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How to deal with an alcoholic parent

Posted by David Williams
on 12 Mar 2021


Dealing with an alcoholic parent can be extremely difficult, challenging and downright heartbreaking. 

Any parent should care for and protect their own child; this doesn’t necessarily happen with an alcoholic parent. Sadly, all too often, the roles tragically become reversed. 

Challenging an alcoholic parent can be daunting. No parent wants to be told they are wrong by their children, or that they need to stop drinking.  

They are unlikely to grasp the true extent of the damage inflicted by being raised by a parent suffering from alcoholism, unless they too have experienced the same. Even then, the delusion caused by their alcoholic illness can be so thick that they struggle to see the truth. 

Alcoholism can take on many forms, from an alcoholic who seemingly appears to function almost too perfectly, to a person who needs around the clock care to go along with their drinking.

Alcoholism is a progressive and deadly illness, it catches up with all who suffer, in one way or another eventually. 

If you have an alcoholic parent you are struggling with, Delamere hopes that this page will help you to understand alcoholism better, learn how to deal with your alcoholic parent and give you hope of a recovery for you both.

Understanding your alcoholic parent is very sick 

Alcoholism is not a choice, thinking it is

will only hold a person back from accessing the correct professional treatment. 

Yes, an alcoholic will buy alcohol, open alcohol and consume alcohol, seemingly all through choice. The reality is very different. 

Suffering from alcoholism is like having your brain permanently stuck in one mode. All an alcoholic can think about is alcohol, how to get it, where to drink it and how to cover it up.

At times, they are able to think of other things, such as family, work or home life, but all these things will be jaded by the power that alcohol has over them.

If they are unable to drink as they have responsibilities to take care of

they are likely to be irritable, miserable and discontent, until they can again experience the ease and comfort a few drinks instantly provides. 

If only they could stop at a few, there would not be much of a problem, but as soon as alcohol hits an alcoholics brain it hijacks it’s function, impairing it on every level possible to prioritise the next drink above all else. 

When alcoholics drink, they lose control not only of the amount they drink but also of their actions whilst intoxicated. They may well change into a person that is far removed from how they are sober. Living with an alcoholic parent can be frightening, stressful, demanding and chaotic. 

Understanding that your alcoholic parent is very unwell can help you to set aside feelings and grievances in the short term. It can give you the courage and strength to challenge them and encourage them to get help. It can also help you see that you too will need help to recover.

Getting help for an alcoholic parent 

At Delamere we receive numerous calls from people who are beside themselves with worry over their alcoholic parents. They, quite rightly, want their parents to get the treatment they need to recover from alcoholism but are worried how to approach it.  

Here at Delamere’s purpose built addiction treatment and behavioural wellness facility, we very much believe in helping the family throughout the process of their loved ones treatment with us. Usually, this starts with getting the person through our doors willingly, ready to accept help. 

We have a few suggestions to make when it comes to discussing treatment with an alcoholic and what you can say to ensure the best results. 

Need help?
Call us confidentially at any time to speak to a member of our team.

Call us now: 0330 111 2015

Tips on speaking to an alcoholic parent about treatment:

  • Choose a time when they are not too intoxicated, they can then recall the conversation and take on board what you have to say.
  • Prepare what you need to say to them. This keeps the conversation purposeful and gives it structure.
  • Give them clear examples of how their alcoholism has affected you and other family members. Other family members may also wish to be part of the conversation. 
  • Keep your manner calm and reassuring at all times. If you feel the conversation is getting out of hand, walk away and try again another time.
  • Tell them that alcoholism is medically recognised as a psychiatric illness and disease of the brain. That hardly anyone can recover without help and that it is progressive in nature.
  • Give your parent examples of times they have promised to stop (if they have) and how that worked for them. It is important they grasp that even when they want to stop, they cannot achieve this without help. 
  • Give your parent hope. If they access the correct bespoke treatment, they can stop drinking and get well. Alcoholism is treatable.
  • Reassure them that nothing is more important than them accepting life saving treatment, and that any responsibilities they have can be taken care of.
  • Some alcoholic parents won’t seek treatment as they feel they cannot leave their children. Assure them they can and that it is for the best in the long term. That you and others will be relieved if they do.
  • Be prepared with details of a treatment programme they can attend if they are willing to participate. Windows of opportunity can be short lived in a person suffering from alcoholism. It is important to act swiftly whilst they show willingness. 

If your parent is not prepared to accept help, you have one of two choices. You can either give them an ultimatum – that whilst they are not prepared to accept help you cannot be part of their life, or enlist the help of a professional to conduct an alcohol intervention.

For details of Delamere’s treatment programmes for alcoholism, and for help with an alcoholic parent, call our team of experts today. 

Living with an alcoholic parent 

When dealing with an alcoholic parent it is important to ensure you are not enabling their alcoholism.  

There are numerous forms of enabling. Enabling an alcoholic is when you are helping and making it possible for them to continue drinking. 

Whilst you may do and say certain things with the intention of protecting them, enabling can stop an alcoholic seeking the much needed treatment required to facilitate their recovery. 

For an alcoholic parent to want to quit drinking and accept they need help, their drinking must become more painful than the thought of sobriety. This means they NEED to feel the consequences of their own drinking. 

Forms of enabling an alcoholic parent: 

  • Turning a blind eye to their drinking and behaviour
  • Lying or covering up for them
  • Giving them, or repeatedly loaning them money, which they fail to repay 
  • Supporting them financially 
  • Playing nurse to their hangovers 
  • Reassuring them out of pity, rather than being honest about how their drinking really affects you
  • Giving them repeated chances to hurt you emotionally 
  • Forgiving behaviour they keep repeating 
  • Buying them alcohol (unless they are in acute withdrawal. It is not your responsibility to feed their alcoholism. Acute alcohol withdrawal on the other hand can kill) You should not make a habit of buying them alcohol and encourage them to seek help instead 
  • Constantly taking on their responsibilities and organising their life for them (ie paying bills, cooking, cleaning, feeding etc) 

We understand it can be very hard dealing with an alcoholic parent and saying ‘No’ to requests, tears, begging and manipulation. 

However, if they are to accept they need help, they have to understand that on their own they cannot manage their drinking and the consequences that come with it.

It is also vital to your wellbeing that you implement boundaries and that your alcoholic parent is aware of these. Stepping over, or disrespecting your boundaries will need to carry consequences to be effective.

If your alcoholic parent is adamant they do not need help, then we encourage you to detach from them for a while and focus on getting yourself help and support. This, we know may be very difficult, but just as you are not responsible for their alcoholism, you are also not responsible for their recovery. 

If they do not want recovery, there is little you can do to help them but you can get help for yourself.

Help for children of alcoholic parents 

Thankfully, there is support available for children of alcoholic parents, regardless of your age.

If you have a parent that suffers from alcoholism, it is extremely likely that you will have been affected by their drinking and behaviour on a very deep level.

Even if your parent is a functioning alcoholic and ensured you attended school, cooked meals and washed your clothes, there will have been times they would have let you down. Times where they seemingly chose alcohol over you and times where emotionally they were not available for you. 

Many children that grow up with an alcoholic parent will have their own issues around parenting, self-worth, neglect, trust, self-care, boundaries and so forth. These issues need to be healed in order that you can live your life free of your parents alcoholism.

If you are still a child in an alcoholic parents care and their alcoholism is negatively affecting you, we encourage you to tell someone. You can do this in confidence if you are worried. 

Please, don’t ever feel like you are betraying your parent. As a child you are entitled to feel safe, cared for and to be able to express yourself. 

Regardless of your age, talking about your alcoholic parent is not a betrayal, it is necessary for you to get the support and help you need. 

Your parent is very sick and needs professional help, help that you are not qualified to give. It is extremely important to prioritise yourself and ask for help if they are unable to look after you properly.

For children of alcoholic parents, the following advice lines are free and confidential to call:

Childline 

Support and advice for children 24/7 by phone, email or online

Helpline: 0800 1111

Website: https://www.childline.org.uk

Alateen

Alateen, a part of the Al-Anon Family Groups, is a fellowship of young people (mostly teenagers) whose lives have been affected by someone else’s drinking whether they are in your life drinking or not. By attending Alateen, teenagers meet other teenagers with similar situations

Helpline: 0800 0086 811

Website: https://www.al-anonuk.org.uk/contact/

The Children’s Society

The Children Society’s Stars initiative provides a hub of information, guidance and resources on parental drug and alcohol use, and the impact it has on children and families. Through its work it promotes the voices of children and young people, as well as seeking to influence policy and practice.

Helpline: 0300 303 7000

Website: www.childrenssociety.org.uk

For adult children of alcoholic parents, the following organisations can provide confidential help and support:

Nacoa

Nacoa is a helpline charity providing information, advice and support for everyone affected by their parent’s drinking, including adults.

Helpline: 0080 358 3456

Website: www.nacoa.org.uk

Al-Anon

Al-Anon Family Groups provide support to anyone whose life is, or has been, affected by someone else’s drinking, regardless of whether that person is still drinking or not. 

Helpline: 0800 0086 811

Website:  www.al-anonuk.org.uk

ACA – Adult Children of Alcoholics

ACA meet and share their experience of growing up in an environment where abuse, neglect and trauma infected them. This still affects them today and how they deal with all aspects of their lives. They share their common experiences and a solution to their dysfunction as well as supporting each other.

Website: http://www.adultchildrenofalcoholics.co.uk

Accessing fast and effective alcohol treatment for your parent

At Delamere we specialise in treating all forms of alcoholism in adults. Our bespoke alcohol treatment programmes have proven to be extremely effective in helping our guests, not only to stop drinking but to undergo profound transformations in their thinking, coping skills and approach to life.

Delamere is a very family focused facility, specialising in addiction treatment and behavioural wellness. We love nothing more than seeing our guests get well and build new, healthier and loving relationships with their family, especially their children.

Families are encouraged to be very much a part of their loved ones recovery process, with family workshops and continued support available.

For immediate expert advice and information on our inpatient alcohol treatment programmes, please call and speak in confidence with one of our colleagues today.

Need help?
Call us confidentially at any time to speak to a member of our team.

Call us now: 0330 111 2015



About the author: David Williams

David is our General Manager at Delamere. David brings a huge amount of experience from both the hospitality and healthcare sectors. Find out more about David on our team page.



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