My parent is an alcoholic: What can I do?

What can you do when you have a parent who has a problem with alcohol? We review some practical tips for children of alcoholics here. And invite your comments and feedback at the end.

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What to do when your parent drinks too much

If a member of your family is addicted to alcohol, what can you do? As much as we want to help, care for, and protect… we can’t because the alcohol problem is their problem, not ours! But 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.

So, how can you start to address family communication issues with an alcoholic? We review here. Then, we invite your questions, feedback, or experiences in the comment section below. We will try to respond to all comments personally and promptly.

My parent is an alcoholic, help!

Growing up in an alcoholic family hurts. But what can you do when your parent has a problem with alcohol? Most people ask this question in the context of how you can help them “get better.” What can you do to fix their problem, because that would solve all the issues right? That may feel especially true when you are young and you live with your parent. But fixing the alcohol problem for someone else is impossible – imagine telling someone who can’t breath that you will start breathing for them.

Take care of yourself first

Taking care of yourself when someone else is suffering sounds terrible and cold – I know. And, if you have not yet received any care and support for yourself it really doesn’t make much sense. The problem seems simple: they drink and if they just stopped drinking the problem would go away. This seems easy enough, but when you don’t have a problem with alcohol it is nearly impossible to understand the self-destructive compulsion that drives someone to drink.

When you start trying to control someone else’s alcoholism you slip into a role where all that you do, all that matters in your life becomes responding to their behavior. An alcoholic 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!

What to do when your parent is alcoholic

So what can you do when you have a parent who has a problem with alcohol? Start by remembering that you are important and that you have every right to be happy, healthy and loved. You just have some extra hurdles you need to get over – here are some practical tips to find resources to support you:

1. Make sure that you are safe.

If you live with a violent alcoholic (physically, mentally or emotionally) talk to an adult who can get you into a safe environment. This can be enormously scary because it 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 the abuse and craziness that comes with alcoholism is worth it! 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 – you deserve it and you need it!

2. Find someone to confide in.

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 Al-Anon or AlaTeen 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 and providing tips, tools and resources for coping. 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 as well as sharing some of the tools others have used in their own process of coping. My new book, ‘Til Now is one of many that shares the experience of growing up in an alcoholic home and learning how to care for myself. 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 alcoholic and it is important to make sure that you are cared for. When you don’t have a parent to care for you because they are lost in their disease 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. Use simple prayer.

Try using the Serenity Prayer when you are getting caught in the chaos of alcoholism: 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!

Alcoholism is a horrible disease: it destroys families, friendships and individuals. Those of us who live or have lived with a parent who is an alcoholic 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!

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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