How to Help an Alcoholic Parent

Alcohol is available legally, but it can lead to serious substance abuse issues. Alcohol addiction interferes with a person’s work, friendships, and family life. Alcohol abuse inevitably also impacts a person’s relationships with their loved ones, including their children. Addiction is a mental disorder that takes over a person’s life. When the need to drink becomes overwhelming and uncontrollable, an alcoholic parent may struggle to take care of their child.

If you have an alcoholic parent, you will know how challenging this situation can be. You may feel powerless to help and uncertain about how to change things. It’s important to remember that alcohol addiction is a mental illness. With the right medical support, alcoholic parents can recover to lead sober lives.

Does My Parent Have an Alcohol Addiction?

For some, alcoholism starts gradually and slowly worsens. For others, it begins suddenly and escalates rapidly. Some people still manage to keep their life on the rails despite their substance abuse. In others, it is more visible that abusing alcohol is a problem. In all cases, there are common signs indicating that a person’s drinking habits are not healthy.

A person with an alcohol problem may:

  • drink a lot, often and repeatedly
  • consistently drink to the point where they are either plainly intoxicated or at least no longer their normal self
  • have mood swings or appear anxious when not drinking, and appear much better after a drink or two
  • say they want to quit drinking or drink less, but fail to do so
  • continue drinking despite their drinking causing problems in the family and beyond
  • fail to meet responsibilities in the home due to alcohol use.

When a person has an alcohol addiction, they need help, whether they realize it or not. It is common for a person to deny that their drinking is a problem. In such cases, family members are the people best placed to encourage a person to seek help for their alcohol use disorder.

It is estimated that almost 18 million Americans are currently struggling with an alcohol use disorder. Many of these people are parents to young or adult children. It is important to remember that if your parent has an alcohol or drug problem, medical support can help them to regain sobriety and their emotional well-being.

How to Help a Parent Struggling With Alcohol Abuse

How to Help a Parent Struggling With Alcohol Abuse

Trying to help a parent with a drinking problem can be a daunting task. Even bringing the subject of their drinking up in conversation may feel scary. And yet, the first step in helping a parent is to talk about concerns surrounding their alcohol use.

Talking to a Parent About Their Drinking

The first thing to be aware of is that you can not force an alcoholic parent, or anyone suffering from alcoholism, to stop drinking. Neither is it possible to decide on their behalf that they should consult a medical professional or attend a rehab facility.

Nevertheless, in order to suggest any form of treatment or connect a parent to support groups that might benefit them, it is necessary first to establish open communication.

When you approach your parent about their drinking, remember the aim is not to tell them what you think is wrong with them. It is simply to bring to their attention the fact that you are concerned about how they drink. If you are still a child or in your teens, having an adult family member with you is a good idea.

Here are several tips to bear in mind.

  • Begin the conversation by making it clear the reason you want to talk is because you care about them.
  • Throughout the conversation, make sure your parent stays aware that your main concern is their well-being.
  • Avoid speaking accusingly. Say things like, “I worry that your health is suffering,” rather than, “You shouldn’t be drinking this much!”
  • Keep the discussion two-way, leave space for your parent to speak, and make sure they feel heard.
  • Don’t get sidetracked. Say what you feel you need to say, and talk about the reasons you feel worried about your parent.
  • Mention specific instances that gave you cause for concern.
  • Explain why you think these incidents are worrying.
  • Reassure them that you can provide emotional support, but explain that you will not facilitate their drinking.
  • If you feel the need to do so, explain your own feelings about your parent’s drinking. Tell them how you are being affected. Don’t be judgmental, but do be factual and clear.

What to Consider Before Opening up a Dialogue

Alcohol addiction is considered by many in the recovery community to be a progressive disease. This means it is likely to get worse without some form of treatment.

It goes without saying you should not attempt this conversation when your parent is intoxicated. Nor should you steady your own nerves with a drink beforehand.

If a parent doesn’t seem receptive to the conversation, tries to minimize their drinking problem, or even denies it, make it clear you’d like to talk again another time. This might give them time to think it over or become more comfortable talking about the subject.

It’s also always worth asking if they would consider talking to a neutral outsider, such as someone from a support group. Your parent’s personality may mean they prefer speaking to someone who is not a friend or family member and who has direct experience of what they are going through.


It can be very difficult when you are the only person trying to talk to a loved one about their alcohol use disorder. An intervention is generally an organized event in which a group of friends or family come together to speak to a person about their addiction. Some people also bring in a mental health professional to guide the intervention process.

The aim of an intervention is to encourage a person to seek help for their addiction. At the intervention, the person will learn about the treatment options to help them stop abusing alcohol.

Researching Treatment Options

Researching Treatment Options

To help an alcoholic parent or other family members, you will need to have a good idea of what kind of treatment program or therapy is available within traveling distance. It may also be useful to find out whether there are support groups near you, both for people with addictions or for their loved ones.

You can also use the Internet to find out more about alcohol use disorder and the recovery process. The US government has put numerous resources online, for example, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has a very useful website.

It’s important to be aware that recovery is an ongoing process. If an alcoholic parent expresses willingness to enter a treatment program, it will only be the first step of a long, and some say lifelong, journey.

Setting Boundaries

If you live with or spend a lot of time with alcoholic parents, it is important to avoid enabling alcohol or drug abuse. You may be tempted to make an alcoholic parent feel cared for by cleaning up the negative consequences of their addiction. Enabling behaviors include:

  • buying alcohol for someone with an addiction
  • calling their workplace to say that they are sick when they have been drinking
  • paying their rent when they have spent the money on alcohol
  • making excuses for their behavior to other people

Addiction is a mental health disorder, and the kindest course of action is to encourage a loved one to seek treatment.


Living with worry for the well-being of an alcoholic parent, or for any loved one with a drug or alcohol addiction, can be emotionally draining. In order to be able to help an alcoholic parent, it is essential for children to take care of themselves.

  • You may benefit from attending a support group or talking to a mental health professional about how the situation affects you.
  • Many children of alcoholic parents may be at higher risk of developing a problem themselves. It is important to think about whether you also need to seek help for drinking.

Do not forget to do what you need to live a healthy life. This includes eating healthy food, exercising, and giving your attention to work or school.

How to Help an Alcoholic Parent Seek Treatment

How to Help an Alcoholic Parent Seek Treatment

Addiction is an illness that can be treated by mental health professionals. Seeking treatment will give your alcoholic parent their best chance of recovery from their substance use disorder.

Addiction treatment centers offer a wide range of services to meet the varying needs of their clients. These include the following.

Detox Treatment

Detox begins when a person stops drinking, and their body removes the substance and its related toxins. It is advised to detox from alcohol under medical supervision because withdrawal symptoms can be unpleasant. At an addiction treatment facility, the staff will make sure that your parent feels as comfortable as possible.

One-to-one Therapy

It is important for people with addictions to understand why they began drinking and what triggers them to drink. Using approaches such as dialectical behavioral therapy, therapists help people learn how to resist substance abuse.

Group Therapy

At addiction treatment centers, people may also attend group therapy, where they explore addiction alongside others in the same situation. This happens with the support of a therapist.

Family Therapy

In this form of treatment, a therapist helps family members learn about their loved one’s addiction and how to support them. This is also an opportunity for members of the family to think about their own mental health and relationship with alcohol.

Experiential Therapy

At an addiction treatment center, your parent may also have the chance to engage in activity-based therapies. Some facilities offer activities such as music therapy, art therapy, outdoor activities, or horse riding.

Residential Treatment

If your alcoholic parent is also using other drugs, has other mental illnesses or health conditions, or has been drinking heavily for a long time, residential treatment will likely be the best option for them.

Staying at a facility in the early stage of the treatment process will give your parent the benefit of 24/7 support and the chance to heal in an environment dedicated to recovery.

Outpatient Treatment

Sleeping at home but attending a treatment facility during the day can be a good option for people who have work or family responsibilities. Some people begin their recovery process in a residential facility and then move on to outpatient treatment.

Feinberg Consulting

If you are worried about an alcoholic parent or another loved one in crisis, get in touch with Feinberg Consulting. We can offer support every step of the way, from having that difficult conversation with Mom or Dad and through to picking the best place for treatment or the best therapist. We are experts in our field.

You don’t have to face this alone, we can help plan and implement an intervention to encourage your parent to seek treatment, and we will stay with them every step of the way.

Alcohol abuse in the family causes everyone pain. It doesn’t have to stay that way. Reach out to us today to set the recovery journey in motion. Please call us at 877 538 5425 or fill out the contact form on our website.

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