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Helping a Parent With Alcohol Abuse: How to Do It Effectively

More than 17 million adults in the United States would most likely qualify for a diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder (alcohol abuse or addiction to alcohol), according to data provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

When a parent displays the signs of an alcohol use disorder, the situation can be extremely stressful. While only a licensed health care professional can formally make the diagnosis, there are some things adult children can do to help their parent.

Get Educated

There are many myths surrounding alcohol abuse. Your mom or dad might tell you that their use of alcohol is normal for them, and you may have grown up in an environment where alcohol abuse was just a way of life. It’s helpful for you to learn the signs of alcohol abuse so that you can recognize if a problem exists.

Many national organizations are dedicated to studying alcohol abuse and its effects. You can learn more about problem drinking from these sources:

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

Signs a Parent Needs Help

Several signs may indicate that your parent may be experiencing issues with alcohol use and may need to seek professional help. Among them are:

  • Your parent expresses a desire or need to cut down on drinking but never actually does.
  • Your mom or dad often appears annoyed when someone mentions that they may be drinking too much.
  • Your parent feels guilty about their drinking from time to time. Despite regrets, they continue the behavior.
  • They may drink early in the morning to steady their nerves.
  • They drink to address symptoms of a hangover.

Very often, people who struggle with abuse of alcohol may hide how much alcohol they actually use, may not be truthful with themselves or others about their use of alcohol, or even outright deny that they have a problem. This can be even truer when it’s a parent trying to hide their drinking from their child.

If you think your parent has a drinking problem, it requires a bit of a role reversal to discuss the issue. Your mom or dad may become very defensive because they are accustomed to being in the authority position with you. They may feel strange that you are essentially parenting them in this situation. Expect some initial pushback when you approach them about their drinking.

Assessing ‘Normal’ Behavior

One of the biggest mistakes is resigning yourself to the idea that your parent’s alcohol abuse is “normal for them.” Substance abuse is not a normal situation for anyone, and whenever the affected person or people close to them assume this attitude, they are simply enabling that person’s self-destructive behavior.

It is important to remember that substance use disorders represent severe manifestations of psychiatric disorders that can be treated if the person simply remains in treatment for a sufficient length of time. Individuals do not have to voluntarily get into treatment, but at some point, they do have to recognize their problem and be willing to participate in treatment.

If you accept your parent’s drinking as normal or acceptable, they may never be motivated to get the help they need. Though it can be scary to step outside the status quo and recognize alcohol abuse for what it is, it could be the first step to your mom or dad getting well.

Consider an Intervention 

Since discussing the issue is difficult and the dynamic of the child/parent relationship complicates an already tough discussion, a formal intervention might be the best choice.

If the parent is struggling with alcohol abuse and not able to see the effect their drinking has on their children and others, they may not actually realize their drinking is a problem. Very often, those with serious alcohol abuse issues fear being stereotyped or judged.

In a substance use disorder intervention, several concerned relatives and friends can sit down with the person and discuss the issue with them. The intervention should be timed appropriately so that your parent is not intoxicated when they are approached.

Including an addiction treatment specialist or professional interventionist in the intervention can be very wise. NIAAA reports that a family intervention (a group intervention that is composed of family members) is often the turning point for many parents. For more information about interventions, visit the Association of Intervention Specialists.

The intervention is an opportunity for you to tell your mom or dad how their alcohol abuse is hurting you. The interventionist will help structure what you say so that it can have the maximum positive effect. The ultimate goal is to express your love and support for your mom or dad and show them how life can improve if they seek help.

Once your parent has committed to getting involved in a treatment program, remain involved. People who are in recovery for substance use disorders need support from family and friends, and their children are integral to this.

Some treatment programs offer opportunities for family members to participate in the recovery process with their loved one. Sometimes this comes in the form of family therapy, and other times, it involves visitation hours and family days.

Get Support

Children of individuals with substance use disorders need assistance themselves to deal with the stress of their parent’s addiction. Therapy also can help you understand how to communicate with your mom or dad now that they are in recovery.

Relatives of individuals with alcohol use disorders have plenty of support if they are willing to seek it out. Organizations like Al-Anon, AA, or Co-Dependents Anonymous can be very helpful.

The use of family therapy in the treatment of substance use disorders is extremely successful in bringing together family members. Family therapy can help to repair damaged relationships and improve communication, laying the foundation for a better relationship going forward.

Sources

(October 2018). National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHDetailedTabs2017/NSDUHDetailedTabs2017.pdf

National Institute on Drug Abuse. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. from https://www.samhsa.gov/

Alcoholics Anonymous. from https://www.aa.org/

(2019). Learn About interventions. The Association of Intervention Specialists. from https://www.associationofinterventionspecialists.org/

Al-Anon. from https://al-anon.org/

Co-Dependants Anonymous. from http://coda.org/

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