles.
  • Alcoholic households often enact polarizing developmental patterns on children in the form of “do as you’re told, not as I do” instructions, causing conflicting emotions in children unable to find the right way to behave around their parents and outside their household.
  • Children often have to stay out of their parents’ ways for fear of receiving an often harmful outlash.
  • Alcoholic parents frequently make it difficult for their children to speak freely and express their thoughts.

All these restrictions, as well as many others, can cause children to adapt in unhealthy ways in order to ensure their physical and psychological safety, leading to the development of a wide range of defense mechanisms they stick to later on in life, preventing them from adopting healthy behavioral patterns.4

What’s more, such family dynamics also lead to the development of survival patterns, getting children to adopt theoretical roles unique to the varying and often detrimental developmental paths they take as a consequence of growing up with alcoholic parents who wouldn’t get help.5

While not universally accepted, these roles have a tendency to result in similar behavioral patterns in later portions of the lives of children of alcoholic parents. One of the most common traits is the sense of hyper-responsibility, leaving them feeling responsible even for those things beyond their control, such as the drinking habits of their parents.5

Finally, there are many more characteristics children who grow up dealing with alcoholic parents can develop, including:6

  • High tolerance for poor and inappropriate behavior from others.
  • Lack of self-worth and low self-esteem.
  • Crisis-creation without any need.
  • Development of black-and-white or all-or-nothing behavioral patterns, causing distorted and overly critical views of others.
  • Diminished capacity for dealing with a wide range of negative emotions.
  • Escapist and avoidant behavioral patterns.
  • Inability to appropriately express emotions.
  • Feelings of disconnection from other individuals.
  • Fostering conflict-avoidance techniques, including emotional and physical unavailability.
  • Constantly prioritizing other people’s needs in front of your own.
  • Remaining guarded in personal communications.
  • Feeling hypersensitivity in communication with other people.
  • Remaining hypervigilant during social interactions.
  • Inability to trust others and yourself.

The majority of these problems arise from the fact that children of alcoholics haven’t been taught the proper ways for dealing with life’s many stressors, often being left to their own devices, leading to the development of poor behavioral patterns. However, it is never the children’s fault and it is never too late to work on these issues and overcome them.6

How to Deal With My Alcoholic Parents?

It’s essential to remember that if one or both your parents are struggling with an alcohol addiction, it’s not your fault, even if you feel responsible for the way they’re behaving. Another thing you have to keep in mind is that you’re unable to force anyone to change, your parents included. You cannot make them drink less or quit drinking and enter rehab.7

However, what you can do is offer assistance, even if you’re scared to approach them with any suggestions regarding alcohol treatment and rehab. This is why it’s difficult for many individuals to start a conversation with their parents about them seeking help for theri AUD. Unless violence is a concern, however, it’s worth noting that the potential for negative reaction from an alcoholic parent diminishes in comparison to the positive outcomes of a successful conversation.7

To overcome the fear of discussing the subject of alcoholism with your parents, know that the first rule is not to talk to them alone. From there, it’s important to keep the following in mind when approaching your parents with this topic in order to both maximize your chances of success and minimize the chances of their excessively negative reaction:7

  • The topic of the conversation shouldn’t be to convince them of the existence of their problem. Instead, let them know you’re afraid they might have a problem.
  • Try not to initiate the conversation when your parent or parents are not intoxicated.
  • Try not to initiate the conversation if you’re in a state of intoxication.
  • It’s often a good idea to begin the conversation by emphasizing that you’re doing this because you care for them and you’re concerned for their well-being.
  • Use “I” statements instead of generalized statements that offer an impersonal tone.
  • Gently list previous incidents and behaviors that indicate the harmful consequences of their drinking habit.
  • Avoid getting your parents defensive or cornered by making it a 2-way conversation, not a judgemental conversation.
  • Refrain from sidetracking with judgment, speculation, and unnecessary explanations.
  • In the end, if your parents deny the existence of a problem, try to get them to agree to revisit the conversation in the future.

How to Talk to My Alcoholic Parents

In the past, a direct confrontation with an individual abusing alcohol was considered the most effective approach for dealing with alcoholic parents and getting them to find help with overcoming their AUD. However, recent research has illustrated the counterproductive nature of such an approach. Instead, a new approach called Community Reinforcement and Family Training, or CRAFT, offers guidance in teaching family members how to approach their alcoholic parents in a non-judgmental and non-threatening manner, fostering a higher possibility of success in helping them seek the help they need. The three main areas of the CRAFT approach include tips for talking to an alcoholic parent, ways in which to showcase your support, and the things to avoid doing when talking to them.8

Tips for Talking to an Alcoholic Parent

Some of the tips for talking to an alcoholic parent recommended by the CRAFT method are:8

  • Trying to choose the moment when your parents are thinking about quitting drinking. This is the ideal situation to give them additional support in their attempt.
  • Speaking in a sympathetic, gentle, and kind way to communicate concern, not judgment, to your parents when trying to get them to seek help for their problems.
  • Keeping in mind the positive traits of your parents when they’re sober in order to free yourself from the potential frustration when discussing their alcoholism issues with them.
  • Suggesting available treatment options if you notice your parents are open to starting their treatment.
  • Instead of staging an intervention with several people, it’s better to try and talk to your parents with just another person present for support, or on your own if there is no possibility of a violent outcome.

Being Supportive

While talking to your alcoholic parents it’s important to remain supportive, and there are several ways to do that:8

  • Using encouraging and loving words when talking to them, allowing them to feel confident they can attain sobriety.
  • Prioritizing their self-care and getting them to understand that they should find help in overcoming their addiction in order to help themselves lead healthier lives.
  • Supporting their attempts at achieving sobriety and helping them find the most suitable treatment and rehab solution for their individual needs.

Things to Avoid

Finally, it’s essential to also be aware of the things you shouldn’t do when talking to your alcoholic parents and helping them kickstart their recovery:8

  • Refrain from arguing with your parents.
  • Don’t talk to your parents when they’re inebriated, as they might not remember the conversation afterward.
  • Don’t support their drinking or make excuses for their habits through enabling conversational methods.

What Should I Do if My Alcoholic Parent Won’t Get Help?

Some parents might accept help from their children in overcoming their addiction. However, it’s also common for parents to refuse assistance, in which case there’s little you can do in order to help them. You can’t force your alcoholic parents who won’t get help into entering rehab by continuously confronting them, as this often ends up doing more harm than good.9

One thing you can try to do is seek assistance from your other family members or your parents’ friends in helping you convince your parents they need help. You can also seek advice and assistance from experienced medical professionals, interventionists, and therapists in how you can get your parents to realize they’re struggling with an alcohol problem. However, ultimately, you cannot make your parents do anything they don’t want to do except try to provide support and understanding, as well as offer help and solutions for overcoming their addiction.9

Finally, you need to think about preserving your own physical and psychological well-being, and there are numerous resources available that help children dealing with alcoholic parents find relief and help in improving the quality of their own lives. Know that your life matters too and that you should seek assistance if you’re unable to find happiness when dealing with alcoholic parents.9

How to Find Support Programs for My Alcoholic Parents?

There are many organizations which offer support to both children of alcoholic parents and their alcoholic parents. It’s important for them and you to understand that you’re not alone in your struggles and that you can find help when dealing with such a situation. Some of the resources you could use for support are:10, 11, 12, 13

Treatment Programs for Alcoholic Parents

There are many treatment solutions available that could help your parents who are struggling with an alcohol addiction overcome their problem and start leading healthier and more productive lives. Some of these programs include:14

  • 12-step programs which are free to join and offer a trusting and supportive environment.
  • Individual therapy with an experienced therapist who will help them address the underlying causes of their addiction, detect their coping mechanisms, and help them find a suitable treatment option.
  • Group counseling where your parents share their own experiences with other individuals struggling with the same problems as a first step in AUD treatment and rehab.
  • Dual diagnosis treatment for alcoholic parents who are also dealing with a mental health disorder. 
  • Outpatient treatment options that offer your parents a way to continue with their daily responsibilities while also attending structured rehab that will help them overcome their addiction.
  • Inpatient treatment options for the most severe cases of alcohol addiction treatment at an inpatient facility.

However, if you’re unsure of what kind of treatment you should suggest to your parents, it’s always best to contact a reputable provider of nationwide treatment solutions such as American Addiction Centers, or AAC. Feel free to contact their 24/7 alcohol addiction hotline and discuss the most suitable treatment options for your parents with them. From there, your parents are also free to contact AAC and inquire about the best way to kickstart their treatment and overcome their alcohol addiction.

They offer a wide range of available treatment options at varying costs to cater to individuals from varying backgrounds. AAC also offers different medical detox solutions to help struggling individuals deal with the potentially harmful effects of alcohol withdrawal.

Frequently Asked Questions