Dealing With an Alcoholic Parent

How to Talk to Your Parents About Alcoholism and Alcohol Treatment

Every year, millions of children in the U.S. grow up in a family with at least one alcoholic parent. Other people have parents who only began to develop alcohol problems in later life. In either situation, the presence of alcoholism has seriously damaging effects. That is true for both you and your affected parent. How can you dealing with an alcoholic parent?

But how can you talk to your parents about alcoholism? Just as importantly, how can you help them get the treatment they need? The answers to these questions depend, in part, on your particular circumstances. With guidance, you can develop a plan of action suitable for your situation.

Living With an Alcoholic Parent

Living and dealing with an alcoholic parent who has not undergone treatment can be difficult, at best. In fact, children who grow up in households affected by alcoholism can go on to develop a range of problems. These problems include such things as:

  • Serious emotional strain and stress
  • Increased odds of going on to develop depression
  • Higher chances of developing alcoholism in later life
  • Heightened risks for exposure to violence

Some children are forced to take on the parental role in their families. This can lead to its own set of problems, including:

  • Controlling behavior in future intimate relationships
  • Difficulty trusting others

Developing exaggerated feelings of personal responsibility

Do You Have an Alcoholic Mom or Alcoholic Dad?

Do you have an alcoholic mom or dad? You might not always be able to answer this question for sure. However, people with serious drinking problems often undergo noticeable changes. Things you may observe in a parent include:

  • Loss of control over how much alcohol they drink or when they drink it
  • Not being able to fulfill important responsibilities because of alcohol use
  • Turning to drinking instead of other once-favored activities
  • Not changing how much they drink even when they know it causes harm
  • An increasing use of alcohol over time
  • Failing to quit drinking after multiple efforts
  • Spending much of the day drinking or recovering from drinking
  • Drinking while driving or in other dangerous situations
  • Feeling sick if they do not drink their typical amount of alcohol

All of these things are diagnosable symptoms of alcohol use disorder, or AUD. Some of them indicate the presence of alcoholism, also known as alcohol dependence. Others indicate the presence of damaging, non-addicted abuse of alcohol. Both problems fall under the definition of AUD, and doctors view them with equal concern. They are so closely related that a doctor can even diagnose the disorder in people who are not alcohol-dependent.

You may also notice other things in a parent that could point to an alcohol problem. That includes things such as:

  •  Getting angry when asked about their alcohol use
  • Attempts to hide how much alcohol they consume
  • Drinking when no one else is around
  • Becoming anxious or upset in social settings that do not allow drinking

Alcohol Problems in Senior Parents

The risks for alcohol problems are highest in young adults. However, these problems can also continue or begin much later in life. Research shows that more than one in 10 out of all senior adults use alcohol in unhealthy ways.

Seniors who misuse alcohol not only run the risk of developing alcohol use disorder. They also increase their exposure to things such as:

  • Immune system problems
  • Liver disease
  • Certain kinds of cancer
  • Fall-related injuries

Excessive drinking at an advanced age can also make some existing conditions worse or harder to treat, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Osteoporosis
  • Memory problems

Noticing Signs of Alcohol Misuse in Older Adults

The signs of alcohol misuse in older adults are sometimes similar to those in younger adults. However, affected seniors may also display other signs that are more age-specific. Things in this category that you may notice in an elderly parent include:

  • Unusual irritability or anxiety
  • Unexplained bruises or burns
  • Declining memory function
  • Frequent or ongoing pain
  • Problems focusing or concentrating
  • Unusual reactions to medications
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Bouts of dizziness
  • Headaches

When you look at this list, you may notice an important underlying fact. All of them are fairly common in seniors in general. That includes people unaffected by alcohol problems. The presence of multiple possible causes for potential signs of alcoholism can have serious consequences. Specifically, doctors may not connect these signs to the misuse of alcohol. In turn, seniors affected by alcoholism may go undetected, undiagnosed, and untreated.


Starting a Conversation About Senior Alcoholism

It can be difficult to start a conversation about senior alcoholism. This may be especially true if you try to have that conversation with a parent. Why? One reason is that, even as an adult, you may feel inhibited by the roles of parent and child. As a result, you may feel uncomfortable doing something that might go beyond those roles.

Even without this consideration, you may find it difficult or awkward to talk about such a sensitive topic. To make it easier, experts recommend that you keep some things in mind when talking to any loved one. The first of these things is being honest about your feelings. It may help your parents to know that you care for them and are concerned about them. The second thing to be aware of is the importance of showing support. When your parents feel supported, they may be more open to what you are saying. Be willing to help them make any needed changes in their drinking habits. That may include offering specific tips for the next steps or follow-up actions to take.

Intervention and Forms of Productive Confrontation

Unfortunately, not all conversations about alcohol and alcoholism go well. Denial is a common feature of addiction. This means that your initial attempts to talk about alcoholism may meet significant resistance. If this happens in your case, you may want to consider planning an alcohol intervention.

During an intervention, you confront your loved one about the need to change. This confrontation is not improvised or spontaneous. Instead, it requires careful organization. The goal is not to cause friction or create tense, unproductive situations. Instead, a well-organized intervention aims to encourage your parent to seek help.

It takes time and effort to plan a structured, productive intervention. As a rule, this is best done with assistance from a trained professional. Types of professionals who may be able to help you include:

  • Mental health counselors
  • Addiction specialists
  • Trained interventionists
  • Psychologists
  • Social workers

These experts form the core of a larger planning team that can include concerned friends and loved ones. In turn, the planning team selects an intervention team. This second team should only include people you trust to remain focused and helpful during the actual intervention.

Setting Boundaries About Alcoholic Behaviors

Setting boundaries on alcoholic behaviors is a vital part of any intervention. You set those boundaries when you ask your parent to seek treatment. You also set them by letting your parent know that there will be consequences for not seeking help. The specific consequences depend on your situation. The professional on your planning or intervention team can help you pick appropriate options.


Further Resources for the Families of Alcoholics

Resources for families of alcoholics are available from a number of reputable groups and organizations. One main nationwide source is the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism or NIAAA. The NIAAA maintains an extensive information database through its Alcohol Treatment Navigator.

Finding an Alcohol Treatment Center for Your Parent

You can also ask for the advice of an experienced addiction specialist. Specialists in alcohol treatment know how to answer any question you may have. That includes guidance on helping your parent find out if an alcohol use disorder diagnosis is appropriate. It also includes finding an effective treatment. Finding the right alcohol treatment center for your parent is critical. Seniors often have different recovery needs than their younger counterparts. The center you pick must understand this. In addition, it must provide care that takes seniors’ unique requirements into account.

Seek Help for a Parent With Alcoholism at Emerald Isle Recovery

More than five million older Americans use alcohol in unhealthy ways. A significant percentage of this large group has diagnosable symptoms of alcohol use disorder. On its own, AUD is a major cause for concern. But even when they are not addicted, seniors who drink to excess harm their health in serious ways.

For these reasons and more, it is important to talk to a parent who you believe has alcohol problems. That conversation may be difficult for you. However, it makes it possible for you to do your part in guarding your loved one’s safety and well-being.

Are you worried that your parent may have a drinking problem? Contact the addiction professionals at Emerald Isle. We can help you find out for sure if AUD is present. And if it is, we can provide your parent with the targeted treatment needed for an effective recovery. Call us today for more information on our alcohol treatment resources.

  1. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: Alcohol Use in Families
  2. Psychiatry Advisor: Adult Children of Alcoholics – Healing Lifelong Scars
  3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism – Rethinking Drinking: What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?
  4. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Older Adults
  5. National Institute on Aging: Facts About Aging and Alcohol
  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Indian Health Service: Warning Signs of Substance and Alcohol Use Disorder
  7. American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry – Geriatric Mental Health Foundation: Alcohol/Drug Abuse/Misuse
  8. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: Alcohol Use – Conversation Starters
  9. Mayo Clinic: Intervention – Help a Loved One Overcome Addiction
  10. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: NIAAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator