6 Ways of Helping Your Alcoholic Child

If you suspect that your child is an alcoholic, you may need to intervene directly. More on how to deal with alcoholism in your family here.

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ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Finding out that your child has become addicted to alcohol is a challenging situation for any parent to face.  But where do you start to look for help? What treatment approach is the best? We answer these questions here and invite your questions at the end of the page.


Warning signs of alcohol addiction

It is natural for parents to think that alcoholism only occurs in other households; however, addiction does not discriminate. Alcohol abuse can affect people at almost any age, from the teenage years to adulthood. It can also become a problem for any individual, regardless of income level, race, region or gender.

Even straight-A students can fall prey to the dangers of alcohol abuse. The important thing is to watch for signs of abuse in order to know when it’s time to help an addicted child quickly and effectively.

Common signs among teenagers include:

  • A decreased interest in physical appearance.
  • Asking for money without a good explanation or stealing items.
  • Increased obsession with privacy, such as locking the bedroom door at all times.
  • Sudden lack of interest in schoolwork and other responsibilities or activities.

Some common signs of addiction in all ages include the following:

  • Confusion
  • Decreased appetite and unexplained weight loss
  • Drowsiness
  • Memory problems
  • Sudden change in personality or behaviors, such as increased irritability

Part of knowing how to help an addicted child is becoming aware of these signs and knowing when to intervene.

How can you help?

1. Research addiction and understand what it is.

If you want to truly help a child struggling with alcoholism, it is important not to avoid the problem. Some parents ignore the issue due to embarrassment or denial. Rather than blaming themselves or hoping the substance abuse will go away on its own, parents need to understand that their child’s alcoholism does not reflect on them; addiction is a disease.

That’s right, a disease.

In fact, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines problem drinking as more than one drink per day for women or more than 2 drinks per day for men. [1] Additionally, the organization goes on to describe alcoholism as severe problem drinking that requires diagnosis and intervention. [2] Browse this website to learn more about alcohol addiction, the most common and pervasive addiction on the planet. Or, ask us a question in the comments section below.

2. Wait for a moment of sobriety.

It is important to talk to your child about the alcohol use. Approach your child when he or she is not currently using alcohol. An important part of knowing how to help an addicted child involves trusting your own instincts as a parent. Wait for a time when you are both calm and at ease, rather than letting emotions to spiral out of control. Instead of expressing accusation, talk calmly, yet seriously, about your concerns.

3. Stop enabling behaviors.

It is natural for parents to want to help their children, but alcoholic children need to learn to deal with the negative consequences of their behavior. Do not lie to teachers, bosses or other family members about your child’s alcohol abuse. Discuss the repercussions if your child does not stop abusing alcohol. For a teenager, this might mean having a car taken away. For a grown child, this could mean that you will no longer lend money or bail your child out of tricky situations. Knowing how to help an addicted child includes using your own knowledge of your family and the specific situation.

4. Stage an intervention.

Call us on the phone number listed here to learn more about this process. Usually, you meet with an addiction counselor or therapist before the intervention, but without your child. Together, you discuss how you’ll approach the child and what each of you will say. You can also discuss about possible reactions with the therapist.

You may want to write down what kind of behaviors will not be tolerated and what will be the consequences if they appear, as well as writing down all the things that were lost after your child’s behavior has changed.

Keep in mind that an intervention is successful even if your child refuses to go to rehab, because at least the family has united to set a boundary. This means life will not be the same for your child, and a process has started that will one day result in him or her getting treatment.

5. Seek treatment.

If your child is unable to stop abusing alcohol on his/her own, it may be time to seek professional treatment.  Many rehab centers offer options for teenagers and younger patients. Inpatient treatment can help by removing your child from a harmful peer group and providing professional guidance and supervision during detoxification.

6. Family therapy and support groups.

In addition to learning how to help an addicted child, parents should also focus on the whole family. Dealing with an alcoholic child can be draining for any family, so it is also important to learn healthy coping mechanisms, avoid extra stress and seek support. Parents can benefit from support groups that specifically address the challenges faced by parents of alcohol abusers.

What if your child doesn’t accept rehab?

Offering help and providing your child with rehabilitation options may be all you can do. In most cases, people with drinking problems overcome addiction when they are too tired to fight anymore, when they are faced with too much pain, or when they realize that alcohol isn’t the answer. What do they all have in common?

People who enter addiction recovery have made a decision to try something different. This decision is their own…you cannot force it.

You should not put too much pressure on yourself if your child does not want to quit. If your treatment offers are contantly refused, you can work on doing research together to show him/her why they should get better. And, you can focus on yourself.

Often, drinking problems exist as a red flag to dysfunction in a family or social system. Are there other things going on in the household that require your attention? What about your own mental health? Turn the magnifying glass inward, to yourself or to your family system. Start asking questions.

Finally, even though your son or daughter might refuse treatment, you should continue visiting family support meetings and find help for yourself on how to deal with your inner struggles on this issue. The only other thing you can do is keep encouraging your child to go to treatment. But you also need to have a strong base of self-awareness and love. No one else can do this for you.

Your questions

Are you still afraid of addressing your child’s addiction?

You are not alone.

Please leave us your questions or comments in the section below. We’ll try to respond to you personally and promptly, or refer you to help.

Reference Sources:[1] NIAAA: Drinking Definitions
[2] NIAAA: Alcohol Use Disorder
Ohio – Department of Youth Services: Project Know – Understanding your addiction: How to Help an Addict or Alcoholic Child
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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