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How to Help an Alcoholic Parent?

Read on to learn some common signs of alcoholism and how you can help your alcoholic parent or loved one.

Is My Parent an Alcoholic?

Alcoholism, alcohol abuse, and alcohol use disorders (AUDs) kill more than three million people annually, representing roughly 6% of worldwide mortality.[1]

Growing up with an alcoholic parent is painful and can affect your mental wellbeing, increasing the probability of you abusing alcohol or other drugs yourself. Your support might be the most significant component in helping your parent or parents quit alcoholism. If you suspect your parent has an alcohol use problem, there are some signs and signals to watch for; we'll discuss them later.

Understanding Alcoholism

Moderate alcohol usage, meaning not more than two drinks per day for males and not more than one for women and elderly persons, is safe for most individuals. A "drink" in this statement means twelve ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or two ounces of a spirit.

Moderate consumption sits between alcohol abuse and dependency. Alcoholism, or alcohol dependency, is the loss of alcohol control.

Is Having an Alcoholic Parent Normal?

While drug misuse and alcoholism are common, it doesn't imply that dealing with the effects of having an alcoholic parent aren’t harmful. AUD-affected families should discuss treatment alternatives for their loved ones.

Children with an alcoholic parent are at a higher risk for cognitive, psychological, and behavioral issues than their peers. Due to hereditary and environmental variables, they are more prone to drug and alcohol issues themselves. A parent with an AUD is also more prone to potentially neglect their children, aggravating the mental condition and drug misuse predispositions.

What's It Like to Live With an Alcoholic Parent?

A child raised in a family with an alcoholic parent may have conflicting feelings that need careful handling. Many children cannot ask their parents for help to know what to do, intensifying their confusion or uncertainty. Some of these thoughts and emotions can include:[2]

  • Guilt
  • Anxiety
  • Embarrassment
  • Inability to form bonds
  • Confusion
  • Anger
  • Depression

Common Signs of an Alcoholic Parent

An alcoholic parent exhibits distinct characteristics and behaviors, both when under the influence and while sober. However, these signs and symptoms aren't unique to alcoholism, and some of these signs can be due to a parent’s personality or certain mental health disorders. 

Binge Drinking

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as drinking enough alcohol to create a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or greater. This tendency of alcohol intake equates to drinking five drinks (for males) or 4 drinks (for females) in less than two hours.[3]

Physical Signs

Physical signs of an alcoholic parent vary by individual. However, they generally include:

  • Disregard for personal and environmental hygiene
  • Losing or gaining weight
  • Red cheeks and nose
  • Abscesses (recurring infections and sores)
  • Legs and hands tingling
  • General unsteadiness
  • Blunt injuries
  • Liver issues, like cirrhosis
  • Jaundiced skin

Behavioral Signs

While it is generally acceptable and safe to consume alcohol in social settings, getting dependent on alcohol over a prolonged period can be dangerous. Behavioral symptoms include:

  • Risk-taking
  • Aggressiveness
  • Having unsafe sex
  • Rash, reckless driving
  • Drinking while alone
  • Consuming before socializing to deal with anxiety-inducing circumstances
  • Denial
  • Secretiveness
  • Avoiding friends and relatives who don't drink
  • Not enjoying old hobbies
  • Problems at home, workplace, or school
  • Drinking at unexpected hours, such as early mornings

Common Withdrawal Symptoms

If one stops drinking alcohol abruptly, the body may undergo the withdrawal phase, which is often characterized by excessive tremors, sweating, memory loss, nausea, unsteadiness, and vomiting.

The most severe type of alcohol withdrawal is delirium tremens. Delirium tremens signs of an alcoholic parent include confusion, hallucinations, and convulsions.

How Does an Alcoholic Parent Affect a Child?

Children with alcoholic parents may experience persistent tension and stress.

Psychological and Emotional Effects

The following are possible signs that an alcoholic parent is causing harm to their young child.

  • Nightmares
  • Bedwetting
  • Crying or abnormal distress
  • Separation phobia 

Impact on Older Children

Older children of parents with an AUD may exhibit:

  • Anxiety
  • Apathy, hopelessness, and excessive guilt
  • Social isolation and withdrawal
  •  Perfectionism
  • Extreme self-consciousness

Interpersonal Effects

Children of alcoholic parents may demonstrate unstable attachments with acquaintances, colleagues, intimate partners, close relatives and friends, and even their own kids. The interpersonal effects of having an alcoholic parent may include: 

  • Avoiding contact or intimacy
  • Difficulty or inability to disclose intimate emotions and ideas
  • Emotional distance from others
  • Poor empathy
  • Emotional neediness
  • Unwilling to accept uncertainty or environmental change
  • Pervasive feelings of nervousness, fear, and insecurity
  • A sense of helplessness
  • Extreme feelings of guilt
  • Controlling tendencies towards others
  • Overly blaming others

These effects of having an alcoholic parent can prevent one from building meaningful connections. Children with alcoholic parents often lack social skills and find it hard to show sorrow or regret. They might also have detrimental cause-and-effect thinking.

Biological Impact

In addition, the effects of an alcoholic parent on a child might cause changes in how the child’s brain works, along with how the body responds to and controls stress.  

How to Help an Alcoholic Parent

The best approach to helping an alcoholic parent is to urge them to get treatment. Remember some of these tips while conversing with them.

Show That You’re Concerned

Focus on your concerns for your loved one's alcoholism. Use "I" phrases to explain how your loved one's drinking affects you.

Mention Specific Instances or Events

When discussing the past, avoid generalizations. Mention anything particular about their state that worries you. "I worry about how much you drink after work," for example.

Avoiding Using Negative Language

Maintain a positive attitude and steer clear of labels such as "alcoholic" or "addict" wherever possible.

Be positive, helpful, and respectful. Do not become irritated if your alcoholic parent gets defensive or potentially storms off. Let your alcoholic parent know you're there for them.

Set Boundaries

Demonstrate your willingness to assist your parent. Inform your alcoholic parent that you won't lean into their habit, and stick to whatever limits you set.

Seek Other Assistance

Intervene where necessary. A conversation is not an intervention. Intervention often includes planning, sharing, consequences, and treatment options.

An intervention may be essential if you're coping with an alcoholic parent who has rejected your help. Ask your friends, family, workplace, religious, and other community leaders for assistance. Intervention support can as well come from qualified counselors.

Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcoholic Parent

There are several methods by which you can help your parent in order for them to have a healthy and happy life.

The treatment for AUDs might occur either in an inpatient or an outpatient environment. Whatever the scenario, the process typically involves detox. This happens under medical supervision, where authorized medicines relieve withdrawal symptoms during the rehab program. Detoxification is the body's process while ridding itself of addictive drugs and substances.

Alcohol Withdrawal Medications

In many circumstances, alcohol withdrawal also involves medication to treat physical symptoms, while counseling and support groups assist limit drinking behaviors. Your physicians could prescribe certain medications in addition to counseling and support groups, such as:[4]

  • Acamprosate (Campral®)
  • Disulfiram (Antabuse®)
  • Naltrexone (Vivitrol®, Revia®)
  • Topiramate (Trokendi, Topamax, and Qudexy) 

Behavioral Therapies

Mental health specialists also concentrate on changing habits that feed the substance abuse disorder. Some AUD behavioral treatments include:

  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy is characterized by individual sessions between the client and the therapist. During these sessions, a patient talks about the things that bother them and the experiences they've had. Sessions with a therapist in a group or with the whole family are also options.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT focuses on recognizing negative thoughts and actions and replacing them with good ones.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): DBT posits that everything is interconnected and that the entire universe is constantly evolving. DBT enables patients to embrace change and achieve emotional equilibrium. The dialectical method was developed to help patients combine change with acceptance (and forgiveness) of the past to live better.

Family Counseling

Family treatment for alcoholism incorporates psychotherapy and clinical social work techniques to help families and couples overcome their AUDs. Family therapy places a strong focus on the need to treat AUDs as a whole family. It aids in mending strained family ties and teaches everyone in the home how to support a loved one battling alcoholism.

Support Groups

Supportive communities are those in which members freely share their experiences with alcoholism. A support group helps members feel connected, valued, and responsible for sobriety. There's quite a bit of evidence to support the efficacy of these groups in assisting individuals to maintain long-term sobriety. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the most recognized AUD support organization, but there are other 12-step initiatives for varying disorders as well.

Get Help for Alcoholism at Genesis Recovery

With so many therapeutic alternatives, there's hope for anybody with an AUD. Take action right now and get in touch with Genesis Recovery if you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to alcohol or drugs. Contact us to find out more about the available rehabilitation options.


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