How to Help an Alcoholic Parent

Alcoholism takes a tremendous toll on the individual, physically, emotionally and financially. These effects become even more damaging when a parent struggles with alcohol abuse. Children, whether young or grown, often suffer the consequences of the alcoholic’s actions and some may even blame themselves for their parent’s failings. The good news is alcoholism is treatable and there are things you can do to help an alcoholic parent get the help they need.

While you can’t force anyone to get treatment help, you can do things that help the alcoholic see the problem for what it is. Also, you don’t have to do it alone. There are many resources and supports you can access to make the recovery process easier to bear.

How Alcoholism Affects the Family

Once alcohol addiction gains a foothold in a parent’s life, the rules change. The effects of alcohol abuse slowly but surely alter how the brain functions and thinks. In the eyes of the addict, everyone and everything takes a backseat to the needs of the addiction.

This is not a voluntary choice. By the time addiction sets in, a person’s entire mindset relies on the relief alcohol brings to cope with daily life. Under these conditions, your parent’s ability to show affection, nurture relationships or even manage money becomes severely compromised. In the midst of all this, loved ones end up living inside the world of addiction.

Since the emotional and psychological dysfunction that addiction breeds inevitably disrupts the stability of the home, alcoholism is considered a family disease. Loved ones become prime targets for emotional and physical abuse. Even in cases where the alcoholic parent tries to protect the family by distancing themself, the emotional effects are still felt.

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Ways You Can Help an Alcoholic Parent

If your parent has reached the point of lying, hiding and denying when confronted about drinking, it can be difficult to help them acknowledge the problem, let alone agree to get help. Also, it’s not easy for children of alcoholics to admit a parent has a drinking problem. Children may struggle with issues involving guilt and blame due to the emotional turmoil that results. Here are some ways you can help an alcoholic parent and protect yourself along the way.

Learn How Alcoholism Works

First and foremost, alcoholism is a disease that affects the alcoholic, physically and psychologically. Chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes take on a life of their own, changing a person’s physical makeup over time. The same goes for addiction. It changes the body and brain on a physical and psychological level.

It can be hard to overlook this aspect when it appears that a parent is choosing alcohol over the family, but it’s true. Taking the time to learn about the “disease aspect” puts you in the best position to help your parent see the problem. As you come to understand the workings of alcoholism, you’ll also be better able to shield yourself from the negative effects of the disease.

Research Available Treatment Options

While there’s no guarantee that your parent will agree to seek help, having suitable treatment options at hand can keep the ball rolling when he or she does decide to enter a program. Addiction recovery is a process and there’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach to treating addiction. Alcohol rehab programs vary quite a bit with different programs designed to address different stages of the recovery process.

Several factors influence which programs are best equipped to meet your parent’s treatment needs. More often than not, a detox program will be the first step in recovery. Some detox facilities treat the most extreme forms of addiction while others offer more standardized care for mild and moderate addictions. Likewise, your parent’s recovery needs after completing detox will depend on the severity of his or her drinking problem. Ultimately, the likelihood of recovery success depends on getting the level of care and guidance he or she needs throughout the recovery process.

Have the Talk

As uncomfortable as it may be, talking about drinking with an alcoholic parent is a necessary first step towards dealing with the problem. Be prepared to be met with denial as denial is a component of the faulty thinking that comes with addiction. Also, keep in mind that it may take more than one talk before a parent agrees to get help.

The best time to have the talk is when your parent is sober and hasn’t been drinking. Otherwise, the chances of having a negative, volatile confrontation increase considerably. Choose your words carefully and remain calm throughout the exchange, expressing how their drinking has affected you.

If one-on-one talks with a parent aren’t working, you may want to consider bringing in a mediator who specializes in staging interventions. Mediators can be especially helpful in cases where there’s a good chance the alcoholic will become volatile or violent. When staging an intervention, be prepared to enlist the help of other family members, friends and even co-workers, if necessary.

Set Firm Boundaries

Whether your parent agrees to get treatment help or not, it’s important to set firm boundaries that protect you and other family members. During the intervention or when you have the talk are both good times to set boundaries with an alcoholic parent. Boundaries should be designed to protect loved ones from all forms of abuse as well as address any other areas that have been upended by the alcoholic’s behavior, such as finances. It’s likely that a “no drinking in the house” rule will be necessary.

Be ready to enforce boundaries when the alcoholic oversteps his or her bounds. An unenforced boundary is just an invitation to keep drinking. In effect, you end up enabling drinking behaviors when you let an alcoholic parent off the hook.

Hopefully, over time, the combined effects of having the talk, staging an intervention and setting boundaries will be the motivation your parent needs to seek treatment help. While some of these measures may seem harsh, these are the types of supports your parent needs to see what drinking is doing to his or her loved ones. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you have more questions or need information on treatment options.


  • – Alvernia University, “On the Road to Recovery: Addiction and the Family”
  • – Cornell University, “Adult Children of Alcoholics”
  • – Harvard Health Publishing, “Is Addiction a Brain Disease?”
  • – Mayo Clinic, “Intervention: Help a Loved One Overcome Addiction”

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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