My parent is an alcoholic: 5 ways that you can help

As a child of alcoholic and addict parent(s) you may not be able to fix mom or dad. But, you can help by helping yourself first. Here is how.

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When dealing with alcoholism, YOU are important!

How can you help a parent who has a problem with alcohol or drugs? You can make sure you know how to care for yourself! Develop tools that acknowledge that you are important and that you have a right to a full, satisfying, happy, healthy, loved life. You just have some extra hurdles you need to get over.

Are you a child of a parent with addiction? In this article we share some practical tips to find resources that support you. So continue reading and feel free to post your questions at the end of the page. We try to respond personally to your inquiries as soon as possible.

My parent is an alcoholic/addict

Most people ask this questions hoping they can a loved one “get better”:

Q: What can I do to fix a parent’s problem with drugs or alcohol?
A: Unfortunately, fixing an addiction problem for someone else is impossible.

Imagine telling someone who can’t breathe that you will start breathing for them. That’s about how effective it is to think that something you can do can make someone else change their behavior.

As much as we want to help, care for, and protect…. we can’t because the problem is their problem! What you can do when your parent is an alcoholic is make sure you know how to take care of yourself, get the resources and support you need to live your life, and make sure you know how to protect yourself from the pain caused by a parent’s illness.

What can I do about my alcoholic mom/dad?

Growing up with alcoholic parent can be difficult. When you don’t have a problem with alcohol it is nearly impossible to understand the self-destructive compulsion that drives someone to drink. It seems like it would be so easy to stop, or just make them believe they have to stop.

When you start trying to control someone else’s addiction, however, you slip into a role where all that you do, all that matters in your life becomes responding to their behavior. An addict is someone with a disease and no amount of begging, pleading, or bargaining can fix them. You can hide their drinks and they will find more, you can hide the car keys and there will still be a next time, you can scream and yell and rage and none of it will make a difference because you can’t fix a problem that isn’t yours!

5 WAYS to help an alcoholic parent

It seems counterintuitive, but one of the best things you can do to help someone else is to make sure you know how to take care of you! Start by remembering that you are important and that you have every right to be happy, healthy and loved. Here are some practical tips to find resources to support you:

1. Be safe.

If you live with a violent alcoholic/addict (physically, mentally or emotionally) talk to an adult who can get you into a safe environment. This might mean having to leave your home, having the problem be made public, or risking the disapproval of your parent. But being in a safe environment where you are free from abuse is critical to your sanity and survival. Talk to a school counselor, your doctor, a trusted teacher, a clergy person, a friend or relative, let them know what is going on and ask them for support.

2. Find a support group.

If you don’t have someone you feel safe confiding in find a local Al-Anon or Alateen meeting. Both groups are safe and anonymous. In the 12 Step Programs you will learn that you did not cause your parent to drink (no matter what they say or how they try to blame you), you can’t control your parent’s drinking (being perfect, hiding the liquor, keeping everything just the way they like isn’t going to make them stop), and you can’t cure it (remember trying to breath for someone else, it just won’t work). Go online and search for Al-Anon/Alateen, you can find local meetings, contact the world wide office for resources, or attend meetings online and/or by phone.

3. Pick up a book.

There are a lot of books written about the experience of growing up with an alcoholic. Your local library will have a section on self-help or recovery and starting there will at least let you know that you are not alone. My book, ‘Til Now is one of many that share the experience of growing up in an addicted home. There are many people who have been there and who want to provide you support because we know what it feels like to suffer in these circumstances.

4. Practice self-care.

It is very easy to lose a sense of yourself when you live with someone who is an addict and it is important to make sure that you are cared for. When you don’t have a parent to care for you, you have to do it yourself. Take a couple of minutes every day to check-in with yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. Ask, “How does my body feel today, what could I do to feel better?” Ask, “What have I been thinking about, and how does that make me feel?” These are important steps for reminding yourself that you are present and matter!

5. Try using the Serenity Prayer.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference!”

Think about what these words mean and how difficult situations in your life can be applied to the three elements: accepting, changing, and knowing!

For children of addicts and alcoholics

Alcoholism and addiction are horrible conditions: they destroys families, friendships and individuals. Those of us who live or have lived with this have to make an affirmative choice to not let their disease destroy us – you matter, you are important, you deserve to be loved and cared for and it has to start with YOU!

Do you have questions?

If you are a child in a family with active alcoholic or addict parent(s), you can help by helping yourself first. We welcome your questions in the designated section below and try to respond personally and promptly to all legitimate inquiries, or refer you to professionals who can help, if necessary.

About the author
Maggie Harmon is a writer, speaker, leadership coach and business consultant who approaches every engagement through a holistic understanding of the situation. Her consulting practice focuses on deeply understanding who or what you are and what you want to achieve, and from there helping to create a plan, develop tools, and access resources that let you get where it is you want to go, and do what you do, better! You can connect with her here or via Maggie's Blog.
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