How To Help Alcoholic Parents – A Guide

Confrontation can be one of the hardest things to handle in your day to day life. It’s especially hard when it comes to confronting members of your own family. Children of alcoholic parents, at any age, will struggle to know the right way to confront their loved one about their addiction because it is a sensitive issue that can often lead to raised voices and finger-pointing. Here at, we want to help guide you through the common pitfalls and obstacles you may face along with you and your parent’s journey towards sobriety.

Who Does Alcoholism Affect?

Obviously, we know that it affects the person who is being ravaged by the addiction, but it hurts more than themselves; it damages the entire family. Parents might not be able to take care of their children as well as they should be able to. They may pull away from their loved ones, which can sever or damage once-strong relationships. They do this to friends, co-workers, and acquaintances. Alcoholism affects everyone who interacts with the addict.

What you have to understand though is that it’s not your fault. People afflicted by alcohol addiction can be callous and tend to blame others for their dependency. But don’t believe them. Drinking is completely their choice, and it was totally within their own willpower to choose not to. There is only one person who is responsible for the addiction, and that’s the addict. At the same time, you cannot take what they are saying personally; don’t let their alcohol-clouded thoughts cause you to harbor resentment. Realize that what this person really needs is unconditional love and support from you in order to begin confronting their addiction.

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How Do You Know When it’s a Problem?

Sometimes it can be a fine line between addiction and just enjoying a few cocktails or beers after a hard day at work. There are no cut in stone rules to knowing when one’s parent is an alcoholic, but here are a few major clues:

  • If your parent tries to hide their drink or seems ashamed when you see them drinking
  • If they begin drinking when no one else is around
  • If they talk about quitting, or try to quit, and they can not/will not stop
  • If they have changes in behavior or mood swings
  • If the drinking begins to affect daily aspects of their life, such as trouble keeping a job or taking care of their children

If your parent is displaying any of these traits, then you may find yourself in a situation where you should confront your parent about their alcohol use/abuse. Here are some things you need to think about before you sit down and talk with them.

Understand Why They May Be Drinking

There is no one set cause for alcoholism. People drink for different reasons; they may be depressed and feel like something is missing from their life. They may be stressed out, whether from work or from other life events. Whatever it may be, your parent is drinking in order to make that disagreeable reality a little less real. Many drink to forget, or to feel brave, or to feel more confident. Unfortunately, drinking usually turns into a downward spiral that only increases the negative feeling that they were trying to erase. They typically believe that by being intoxicated, they are surrendering responsibility, giving up that negativity that is hovering over their life. But what both of you must realize is that it was their choice to drink and their ultimate responsibility.

Realize When to Confront Them

Under no circumstances should you start this important discussion when your parent is under the influence of alcohol. When they are intoxicated, it will only make the confrontation seem even more like an attack, and they will not be able to focus and discuss logically. Even worse, they may not even remember the conversation the next day. Plan carefully, and make sure you catch them at a sober moment.

Know What to Say To Your Parents

When you do find the courage and that perfect moment to sit down with your parent to discuss their alcohol abuse, make sure it’s at a moment when both of you can devote your full attention to the issue. First of all, let them know that you are doing this because you care about their well-being and want them to get better. Starting off on a positive, loving note, instead of a negative attack, can help set up the right tone and make you less of the “bad guy” in their eyes.

There are a few things that you need to point out to them because they may be unable to see the issues clearly:

  • Inform them how their drinking negatively affects others in their lives
  • Explain the problems that have come from it
  • Ask them why they feel the need to drink
  • Tell them how you feel about their decision personally
  • Express what actions of theirs are acceptable and what is not
  • Try to convince them to get help

Unfortunately, even the best-spoken person, can get the worst of reactions. Again, don’t take it personally if your parent lashes out in anger or in vehement denial. You have done what was necessary by no longer avoiding the issue; it’s now out on the table. Some parents may take it well because they know that they are addicted. Either way, don’t expect to convince them to quit cold turkey with one talk, but you can try to get them started on the path to help.

How to Say It

Here are a few things to keep in mind when having such a sensitive conversation. Stay consistent; any differences from conversation to conversation will open up the door for misinterpretation. Stay strong. This is no doubt a hard conversation to have, but you cannot be lenient. Alcoholic addiction is a life-threatening matter, and it needs to be confronted.

At the same time, make sure that you show compassion. Make sure your parent knows that you love them and that’s why you are doing this act of tough love. And don’t be disrespectful; they are your parent after all. Accusing them, blaming them, or calling them names will not solve anything. Just be concerned about their well-being.

Prepare for Everything

Those who abuse alcohol can have a tendency toward violence. If a parent becomes abusive in any way, don’t be afraid to leave. Your safety is a priority. Realize that you are not being disloyal or abandoning by keeping yourself out of harm’s way. It’s a good idea to have emergency numbers on hand and have a backup place to stay if your house is unsafe.

Depending on how your first conversation about alcohol addition goes with your parent, you’ll need to start planning the next step. If they took it fairly well, start doing research. Inform yourself about rehab and treatment centers in the area; research the different kinds of treatment options so that you are knowledgeable and better able to help plan for your parent’s first steps towards help.

If the first conversation didn’t go so hot, consider getting professional help. Many people consult psychologists and other professionals about interventions. They can make sure the conversation is well-planned and demonstrated in a way that brings your family and friends together to help convince the person that they are all here to help.

Coping with an alcoholic parent can be one of life’s greatest struggles. Make sure that you aren’t handling it alone. Contact us for information on alcohol rehab treatment centers in your area and get your parent the help that they need.
How To Help Alcoholic Parents - A Guide Infographic

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Alcohol Use Disorder

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Alcohol's Effects on the Body

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Alcohol Problems in Intimate Relationships: Identification and Intervention

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Facts About Aging and Alcohol

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