Last Updated on April 22, 2021
Alcoholism is sometimes called a “family disease” because it significantly impacts not just the individual, but their entire family. Children of alcoholics often struggle with fear, shame, grief, blame, and feelings of anxiety about their parent’s health. If your dad abuses alcohol, you may wonder: How do I deal with an alcoholic dad? How can I help my dad stop drinking?
It’s a challenging position to be in, but we have plenty of tips to share on how to talk to your dad about his drinking, the treatment options you can suggest, and how to take care of yourself in the process. And just as families share in the heartbreak of active alcoholism, they also share in the hope and joy when their loved ones recover.
Understand Alcohol Use Disorder
The most important tip for anyone who loves an alcoholic is this: Remember that their drinking is not your fault or your responsibility. No matter how well you approach the situation with your dad, the decision to get help and stick with it belongs to him.
You can’t blame yourself for your dad’s problem drinking, but try not to place blame on your dad either. It helps to understand alcohol use disorder1 (AUD), so you can see that he is suffering from a disease—not trying to hurt you or the rest of your family.
AUD is a chronic disease with defined symptoms that impacts more than 14 million adults in the United States. It causes changes in the brain that worsen the disease’s symptoms, and make it harder to stop drinking. Fortunately, evidence-based treatments can help even people with severe AUD achieve and maintain recovery.
How to Start a Conversation About Alcohol
Starting a conversation about alcohol use is always tough, and it feels especially difficult when you want to discuss your concerns with an alcoholic parent.
You can help the conversation go smoothly by taking the following steps:
- Plan what you want to say in advance.
- Choose a time when your dad is sober and has enough time to talk without feeling rushed.
- Make sure you are feeling calm as you approach the conversation.
- Use “I” statements instead of “You” statements2 (e.g., “I feel worried about how much you drink,” instead of, “You drink way too much”).
When you’re ready to talk to your dad, make sure you frame your statements with empathy and concern. If you sound like you’re attacking or blaming, your dad is less likely to receive what you’re saying with an open mind. Be honest, and stick to simple facts about how your dad’s drinking is affecting you and why you’re worried.
If your dad agrees to change his relationship with alcohol, finding the right treatment option is the next step. These options include:
- Inpatient rehab
- Outpatient rehab
There is no “right” treatment or “best” treatment, since different people respond differently to the various treatment types. You’ll need to consider which option is the right fit for your dad.
Rehab typically relies on the traditional abstinence-only approach. This means people in rehab are expected to give up alcohol completely. Sometimes, this is the best option for alcoholics who have a severe physical dependence on alcohol, or who are experiencing illnesses related to drinking.
On the other hand, some people feel too restricted or intimidated by this approach. After one mistake, they may feel hopeless and ashamed, spiraling into a full-blown relapse.
Another option is moderation. People who drink in moderation cut back on their drinking without stopping entirely. They learn to control their relationship with alcohol, generally through a combination of anti-craving medication and some form of counseling. One of the most successful versions of this approach is the Sinclair Method, which boasts a 78 percent long-term success rate.
If your dad feels like traditional rehab is too expensive or would disrupt his life, you can also suggest telemedicine. This more modern, online solution is often more affordable, and lets people access tools like medication, recovery coaching, and support groups from an app on their phone. These programs also tend to support moderation as an option.
With the wealth of choices currently available to help people like your dad cut back or stop drinking alcohol, you’re likely to find one that’s a good fit.
Continue Providing Support
Recovery is an ongoing journey, often with bumps along the road. Alcoholics in recovery need ongoing encouragement and support from loved ones. Here’s how you can support your dad during recovery:
- Continue learning about AUD, possibly by joining support groups (in person or virtually) for friends and families of alcoholics.
- Understand that he will need patience, and sometimes time and space, as he focuses on his recovery.
- Find alcohol-free activities the two of you can enjoy together.
- Don’t bring up past conflicts or issues related to his drinking. If you need to vent, turn to trusted friends, a support group, a professional, or writing in a journal.
- When you notice progress and positive changes, point them out and continue encouraging your dad.
- Let your dad know you’re available to talk if he needs you. At the same time, make sure you have plenty of your own support too.
Take Good Care of Yourself
When your dad is an alcoholic, it can have a huge impact on you mentally and emotionally. In your efforts to support your dad, make sure you don’t neglect your own self-care. Not only are your own needs intrinsically important, you’ll also do a much better job supporting your dad if you’re in good shape.
Try the following self-care suggestions:
- Stay in touch with your support system—including friends and family members, support groups, or online communities for children of alcoholics.
- Spend time outdoors, engage in activities you find relaxing and enjoyable, and invest in the other relationships and hobbies you value.
- Exercise and eat nutritious meals.
- Get plenty of restful sleep.
While your dad’s AUD and recovery is beyond your control, you do have the power to prioritize your own health and happiness.
How Ria Health Can Help
If your dad is ready to change his relationship with alcohol, Ria Health offers a modern, evidence-based approach that can help. Our solution is affordable and convenient, and is accessible through a smartphone app.
Whether your dad wants to cut back or quit, we’ll provide medication, tracking tools, recovery coaching, online support groups, and more. We also offer support for loved ones like you through our app.