woman talks to her alcoholic parent

How To Help An Alcoholic Parent

Knowing how to deal with an alcoholic parent is vital to the health of your family. You can’t control their behaviors, but establishing healthy boundaries can keep you from burning out or overreacting. In addition, you can help them find treatment—when they are ready to accept help.

Creekside Recovery Residences can help your alcoholic parent when they accept that they need treatment. But, if they are not ready yet, the following tips can help you deal with your parent’s problematic drinking:

8 Tips to Deal With an Alcoholic Parent

It can be tough to deal with an alcoholic parent—even when you are an adult. Oftentimes, unresolved feelings about past behaviors during childhood can get in the way of seeing your parent as a person who struggles.

However, there are ways that you can help your alcoholic parent—or at the very least, accept the situation for what it is without burning yourself out in the process.

#1. Help Yourself

The first and most important step in dealing with any loved one who struggles with problematic behaviors is to help yourself. You’re going to have strong feelings come up when dealing with your parent. These feelings can start to drive your reactions and behaviors when they are unresolved.

Helping yourself can include a lot of things. Sometimes, it’s as simple as walking away for a few minutes to calm down if you’re arguing with your parent. Other times, it’s engaging in self-care activities, like exercise, listening to music, or journaling.

But you might need to go deeper and work with a therapist to resolve any lingering issues with your parent. If your parent has been drinking all of your life, they can help you cope with the long-term effects of growing up with an alcoholic parent.

In addition, support groups like Al-Anon and Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) can help you feel less alone and provide additional tips.

#2. Learn More About Alcoholism

One of the other benefits of the support groups mentioned above is that you will learn more about the disease of alcoholism. This can help you put things into perspective so you see your parent as a person struggling.

You can also attend open meetings for Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Open meetings allow nonalcoholics to observe. Sometimes, hearing about other people’s experiences can provide insight into your parent’s behaviors.

There are also resources online that provide valuable information about alcoholism, including:

#3. Build a Support System

Dealing with an alcoholic parent isn’t easy, but it’s easier when other people support you. Adult children of alcoholics often feel shame about their parent’s behaviors. This can get in the way of talking to other people about what is going on.

However, it is critical that you develop a good support system to prevent yourself from getting burnt out. If you have siblings or a non-drinking parent, reach out to share the responsibility. Also, if your alcoholic parent has siblings, they can offer support for you as well.

Your support system can help you host interventions and encourage your parent to get help. They can also pitch in if you need to take your alcoholic parent to an AA meeting or a rehab program. Some examples could be someone to babysit your children or watch your pets if you need to be with your alcoholic parent.

Other times, you just need someone to talk to. You can talk to a trusted friend about the issues or a sponsor in a support group for families of alcoholics.

#4. Let Go of Guilt and Responsibility

Besides shame, guilt and responsibility over your parent’s drinking can get in the way of helping them. Their drinking is not—and never was—your fault. Taking on guilt and too much responsibility for other people’s behaviors can lead to burnout.

#5. Set Healthy and Respectful Boundaries (Without Enabling)

Healthy and respectful boundaries are important when dealing with an alcoholic parent. On one hand, you want to be firm so you aren’t enabling their behaviors. On the other hand, they are still your parent, and you want them to be a part of your life.

Boundaries are going to look different for everyone. Essentially, you are setting your own expectations and limits while not trying to control another’s behaviors.

Examples of healthy and respectful boundaries with alcoholic parents include:

  • Not allowing any drinking at your home. What they do in their home is their business, but you won’t let it happen under your roof.
  • Avoid them when you know they are most likely to be drinking. For example, if certain dates or holidays trigger your parent’s drinking, then you might not want to contact them at that time. Also, if your parent drinks at a certain time of the day, avoid calling or visiting at that time.
  • No longer paying for fines and legal fees. If you’ve paid for any legal consequences—like DUI or disorderly conduct charges—for your parent’s problematic drinking, you can refuse to do so from now on.
  • Don’t allow your parent to babysit their grandchildren when drunk. This can be tough—you probably don’t want to cut your parent out of your grandchildren’s lives. However, you can set a limit—perhaps they can visit, but can’t be relied on as a sitter.

#6. Don’t Talk to Your Parent When They Are Drunk

As mentioned above, not talking to your parent when they are drunk is an important boundary. However, this point needs to be emphasized. When you find your parent drunk, this is not the time to talk to them about their drinking.

Oftentimes, you want to succumb to knee-jerk reactions when your parent is drinking. You might want to lecture them or confront them about what they are doing in the moment. You might even believe they need to hear it out when the problem behavior occurs or the consequences won’t stick.

Unfortunately, talking to your parent about their behaviors while they are drunk doesn’t help anyone. Maybe it feels good for a fleeting moment to let it out, but it never helps in the long term.

For instance, they will likely say something you don’t want to hear. Conversely, they might agree with you to get help just to get you off their back for now. But, in the end, they probably won’t remember anything you’ve discussed.

#7. Helping Vs. Enabling (What’s the Difference?)

There’s a difference between helping someone with their problematic drinking and enabling their behaviors. Sometimes, what you think is helpful could enable them to continue drinking. In other words, you unintentionally send the message that problem drinking is okay.

It can be difficult to define enabling exactly, but some examples can illustrate the point. For instance, if you bail them out of jail when they get a DUI, you could be enabling. Or, if you make excuses for them when they are unable to fulfill their responsibilities to work or the family due to being drunk or hungover.

Essentially, enabling shields your parent from the consequences of their actions. Helping, however, requires maintaining your boundaries, offering support to help them treat their addiction, or taking care of things for them at home if they go to treatment.

#8. Be Realistic: You Can’t Control Their Drinking

Lastly, remember to be realistic about your expectations when dealing with an alcoholic parent. You can’t control their drinking and related problematic behaviors. You can only control your responses to their drinking.

By letting go of control, you will be more effective and present if your parent is finally ready to get treatment.

Treatment Options for Your Alcoholic Parent

Depending on where your parent is in their addiction or their recovery, there are several treatment options available, including:

  • Alcohol Detox: This is the first step to treating addiction. During detox, your alcoholic parent will get the professional support they need to manage withdrawal symptoms safely.
  • Residential Treatment: After detox, many people go into a residential treatment center, also called inpatient rehab. Many clients stay in residential treatment for 30 to 90 days to build a foundation for long-term recovery.
  • Outpatient Rehab: After residential treatment, it’s best to continue with outpatient treatment. Many treatment centers offer step-down programs so that your parent can transition gradually from higher to lower levels of care.
  • Sober Living Homes: During outpatient treatment, your parent might want to consider a sober living home. That way, they still get support and accountability for their sobriety in the early stages of recovery.
  • Recovery Coaching/Sober Companions: Recovery coaches and sober companions can accompany your parent during the early stages of recovery. They can offer additional support, check-ins, and companionship.
  • Case Management: The role of a case manager is to help their clients obtain additional resources to support their recovery. For example, your parent might need a doctor, legal services, safe housing, or co-occurring mental health treatment.

Get Help for Your Alcoholic Parent Today

If you have to deal with an alcoholic parent, remember that you are not alone. Support groups can help you deal with your own emotions and offer valuable tips about what to do—and what not to do. In addition, it helps to contact addiction treatment centers for more information about their services.

Creekside Recovery Residences is here to help your alcoholic parent when they are ready. Contact us today to learn more.

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