It can be confusing as a child to live with an alcoholic parent. Their drinking can affect their behavior, their health, and their thinking. They can have mood swings and be very different people depending on the time of day. For a child living with an alcoholic parent, they know all too well how uneasy life can be inside of the home. It is common for many children to want to help their alcoholic parent, but it is often unclear just how to do so.
What Does Alcoholism Look Like?
If you find that your parent drinks too much and is a different person afterwards, your parent might be an alcoholic. If it seems that once they start drinking, they can’t stop, or that they have to drink to feel normal, they are probably an alcoholic. But for children of alcoholics, descriptions of an alcoholic aren’t needed, because it’s obvious.
Alcoholism can affect anyone of any race or social standing, and it isn’t entirely proven just where it comes from. Some research shows that alcoholism is genetic, and some people are predisposed to the disease, whereas sometimes there is one black sheep alcoholic in a whole family. The disease remains a mystery. The only thing that is certain is the destruction that it leaves among the families and loved ones of sufferers.
Helping your Parents at any Age
The most important thing to remember is that alcoholism is no one’s fault. It has nothing to do with what kind of child you were or how you behaved or what grades you get. It is a disease of the mind and can get worse over time depending on if the person receives help or not.
The most troubling aspect of dealing with an alcoholic parent is really that there is not much you can do to help them. We can really only come to terms with the disease of alcoholism and learn how to cope with our parent and their behavior. There are ways to connect with your alcoholic parent on a day to day basis that can sometimes be helpful in moving towards potential sobriety for them, but understand that it will be based on their willingness to make a change rather than the effort you put into it.
- Talk to your parent while they are sober – while there is no guarantee that your words will be able to create a massive change in their behavior, having a calm and honest discussion with your parent during a moment of clarity can be helpful. Talking about your feelings only, rather than their actions, will create a forum for them to potentially open up to you and to also see how they are affecting you.
- Avoid arguing with a drunk parent – this one can be tricky sometimes as it seems that arguments can arise out of nowhere. However, for many people who suffer from alcoholism, they experience frequent blackouts and cannot control their emotions and actions while intoxicated. Arguing with a drunk parent will just lead to hurt feelings and resentments on your part.
- Stick to your word, even if they don’t – parents as a whole, are supposed to be the caregivers. However, when a parent is an alcoholic, the roles tend to become reversed and the child can often be the one picking up the slack. If you find that you are the one paying the bills or loaning your parent money to get drunk, stop, and mean it. While they are sober, let them know you aren’t going to enable their habit anymore and stick to your guns. If you go back on your decision, your parent will know they can manipulate you again in the future.
- If things get too crazy, get out – There is nothing wrong with separating yourself from the situation if your safety and well-being are on the line. If you have younger siblings, find a relative close by or an understanding family friend. Your absence could be a huge sign to your alcoholic parent that their behavior will not be tolerated.
The most important thing to remember when helping an alcoholic parent is that none of it is your fault. Sometimes, when they are drunk they might make us feel like we are the problem, but that is only a defense mechanism that alcoholics use to diffuse the blame from them. It is common for addicts and alcoholics to displace their own issues onto someone else as it is very common for these people to not even see the severity of their problem.
Never let an alcoholic parent make you feel like you have to follow their route. It is far too common for the children of alcoholics to pick up drinking themselves as a coping mechanism, despite the negative consequences they saw their parents go through. Again, this is why many people believe that alcoholism is a genetic predisposition, so if possible, try to abstain from alcohol on any level to safeguard your own future.
In the end, it will be up to them to turn their life around and get sober. The hardest part about alcoholism is that most people will continue until they hit rock bottom, and sometimes that means losing their loved ones in the process. A huge key to helping your alcoholic parent is to never enable them.
One simple mantra to tell yourself on the day to day when dealing with an alcoholic parent is; Take it as it comes, never take it personally, and accept them as they are. You can choose to engage or you can just as well choose to detach. If you think you have done all you can, you can leave. Never be afraid to protect yourself, and never feel that you have to be the sole companion. You have your own life to lead that does not need to be reliant upon the condition of your parent.
Getting Help at Wayside House
If you are a woman struggling with addiction and mental health issues, Wayside House can help. We offer a women-only program and provide a safe, supportive environment to recover in. We have outstanding treatments and therapies that are often only found in more expensive programs. We offer inpatient rehab with various therapies, relapse prevention education, outpatient, and aftercare, as well as programs for medical professionals and veterans. Contact Wayside House at 800-655-0817 to learn more.