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Living with an alcoholic parent

It’s embarrassing when your parents or carers get drunk from time to time. But if their drinking habits turn into an addiction it’s really not funny at all. Just how do you live with an alcoholic parent?

Girl with alcoholic dad

It's tough, but you can't help them with their addiction

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How do I know my parent or carer is an alcoholic?

It’s not always easy to judge. Some alcoholics leave empty bottles and cans lying around, but others hide the evidence well. Signs to look out for include:

  • Slurring their words
  • Being clumsy
  • Breath smelling of alcohol
  • Sleeping at odd times
  • Problems getting up in the morning, and being grumpy when they do
  • Drinking early in the morning
  • Shaking and sweating
  • Losing interest in their appearance, and yours
  • Spending money on booze rather than food or clothes for you and your siblings
  • Stop cleaning the house or doing laundry
  • Becoming emotional, crying, or having violence outbursts

How will living with an alcoholic make me feel?

You’ll probably feel very muddled. It’s likely you’ll feel ashamed it’s happening in your family, and you may try to hide it. Other common ways it can impact you are:

  • Being bullied at school because you can’t invite your friends over
  • Taking on more responsibilities, such as housework or looking after your siblings
  • Feeling frustrated and like you’re growing up too fast
  • Feeling tired, angry and stressed if your parent’s behaviour is erratic
  • Fearful of the future because you don’t know what your parent might do next, or if they’ll get worse

Is it my fault?

Many children of alcoholics blame themselves. But the first and most important thing to realise is it’s not your fault. Georgina Patrick, a senior mentor for charity Children of Addicted Parents and People (Coap), was brought up by an alcoholic mother. She says children should never feel guilty. “You could be the best behaved child in the word and they’ll still find a reason to drink,” she says.

Alcoholism is often triggered by a negative event in a person’s life. Alcoholics drink because it numbs emotional pain. But the more a person drinks, the more tolerance they develop, so they have to drink even more to have the same numbing effect.

How can I stop my parent being an alcoholic?

You can’t, and you shouldn’t try. As harsh as that sounds, experts with years of treating alcoholics have found the only person that can help an alcoholic is themselves. Alcoholism is like an illness. Once a person is dependent it’s very difficult to stop.

You may be tempted to pour away your parent’s booze, but that won’t solve the problem and could start an argument. If you try and talk to them, they’re likely to deny there’s a problem. Denial often goes hand in hand with addiction.

The best you can do is help yourself. Once you’re feeling more confident, you might be able to talk to your parent and support them.

Talk to a trusted adult

You might think you’re betraying your parent, but it’s really important to find help. Share your feelings with someone you trust, such as a teacher, doctor or school counsellor. You don’t have to tell them everything at first. You could test the water by sharing online, such as in TheSite.org chat rooms.

It’s likely you’ll find someone with a similar experience. About one in five UK children currently live with an adult with risky drinking habits. It will make you feel better to know you’re not alone.

A relative could help, but sometimes family members join in the denial game. “At Coap we see cases where grandparents don’t help grandchildren because they won’t admit their child has a problem,” says Georgina. If this sounds like you, you probably feel isolated. Remember – just because it seems you’re the only one noticing a problem, doesn’t mean you’re wrong.

How can I stay safe?

If your parent gets violent, or isn’t looking after you properly, find a safe place to go. A neighbour or nearby relative could give you some respite when home life gets tough. Running away won’t solve the problem, but if you really don’t want to be at home, tell someone.

Will they ever get better?

Your parent’s habits won’t stop overnight – it could be years before they admit their problem, and recovery is a rocky road. But when you find help, you’ll be able to cope better with what the future brings.

Next Steps

  • Addaction helps people recover from drug and alcohol addictions.
  • Shelter's advice website for young people offers help with housing problems and a free helpline 0808 800 4444. If you're in Scotland, use http://scotland.shelter.org.uk/ instead.
  • Got a worry about relationships? Whatever the question, get free anonymous advice from one of our relationship experts.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Gabriella Jozwiak

Updated on 07-Aug-2014

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