How To Help and Not Enable an Alcoholic Parent

Alcoholism is a disease that doesn’t just affect the drinker; kids, parents, siblings, partners, co-workers, and friends all take on the fallout from an alcoholic’s selfish and dangerous lifestyle. In most cases, next to a significant other, an alcoholic’s children are the ones who are the most affected by their parent’s addiction. According to La County Department of Mental Health’s Website, “many scientific studies, including research conducted among twins and children of alcoholics, have shown that genetic factors influence alcoholism. These findings show that children of alcoholics are about four times more likely than the general population to develop alcohol problems.” (1) The dangers don’t stop there. Since an active alcoholic is emotionally and psychologically out of control, their kids are more prone to develop emotional and behavioral problems. Many of these children have asked themselves how to deal with an alcoholic parent and also how to help an alcoholic parent. Friends might have wondered how to stop enabling an alcoholic. We love these people, despite their addiction, but we can’t allow them to ruin our lives just because they want to ruin theirs, right? So, let’s explore how to help an alcoholic parent, and how to deal with an alcoholic parent.

children of alcoholics

Identifying an Alcoholic Parent

Having a parent with an alcoholic use disorder is a very serious and traumatizing thing. Sometimes, it’s not as easy to determine though if your parent has a problem. Here are some ways signs, provided by American Addiction Centers, to help you determine if you have an alcoholic parent:

  • They drink often or in higher amounts than they intend (i.e they may say they’re going to have one glass of wine with dinner but end up drinking the whole bottle)
  • Being unable to cut down their alcohol use even if they say they want.
  • Spending most of their time drinking or recovering from the effects of alcohol.
  • Feeling strong urges to drink to the point where they can’t think of anything else
  • Experiencing problems at work or home due to their alcohol use
  • Giving up activities they used to enjoy so they can drink(2)

If your parent is experiencing one, two, or a combination of any of the above signs, they are more than likely an alcoholic. A child of an alcoholic will more than likely wonder if there are any ways how to deal with an alcoholic parent, and how to help an alcoholic parent. If you’re a friend who drinks with someone who is exhibiting any of the above signs, it might be hard to determine how to stop enabling an alcoholic, since your friends with them and have had years together. No one wants to possibly push away a parent or a friend. But the fact is, their behavior is already doing that, so you must take some sort of action to prevent yourself from being more of a victim. Thankfully, there are ways how to deal with an alcoholic parent, how to help an alcoholic parent, and tips on how to stop enabling an alcoholic.

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How to Deal with an Alcoholic Parent

Alcoholics are quick to place blame on everybody around them but themselves for their addiction. So, the first tip on how to deal with an alcoholic parent is to understand that you as the child are not to blame for their parent’s addiction. It’s easy to feel like you are the reason they drink, but alcoholism is a disease and a disorder, something that the alcoholic needs to address with a mix of therapy, medical attention, and group meetings. As the child of an alcoholic, it’s important to know you can speak to others about your parent’s behaviors. There are support groups such as Al-Anon and Alateen whose central purpose is to connect those affected by people who have loved ones close to them who are alcoholics. As described on Al-Anon’s website, “Al-Anon members come to understand problem drinking as a family illness that affects everyone in the family. By listening to Al-Anon members speak at Al-Anon meetings, you can hear how they came to understand their own role in this family illness. This insight puts them in a better position to play a positive role in the family’s future.” (3) Keeping your feelings in is a dangerous game to play when you have an alcoholic parent. Joining a group of people who are going through what you are going through will help you feel less alone.

How to Help an Alcoholic Parent

Now that you have some ways how to deal with an alcoholic parent, you are probably wondering how to help an alcoholic parent. One of the most used tools is an intervention, which is when either one or a group of people close to an alcoholic have a direct, non-judgmental, talk with the alcoholic about their behavior. In a safe place, you express your concern with the alcoholic, mention specific instances where their drinking has affected you, and offer solutions, such as having them join AA, seek counseling, or enter a detox or rehabilitation center. It’s not guaranteed that an intervention will work, but more times than not, it is a great first step for many alcoholics in realizing their drinking is getting out of hand. If an intervention works and they wish to get help, another great way how to help an alcoholic parent is to make sure you check in on during their recovery. Letting them feel supported in their sober journey will only encourage them to keep going.

How to Stop Enabling an Alcoholic

If you sometimes drink with a loved one but have noticed their drinking is getting out of hand, it may be hard to figure out how to stop enabling an alcoholic. What many people find in these instances is there are ways how to stop enabling an alcoholic, and ways that may seem like your helping, but actually not. Verywellmind.com describes the sometimes blurred line between enabling and helping: “Anything that you do that protects the alcoholic or addict from the consequences of his or her actions, could be enabling him or her to delay a decision to get help for their problem.”(4) So, apologizing for or trying to downplay an alcoholics actions, taking responsibility for an alcoholic’s behavior, or constantly getting them out of legal ramifications are ways that don’t help an alcoholic, but enable them. Suggesting and aiding recovery efforts, creating boundaries, and allowing them to deal with the consequences of their drinking are how to stop enabling an alcoholic, an help them. An alcoholic will learn best when forced to come face to face with what they have done, and coddling their behavior only makes them feel that they are not doing any harm.

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References:

  1. Family History of Alcoholism: Are You at Risk? – Department of Mental Health (lacounty.gov)
  2. What Are the Effects of an Alcoholic Father on Children? (americanaddictioncenters.org)
  3. How do I help my Alcoholic Family Member or Friend? | Al-Anon Family Groups
  4. How to Stop Enabling an Alcoholic or Addict (verywellmind.com)