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How to Help an Alcoholic Parent

    How to Help an Alcoholic Parent

    Addiction is a disease that can strike any of us, regardless of who we are.

    Just because a person has personal, professional or social responsibilities does not mean they are immune to addiction.

    Sadly, many of those who suffer from alcoholism or other addictions are parents.

    If you know a parent who you suspect may be suffering from alcoholism, here are a few ways you can go about helping them.

    Addiction Statistics Amongst Parents


    Research has shown that there are over 3 million children in the UK that live with parents that have alcohol problems.

    This means that they are likely to witness domestic violence, are more likely to develop eating disorders, feelings of self-hatred, suicidal thoughts, experience school difficulties and get in trouble with the police.

    Sadly, children that have parents with alcohol problems are also very likely to develop an addiction or struggle with alcoholism themselves.

    According to the World Health Organisation, alcohol consumption is the third highest risk factor for disease and disability across all countries in the world.

    Defining Alcoholism


    To qualify as alcoholic means:

    “A strong desire to take the drug [alcohol], difficulties in controlling its use, persisting in its use despite harmful consequences, a higher priority given to drug use than to other activities and obligations, increased tolerance, and sometimes a physical withdrawal state” (World Health Organization, 2007).

    Alcohol is a psychoactive and depressant toxin, but its consumption has become a routine part of social settings and environments.

    This ensures it becomes easy to overlook how much and how frequently you drink, disguising the damage associated with drinking to excessive levels.

    Alcoholism Around The World

    Do I have an alcohol problem?

    When considered globally:

    • Alcohol intake accounts for more than 7.1% of diseases caused in males
    • Alcohol intake accounts for over 2.2% of diseases in females
    • Alcohol is the leading factor that contributes to premature mortality, along with disabilities in ages 15-49
    • Vulnerable populations and middle-income countries have higher rates of hospitalisations and alcohol-related deaths than other populations

    This is the causal relationship that has been established between alcohol intake and the incidence of diseases.

    Beyond health issues, alcoholism brings with it problems of social and economic nature.

    The misuse of alcohol can harm both family and friends.

    The damaging effects on family are said to damage and affect the children the most.

    Alcohol becomes the drinker’s main priority, not the children, creating a widening void in the family.

    Often, the drinker will spend more time drinking alcohol and sleeping off its effects rather than paying attention to their children, heavily associated with negative outcomes for the children:

    • Poor attention at school
    • Bad physical and psychological health
    • Poor educational achievements and motivation
    • Addiction problems later on in life
    • Mental disorder and suicidal thoughts

    The 1966 Study: Long-Term Consequences

    A study by Christofferson and Soothill in 2003 looked at the long-term consequences of alcohol abuse in parents.

    It involved around 85,000 people from the ages of 13 to 27.

    This data may be from 1966, but it is certainly still relevant.

    The project analysed a range of information regarding education, criminalism and unemployment.

    Results show that children base their behaviour on these experiences: parental alcohol abuse frames the child, specifically with regards to parental violence, family separation and foster care.

    What was noticed:

    • Increase in hospitalisation due to violence
    • Increased risk of teen pregnancy
    • Increased unemployment
    • Increased mortality and self-destructive behaviours
    • Attempted suicide was common
    • If the parent abusing alcohol was the mother, all associated negative consequences had higher occurrences

    Why Are Children Likely To Be Alcoholics Too?

    Child sad

    According to the disease model of addiction, addiction is an affliction of the brain that functions the same way as any mental illness with regard to degenerative elements, medication and genetics.

    Addiction is said to be a repetitive cycle of three stages:

    1. Binging and intoxication: The user will become intoxicated with the substance and experiences the first waves of rewards and euphoric effects like pleasure.
    2. Withdrawal and Negative Effects: The user will experience negative side effects as the substance begins to withdraw from the body.
    3. Preoccupation and Anticipation: Once withdrawal symptoms kick in, the user goes back to using the substance to experience the pleasurable effects again and to rid of the negative side effects.

    This theory of disease breaches into genetics, where it has been said that children of users are more likely to become addicts themselves.

    Further, studies have shown that alcohol is the drug of choice amongst youths, frequently used in social settings and easily accessible.

    The National Centre of Biotechnology concluded that alcoholism is, in fact, a genetic disease.

    Children often tend to either:

    1. See their parents intoxicated and think ‘I will never be like that’ and stay away from alcohol entirely
    2. Try alcohol in a social setting and find out they have similar tendencies

    How Do I Know They Are Dependant On Alcohol?

    If you are uncertain of how much people are meant to drink, and whether your parent has a problem with alcohol, it’s best to know the signs and symptoms of dependency.

    Alcoholism is the most serious form of drinking to a level of excess, causing harm to your health.

    Signs and Symptoms

    1. Lack of control over consumption, such as drinking in the morning when they wake up and drinking far too much until they are sick or pass out. Once you start drinking you are unable to stop, regardless of occasion or appropriateness.
    2. Alcohol takes priority: the user often gives precedence to alcohol over other daily activities and long-term responsibilities. For example, alcoholics won’t stop drinking regardless of losing their children, diseases and other negative consequences.
    3. Aggression, tension and anxieties surrounding the topic.
    4. Physical and mental effects of drinking such as increased tolerance and or depression.


    women interview

    The CAGE questionnaire is comprised of 4 simple questions, to screen you for alcohol dependency.

    1. Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
    2. Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
    3. Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
    4. Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover (eye-opener)?

    The test itself has also been adapted for drug use, which includes:

    1. Have you ever felt you ought to cut down on your drinking or drug use?
    2. Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking or drug use?
    3. Have you felt bad or guilty about your drinking or drug use?
    4. Have you ever had a drink or used drugs first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover (eye-opener)?

    Every time you answer with a yes, you receive a score of 1.

    If you score above 2, this is deemed clinically significant and indicative of alcohol issues.


    teenager stress

    A further alcohol screening test is FAST.

    FAST is a harm assessment tool that identifies use disorder and was originally developed for emergency departments, but is now commonly used in day to day assessments.

    FAST consists of 4 main questions, of which if you score ‘fast+’, you will need to fill out another 6 remaining questions.

    The questions are:

    1. How often have you had 6 or more units if female / 8 or more if male on a single occasion in the last year?
    2. How often during the last year have you failed to do what was normally expected from you because of your drinking?
    3. How often during the last year have you been unable to remember what happened the night before because you had been drinking?
    4. Has a relative or friend, doctor or other health worker been concerned about your drinking or suggested that you cut down?

    A score of over 3 is deemed to be fast+.

    1. How often do you have a drink containing alcohol?
    2. How many units of alcohol do you drink on a typical day when you are drinking?
    3. How often during the last year have you found that you were not able to stop drinking once you had started?
    4. How often during the last year have you needed an alcoholic drink in the morning to get yourself going after a heavy drinking session?
    5. How often during the last year have you had a feeling of guilt or remorse after drinking?
    6. Have you or somebody else been injured as a result of your drinking?

    Scoring: if you score from:

    • 0 – 7 = low risk
    • 8 – 15 = increasing risk
    • 16-19 = high risk
    • 20+ = dependency

    How To Help: Intervention And CRAFT


    The key thing to remember here if your parent is struggling with addiction is that it is not your fault.

    If you decide to intervene, whether they take up or seek treatment is not a reflection of your efforts.

    There are multiple ways to go about approaching your parent’s drinking problem, the first step is normally to ask them about it.

    Intervention is described as preventing or changing the course of something or someone’s trajectory.

    In doing so, the end result is now different.

    In this case, the end result goes from full-blown addiction to seeking rehabilitation.



    A commonly used intervention is the family-style intervention.

    This is called the CRAFT approach, which stands for Community Reinforcement And Family Training.

    CRAFT’s intention is to help the family and concerned others adjust their attitude towards those with addiction.

    This is an adapted version of what is called the CRA, the Community Reinforcement Approach.

    Both the CRA and CRAFT aim to help the user develop their community and social skills, fitting back into daily life with support.

    CRAFT teaches the family to positively reinforce pro-social and anti-using behaviour.

    This is accompanied by allowing negative consequences to play out for the user when they act anti-socially and continue to use.

    This has been reported as 75% effective at getting the user the help they need in treatment, as well as softly encouraging them to reach out into the community whilst prioritising mental health and wellbeing.

    Intervention Tips

    Here are some intervention tips regarding talking to your parent:

    • Aim to talk to your mother or father when they are trying to quit or have recently talked about it. This will mean they have acknowledged it and won’t react when you try to have a discussion when they don’t want to feel attacked about their habits.
    • Aim to use subtle and gentle language. Instead of saying ‘you are an addict and you need help, you are ruining the family’, aim to use positive language. Communicating genuine concerns for them is a better way to get them to respond in a positive way.
    • If they are receptive to the conversation, make sure you are equipped with the knowledge and options of the help available – don’t let the opportunity to get them help take longer than it needs to.
    • If they are not ready for the conversation or treatment, try not to push it. This is difficult to gage whether they are in need or they are in denial.
    • Be supportive: use encouraging and loving statements, help them with self-loving, and maybe go with them to groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

    What should you avoid?

    • Arguing about it and making it a negative topic to discuss.
    • Don’t make excuses for them –if they want to make excuses for drinking then let them, don’t be the enabler.
    • Avoid staying in an abusive situation or environment, there is help where you may need it such as ChildLine and the national domestic hotline.

    Finding Help Today

    Man with phone

    Alcoholism is an incredibly difficult thing to struggle with, and having an alcoholic parent can be just as bad.

    If your parent is struggling with addiction, the best thing you can do is get help.

    Our professional, confidential and entirely free helpline is here to give you whatever advice or guidance you might need.

    Reach out today to take that first step towards a better life.

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