Last Updated on June 4, 2021
It can be hard to know what to do to help an alcoholic parent, especially if the problem has been going on for some time. It may be especially difficult if this problem contributed to childhood trauma, and if you have past experience trying to help them stop drinking without success.
Change is always possible, however. The most important things to keep in mind are that their drinking isn’t your fault, and that your parent needs to be ready to change of their own accord. Your parent is suffering from a disease, and it’s ultimately their responsibility to seek treatment and recover. But with that in mind, here are some tips for helping an alcoholic parent.
1. Talk to Your Parent About Their Alcohol Use
It can be difficult to navigate this conversation, but addressing the problem is an important place to start. In some households with elderly alcoholic parents, the family never acknowledges the problem, even though everyone knows it’s happening. In other cases, you may have had this conversation many times, but often wound up in an argument.
Begin by approaching the conversation in a nonjudgmental way, using “I'” rather than “you” statements1. Make it clear that you want to help your parent, not punish them. Ask what kind of support they need to reduce their drinking. Be prepared to listen, and accept any outcome.
2. Offer Support and Options
Make it clear that you care about them, and are there to support them if they are ready to make a change. Alcoholic parents are often aware of the damage they’ve caused their children, and may struggle with guilt. While they may have hurt you, let them know you’re still there for them.
While it’s important not to shoulder too much of the burden of your parent’s recovery process—it’s their journey—you can offer to research treatment options, or be there to listen when they need to talk. Let them know they don’t need to go through the process alone. If they are ready, help them get started.
3. Help Your Parent Find Healthy Alternatives to Drinking
If your parent is ready to make a change, one way to be supportive is to help them find activities they like that don’t involve alcohol. This can be a great way to distract them from drinking triggers and urges, and also help them move towards a more fulfilling sober life.
For example, you may want to invite your parent to exercise with you, or help them find groups or classes related to their interests. Chat with them and help them brainstorm about new hobbies.
Even just spending time with your parent can help. Suggest going out to places that don’t serve alcohol together, like museums, libraries, plays, movies, or simply going to the park.
4. Practice Self-Care
No matter how invested you may be in your parent’s recovery or well-being, remember to take care of your own needs. It can be emotionally exhausting supporting someone who is quitting alcohol, and it’s important to set aside some time to look after yourself.
Take a warm bath, spend some time listening to music you find relaxing, join a yoga or meditation class, or start a morning jogging ritual. Anything that helps replenish you will actually make you better at supporting your parent. And regardless of the outcome of your parent’s journey, your well-being is essential.
How Ria Can Help
We can’t convince someone’s alcoholic parent to change, but if your parent is ready to cut back or quit drinking we can make the process easier. Our online program can be done 100 percent from the comfort of home, on your parent’s schedule. They won’t need to turn their life upside down, and they can get coaching support and expert medical advice all from their smartphone.
If your parent is unsure whether their drinking is a problem, encourage them to take our alcohol use survey.