How To Help a Parent Who Struggles With Alcohol
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If you have a parent whose drinking troubles you, you may wonder what to do. Maybe you’re concerned about how to help an alcoholic parent, or what you can say to your parent to make them stop drinking
If you’re worried about your parent’s drinking, know that you’re not alone. Many people, both children and adults, have concerns about their parent’s drinking habits.
Whether you’re ready to talk to your parents about their drinking, or just want to learn more about how you can support a parent with alcohol addiction, this article has helpful information for you.
Concerned about a different family member? Check out our resources for loved ones.
Table of Contents
Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder
Before we dive into how to talk to an alcoholic parent, it might be helpful for you to understand more about alcohol addiction and alcohol use disorder, or AUD. Your parents don’t need to have a diagnosis of AUD for you to be concerned with their drinking. Still, knowing more about AUD and the biology of addiction can help you better understand why it might be challenging for your mother or father to stop drinking.
AUD is a medical condition that makes it incredibly challenging for someone to control or limit their drinking, despite many negative consequences they might experience.1 AUD is largely considered by experts to be a brain disorder, meaning that it impacts the brain’s ability to control impulses and re-wires the addiction centers of the brain.
When someone has AUD, recovery isn’t as simple as “just stopping” their drinking. Fortunately, there are many effective treatment options that can help someone manage AUD, which we’ll discuss more below.
How to Talk To An Alcoholic Parent
You’ve decided that you want to talk to your mom or dad about their drinking—but where do you start? Consider some of the suggestions below:
Ask For Support
Before you actually broach this topic with your mom or dad, it’s important for you to ask for any support you might need from loved ones or family members. This is especially important if you are a child or teenager, or if you still live at home with your parents and might run the risk of facing negative consequences for bringing up this topic.
If you are still a minor or young adult, seek out the support of a trusted adult before you talk to your parents about their drinking. Is there an aunt, uncle, grandparent, neighbor, or family friend who you feel comfortable going to? Consider getting support from that person before talking to your parents. And if it would make you more comfortable, ask them to be there with you during the conversation.
Use “I” Statements
“I” is a powerful word when having difficult conversations. “I” statements are phrases where you focus on your own experiences, thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc, rather than on the other person. “I” statements are beneficial because they help keep the focus of the conversation on how your parent’s drinking impacts you and avoids blaming and shaming your parents.
For example, instead of saying something like, “you drink so much that it’s embarrassing,” you can say something like, “I feel sad that I don’t get to spend time with you sober.”
Know Your Limits
Sometimes, challenging conversations are best had in small doses. You might get to a place where you feel very worked up and activated in this conversation, to the point that your fight or flight response gets triggered.2 Once that happens, you’re unlikely to be able to have a productive conversation, and you should take a break.
How To Get Your Parents to Stop Drinking
If you’re wondering how to get your mom to stop drinking, or how to get your dad to stop drinking, there are a lot of things you can do—but ultimately you cannot make them stop drinking. Recognizing where your control begins and ends is an important part of taking care of yourself while in relationship with your parents.
If you want to encourage your mom or dad to reconsider their relationship with alcohol, here are some things you can try that are within your scope of control:
Offer your support to your parents by letting them know that you’re there for them and can provide support if they need it. This can be challenging both for your parents and for you as their child, as it can be a kind of reversal of the parent-child relationship.
Only offer support in ways that feel comfortable for you—like offering to remove alcohol from the home, or connecting your mom or dad to a support group.
Another way to help your parents to stop drinking is by sharing resources for them. When someone is struggling to control their drinking behavior, they might feel like they’re completely alone in their struggle, or that there’s no hope for things to ever be different.
By connecting your parents to resources like Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery, or Ria Health’s evidence-based alcohol treatment program, you can help your parents take the first steps they need towards recovery.
Take Care of Yourself
Regardless of whether you’re an adult with a family of your own, or you’re a child or teen who still lives at home, having a parent with alcohol addiction can be incredibly challenging. One of the most important ways that you can support your parents and family is by taking care of yourself.
Set boundaries if you need to, including boundaries about whether you will spend time with your parents when they are drinking. You might also consider seeking out individual therapy or other support to process how your parent’s drinking has impacted you.
Finding Treatment Options That Work For Your Parents
If your mom or dad is ready to get control of their drinking, finding a treatment option that works for them is the most important step. Some treatment options that your mom or dad might consider include medication, support groups, or structured rehab programs.
Ria Health can be a helpful option to consider, as we’ve combined many of these treatment options into one program. Our evidence-based treatment approach gives members access to medications, online coaching, digital tools to track their progress, and more. Learn more about our program and if it might be a good fit for your parents, or help them get started with us today.
Dr. Chelsea Hetherington (she/her) is a developmental psychologist, writer, coach, and consultant. She helps therapists, coaches, and other businesses in the mental health space connect with their audiences and attract their dream clients through educational content writing. Her writing bridges the gap between research and practice by making complex mental health and personal development topics more accessible and easy to understand. You can find more of her writing at www.mindfultype.co