If your mum or dad is drinking too much alcohol, it is not always easy to know what to do or how you should be feeling about it. In this blog, Piers Henriques from Nacoa, shares some top tips about what to do if you are worried about your parent’s drinking and how to look after yourself.
What happens when a parent drinks too much?
The most important thing to know if you are worried about your parent’s drinking is that you are not alone facing these issues. You are not to blame, you didn’t cause it, and you can’t control it. You can, however, take care of yourself, communicate your feelings, and make healthy choices.
If you have found this article, you may well be in the same situation as millions of others in the UK who are upset or worried about their parent’s relationship with alcohol. The secrecy, shame and blame that goes round in these situations can make you feel really confused. That is why Nacoa UK exists, to create a space for this kind of information and support so you can feel better and live a happy, fulfilling life.
Though you may feel you are the only one, it is normal for children of alcohol-dependent parents to:
- Feel too embarrassed to take friends home
- Feel confused when your mum or dad change when they drink
- Feel nobody really cares what happens to you
- Feel guilty and don’t know why
- Feel different from other people
- Keep secrets about problems in your family
- Tell lies to cover up for someone’s drinking
- Believe no one could possibly understand how you feel
Your life can be hugely affected by your parent’s drinking no matter how old you are, whether you live with them, or how ‘successful’ your family may look to the outside world. Take a look at Nacoa’s Experiences pages to find hundreds of personal posts about the above points (and much more) from the Nacoa community.
People in this situation often describe themselves as a COA or ACOA (child of an alcoholic or adult child of an alcoholic). Putting a name on it can help you realise this is ‘a thing’. Being a COA matters, no matter what anyone says, and you deserve help and support. That’s why Nacoa UK is here for you.
What can I do?
Alcohol problems are often described as being like an illness where the person has lost control of their drinking and usually needs help to stop. There is help out there for them and you must remember that you can feel better if your parent continues to drink or not.
An alcohol problem in the family can become a taboo that no one wants to talks about. But even if your family is not ready to speak about it, looking after yourself will help you feel better:
- Remember you are not responsible for other people’s drinking – You can’t control someone else’s drinking or behaviour. Pouring away, watering down or hiding alcohol may make things worse, and the person drinking may become angry, upset or secretive.
- Remember alcohol affects the brain – Alcohol can make people forget things. They often don’t remember silly, embarrassing or other things they have done. Try not to argue with your parents when they’ve been drinking.
- Be realistic – When someone has a drink problem, alcohol often becomes their main priority. The need to drink becomes so important that they may hurt and upset people they love.
- Your mum or dad can only stop drinking when they are ready – There is help available, but they have to accept that they have a problem and want to stop. It is not your responsibility to stop your parent drinking. It is important to look after yourself.
How can I feel better?
It is often the case that children of alcohol-dependent parents feel overwhelmed with a desire to help their parents stop drinking. Sometimes people stage what is called an ‘intervention’, where friends or family will confront the drinking parent and encourage them to acknowledge their problem. Or sometimes a medical professional or social welfare practitioner might become involved by request.
People’s children can be hugely important to those who find help with an addiction. However, it is vital for you as the child of that person to know that the success of their treatment is not your responsibility in any way. You are not a failure if your parent continues to drink.
Regardless of whether mum or dad continue to drink, you can find help and feel better.
- Talk to someone you trust – It is not being disloyal to speak to a friend, relative, a teacher, or Nacoa, to talk about the problems you face. Sharing feelings can help you feel less alone. Nacoa promises to listen and not judge.
- Make time for yourself – Whether it’s sports, arts, or hobbies, taking a break can help you feel less stressed and more connected to others outside of your family. This is your life, too.
- Understand that your feelings are normal – It’s okay to hate the problems that alcohol problems cause yet love the person who is drinking. It is important to externalise your own experiences and emotions. You can share with likeminded people on the moderated Nacoa message boards or keep a journal. Some people write letters, then tear them up. It helps!
- Read and watch things about the problem – The Nacoa website has hundreds of Experience pieces written by other COAs. We also list books and films that help you to realise that, even though you might feel isolated, millions of people around the world face this problem.
- Find services that can help – Alanon/Alateen, Adfam, and Nacoa have amazing resources for you to find and use for free. It is an act of bravery and strength to reach out for help. So find what works for you from available services and charities. Think of finding advice and support as if you are making individual steps rather than one huge leap.
Above anything else, please remember: You are not to blame, you didn’t cause it, and you can’t control it. You can, though, take care of yourself, communicate your feelings, and make healthy choices. You are not alone.
Written by Piers Henriques
Nacoa (The National Association for Children of Alcoholics) provides information, advice and support for everyone affected by a parent’s drinking. Check out Nacoa.org.uk to find more about the free phone and email helpline, online message boards, and hundreds of experience posts from their community of supporters and professionals.
More information about organisations which offer help and support to those worried about their drinking can be found on our support page.
This blog was published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alcohol Health Alliance or its members.