Coping With an Alcoholic Parent — by Mendi Baron, LCSW

Mental health concept. Addictions - Alcoholism.

Breaking the Cycle

If your mom or dad is an alcoholic, you already know how difficult that is to explain to anyone else. You wonder why your parent can’t be normal. Why can’t they show up to every game or school event? When they do show up, you worry that they’ll embarrass you – none of your friend’s parents slur their words or get loud and argumentative. You think you’re the only one. Every other kid goes home to a cleaner house with dinner on the table, rather than the weird chaos that always surrounds your family.

The truth is that no one’s life is “normal.” Everyone has oddities in their family they worry about. Everyone has problems. But that knowledge doesn’t do a lot of good when you feel like no one understands you. In fact, you often feel like your parent’s alcoholism makes them, and you, not as good as anyone else. These are hard feelings to get past. And they’re not true. The feelings of “less than” are negative self-talk that just don’t hold true in reality. They’re also the same kind of negative self-image that goes hand in hand with addiction.

Comprehension: It’s Not Just Something They Measure On Standardized Tests

Understanding your parent’s addiction can be your strongest asset – it will help you to remove the guilt and negative self-talk. It can also help you avoid walking in their path.

Alcohol addiction takes many forms. A lot of people don’t admit they have a problem and, even when they do, they may not be able to fix the issue. For you, the solution may seem easy – just stop drinking! Your emotions on this might range from fear and embarrassment to complete rage. And you have every right to feel how you feel. A parent is supposed to put your needs before their own and alcoholics usually can’t. Their need to drink often looks like selfishness. You learn not to count on them and go without because they didn’t take care of things most parents would.

While your feelings are all valid, what you need to understand is that an alcoholic doesn’t love any less than someone who isn’t dependent. Their inability to do what you need doesn’t say anything negative about you. They love you in the best way they can and their lack of showing they care doesn’t make you unworthy of love.

They may be so dependent that they literally can’t stop drinking because their body needs the alcohol. If they’re severely addicted, quitting will lead to physical withdrawal that can be dangerous. Some alcoholics have mood swings or temper problems while drinking. They also might be moody when they’re trying not to drink. Many alcoholics also suffer from other problems, such as depression – these dual situations can be very difficult for the addict and their family because the mental issues increase the alcoholism symptoms and the substances increase the symptoms of depression making a very dark cycle to withstand.

You’re Not Bob The Builder – You Can’t Fix This

“Can we fix it?” No, you can’t. Most children of alcoholics wonder how they can fix the situation. How do you get them to quit drinking? How do you get them to be happy without the alcohol? The short answer is that you can’t. No one can make an alcoholic quit drinking. They need to make this decision on their own and forcing an alcoholic to seek treatment will not work unless they are willing to quit.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t talk with them about the issue. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t seek guidance from people who can help. What it means is that you cannot take responsibility for their decisions. You can’t feel guilty because you didn’t get them enough help or make them quit. Those things are largely out of your control.

From Coping to Hoping

So, what can you do to cope? What can you do to make your life hopeful, even though your parent’s life might be spiraling out of control? While you can’t control what other people do, you can take control over your own decisions and your reactions to your parent’s issues. Here are some methods you can use to help you cope with your parent’s addiction.

1. Talk to someone. It’s important that you have a support system – someone you can trust and be honest with. Whether this person is a friend, family member or teacher at school. Pick a supportive person who can give you sound advice when things get hard.

2. Join a support group. Alateen is an excellent group for teens and children of alcoholics. Whether or not your parent goes for treatment, you can still join a group that will help you deal with the addiction. Groups such as these will let you talk with other kids your age going through the same issues.

3. Education. Take some time to read and learn about alcoholism. The more you understand about the disease, the more clearly you can deal with its impact on your life and the better prepared you’ll be to avoid suffering from it down the road.

Alcoholism often runs in families. Having a parent who is an alcoholic puts you more at risk for developing the problem. This doesn’t mean that you’re destined to have a drinking problem. What it does mean is that you should become familiar with the triggers and find healthy alternatives to build a better life for yourself.

About the author