Alcoholism affects the entire family. No matter how old you are, it is very difficult to deal with an alcoholic parent. It rarely gets easier, even as an adult.
First, know you’re not alone. Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in the U.S. by far and plagues more than 17 million Americans each year. Unfortunately, alcoholism also can have a crippling impact on the sufferer’s loved ones, especially their children.
What are common signs of addiction?
First, keep in mind that alcohol abuse is different from addiction. While abuse often leads to addiction, they aren’t the same thing. True addiction comes with physical withdrawals from the substance, while someone who abuses alcohol drinks more often than they should. Here are some common signs of alcohol addiction:
- Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol they drink
- Blackouts/memory loss
- Mood swings and irritability
- Making excuses for drinking or other bad behavior
- Trouble at school or work
- Skipping out on obligations in favor of drinking
- Hiding alcohol or keeping it in unlikely places
- Problems with friends, family or finances due to drinking
- Changes in appearance or social circle
Here are 5 ways to cope with, and tips for how to talk to an alcoholic parent.
Talk to them when they’re sober
If you’d like to make a case for them to seek help, do it while they’re sober. While you are not responsible for anyone else’s actions, including your parent’s, you can let them know that you’re concerned for their well-being. Above all, avoid arguing with them when they’re drunk. People often say things they don’t mean while under the influence of alcohol. Your parent may not even remember the words that will no doubt leave a lasting mark on you. If an argument begins to arise, remove yourself from the situation.
Remember that you’re not to blame for the family tension
As much as we would like to, we can’t fix anyone else’s drinking problem for them. Alcoholism puts a strain on family relationships. It may be difficult, but try to remember that you cannot change your parent’s behavior. As long as you are courteous and respectful, you are holding up your end of the relationship. Also, avoid enabling their behavior to keep the peace. It may seem to work in the short run, but will only cause more long-term damage.
It’s not uncommon for alcoholics to abuse personal boundaries with those closest to them, especially their children. They may constantly ask you for money or ask you to lie on their behalf, for example. Set guardrails around behavior you will not condone, for example, let them know that you can no longer loan them money in the future. You can also say that you’re not comfortable lying for them. It may seem tough, but remember that you’re actually doing them a favor by not enabling their addiction.
You can also avoid spending time with them when they are drinking or belligerent, especially if you have children. It’s important that you take steps to ensure that you and your family feel safe.
Take care of yourself
It’s important to prioritize your own health when dealing with an alcoholic parent. Many children of alcoholics struggle with blaming themselves, even as adults. Remember, you are not responsible for anyone else’s actions. You can only control your own behavior. Make sure that you are emotionally equipped to deal with stressful family situations by getting enough sleep, eating nutritious foods, and staying physically active. A journal or a therapist can help make sure you process these difficult emotions in a healthy way.
These steps are the key to ensuring that you break the cycle of addiction in your family. Of course, not every child of an alcoholic becomes an addict themselves (not by far), but you should be aware of triggers, and take extra steps to learn how to work through difficult emotions.
Don’t be afraid to seek help
If you suspect your loved one has a substance abuse problem or addiction, please reach out for help. Our counselors at United Recovery Project are waiting and are ready to help you. Alcoholism is a disease, but with the right treatment, it can be cured. No matter how long your parent has had a drinking problem, or how old they are, help is out there!