COPING WITH AN ALCOHOLIC PARENT

Mendi Baron, LCSW

“The teenage years are a time to restructure your relationship with your child, but it’s not time to let go and disengage, they still need their mom and dad.”

Teen years are not the time to disengage with your child.

As a teen you are beginning to become more independent, to disengage more from your parents, and your life is filled with emotional ups and downs. But if a parent is an alcoholic, it magnifies the ups and downs and makes life harder. An alcoholic parent’s behavior is often unreliable, unpredictable, irrational, and aggressive.

There Are Many Reasons Why You Feel Lonely, Ashamed, Unloved, Sad, and Afraid

  • You may find yourself spending energy trying to figure out how your parent will behave, and trying different things to change his/her behavior.
  • You may be so worried about how your parents will behave that you find yourself avoiding social situations. You avoid friends, stop making plans and isolate. The last thing you would want to endure is the embarrassment over your parent being drunk in front of your friends.
  • You have conflicting emotions about the alcoholic parent, from love to rage, fear and worry. These are normal feelings for a child coping with an alcoholic at home. All this worry about your parent’s behavior and drinking drains your emotional energy.

The Effects of Alcohol on an Alcoholic Can Cause Them to Be Unpredictable, Irrational, Angry, Aggressive and Abusive

As blood alcohol levels increase, users may experience heightened emotional responses including anger and aggression, lack of coordination, poor balance, slurred speech, dizziness, disturbed sleep, nausea, and vomiting.

Extreme alcohol consumption can cause memory loss, blackouts, complete loss of coordination, and alcohol poisoning. In some cases, overdoses can be fatal.

Growing up with an alcoholic parent is confusing, frightening, and traumatic. When kids are very young they may not understand the cause of change in their parents personality after they have consumed alcohol.

Kids of alcoholic parents can feel any or all of the following:

  • Shame 
  • Anger 
  • Depression 
  • Stress

This may cause them to perform badly in school. Living with an alcoholic can mean a lot of stress. An alcoholic can be highly unpredictable and may act irrationally and abusive. This can lead to physical and mental abuse of the child. All this stress can be very damaging to children.

The child of an alcoholic can find it hard to form relationships with other people. It is difficult to trust others when parents have not been good caregivers.

What Is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism and addiction are illnesses of the body, mind, and spirit. The effect produced by these substances is a manifestation of an allergy; this allergy is evidenced by the fact that once the alcoholic or addict begins drinking or using drugs, they are unable to stop. These types can never safely use alcohol at all.

Why Does My Parent Drink Too Much?
There are many reasons why your parent may have a problem with alcohol. People often begin drinking because they like the effects produced by it. It makes them feel better or more relaxed and makes it seem like it helps them cope with problems. Over time, as they drink more, they become physically and psychologically addicted. So, the parent may drink because he or she is unable to quit on his or her own, but is not yet ready or willing to seek help.

Why Can’t My Parent Stop Drinking?
The sensation produced by alcohol is seductive. While your parent can (and may) admit that excessive alcohol consumption is harmful, often those who abuse alcohol are either in denial that a problem exists or they rationalize the drinking. Once a parent is under the influence, his/her actions and behavior are dictated by alcoholism, and the parent is powerless to change unless he/she seeks to become sober. This illness affects others in a way unlike any other sickness. If an individual has cancer, you may feel sorry for him, but you wouldn’t be angry or take it personally. Alcoholism negatively impacts everyone whose life is touched by the alcoholic’s, especially the child who is under the care of the deficient parent.

Why Doesn’t My Parent See The Problem?
Alcoholism is a chronic and often progressive disease which includes problems controlling one’s drinking. If you have alcoholism, you are unable to consistently predict how much you will drink, how long you will drink, or what consequences will occur from the drinking. If your parent has alcoholism, he/she may not be able to cut back or quit without help. Denying the problem is part of alcoholism.

If My Parent Loved Me, Wouldn’t They Stop Drinking?
The most important thing to know is that your parent’s drinking is not your fault. Alcoholism is an illness of denial and rationalizations. Your parent may be so sick that he/she believes that he is a better parent when they drink. A parent may even tell them self that he/she is more relaxed, more attentive, happier and better able to deal with the stress of raising children even as he/she spins out of control.
When a parent is not under the influence of alcohol, most likely he is unable to control his anxiety and craving for alcohol. A parent may feel like he is jumping out of his skin. He may have moments when he hates himself for drinking and feels like the worst parent in the world. Alcoholism is an illness. Alcoholism only leads to the alcoholic becoming drunk, isolated, and alone. Being an alcoholic does not make a parent bad, though he or she may say or do terrible things. Being an alcoholic makes the alcoholic sick. The alcoholic is in the grip of a serious and progressive illness that poisons the body and disables the mind’s capacity to make rational choices.

What Can I Do To Help?
First remember that while it is not the parent’s fault that he or she
is an alcoholic, he or she is responsible for his or her actions. If a parent wants to rebuild the relationship and earn the child’s respect, he must be willing to seek help for treatment of alcoholism. If he does get sober, he will need to face the mistakes he made as a parent and change the behavior. Until and unless this happens, the child must find a way to take care of him or herself. Every child deserves more than the alcoholic parent is able to offer. Here is what you can do to take care of yourself when the parent is out of control:

  •  Seek support. Share your feelings with someone you trust, such as a friend, teacher, coach, minister, or rabbi. Keeping feelings to yourself only isolates and alienates you and makes you feel worse. Several confidential organizations offer help. Some, such as Alateen, offer support groups for teenagers living with alcoholic parents. Go online to www.al-anon.alateen.org to find a meeting in your area.
  • Find a safe environment. If your parent is violent and you are afraid for your safety, seek help. Call 911 if you are in danger. If you are not in immediate danger, but you want to speak to someone, or you are thinking of running away from home, call he National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE.
  • Stop the cycle. Alcoholism is a family illness. Children of alcoholics are more likely than the general population to develop a problem with alcohol. Scientists are still studying why this happens, and most experts believe it is a combination of genetics and the environment in which you grow up. As the child of an alcoholic, know that you are in a position of strength and power to stop the cycle of drinking in your family. You know first-hand how horrible it is to grow up with an alcoholic parent. You possess the power of free choice to decide whether you will inflict this illness on those you love or not. If you have started drinking (or using drugs) to cope with an alcoholic parent, think about this information and seek help before your life spins and spirals out of control.

Mendi Baron, LCSW, a passionate advocate for teens in the field of mental health and addiction and the go-to expert to start the conversation on critical issues that impact teens and their families, is the founder and CEO of Evolve Treatment Centers based in Southern California. For more information, please go to www. evolvetreatmentcenters.com