Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Patricia Sullivan MD MPH
As a child or a teen, you might be scared and wondering what to do when your parents are alcoholics. Children of alcoholic parents often want to help their struggling parents. However, you cannot get your parents to stop drinking, but might also be dangerous for you to try.
Alcoholism can drastically change someone’s behaviors, making their emotional reactions unpredictable. Some people behave like a completely different person when they are drunk and can say and do things that aren’t normal.
If you are in the care of an alcoholic parent, do not try to talk to them about their drinking problem. Firstly, it’s not really your responsibility to show your parents that what they are doing is wrong. Secondly, it would be better to get the help of a trusted adult. Here’s what you should do.
Why are my parents doing this?
It can be confusing to try figuring out if your parents drink too much. Some kids believe that if an adult drinks alcohol, they are alcoholics, which isn’t true. Drinking alcohol is not the same as being an alcoholic, but what’s the difference?
Alcohol in small amounts is generally safe, such as a parent having a glass of wine with dinner. Alcoholism is not like that. Instead, when a parent’s drinking starts to change the way they behave or talk to you, there is a reason to suspect alcoholism.
Alcoholism is an addiction to drinking alcohol and often becomes too hard to get away from alone. Alcoholism can change the way people think, behave, and react to situations and experiences. People who struggle with alcoholism often let their feelings out in ways that can hurt others without realizing it.
For example, anger can feel like an overwhelming emotion when someone is drunk, possibly leading to things being broken or thrown across the room. This is not your fault, and you did not do anything to cause these types of reactions in your parent or parents.
Alcoholism needs medical care to recover from, but that decision can only be made by the person who has a drinking problem. Overreactions are a common trait among alcoholics, and if you talk to them about their drinking you may make them angry. Therefore, it is best to bring this matter to an adult who can help you and your parents, be as safe
How to Get Help from a Trusted Adult
It’s okay not to know what to do when your parents are alcoholics because alcoholism is not a situation that children should be involved in. If you ever feel scared when your parents or guardian is drunk, find a trusted adult, and talk to them about what’s happening.
You can find a neighbor, a teacher, or even one of your friends’ parents to call or visit so they can help keep you out of a scary or potentially dangerous situation.
However, if you find yourself in a dangerous situation, such as not getting enough food or someone is hurting you, you need to reach out to another trusted adult, or even a police officer. Your parent or parent’s drinking problem is something that they should consider getting treatment for but is not your responsibility to do for them.
Additionally, it’s your parents’ responsibility to care for you and provide the things you need. When a parent struggles with alcohol addiction, they might need time and space to focus on getting help. Therefore, going to stay with another family member, such as a grandparent or aunt, might give them the time they need to take care of themselves while knowing you are safe.
If you ever find one or both of your parents passed out from drinking, and you are unable to wake them up, you need to call 911 right away.
Is Your Parent’s Drinking Your Fault?
It is common for children to blame themselves when bad things happen in their family. However, when dealing with adult issues, such as alcoholism, the child is never to blame. People turn to alcohol for many reasons, and the most common cause is a deep inner pain that was never healed.
Traumatic experiences can stick with people for a long time. No matter what caused the trauma, people who experience trauma at any point in their lives have a high risk of turning to drugs or alcohol to feel better. However, turning to drugs or alcohol to feel better is not effective.
Someone might feel better for a little while, but ultimately, deep inner pain cannot be healed by drinking or doing drugs. Inner pain needs healing to get past it, and that can happen with therapy, a healthy body, and not drinking anymore.
Your Parents Still Love You
Your parent’s drinking problem is not because of anything you did or said. Even if you can recall a memory where your behavior was less than your best, it has nothing to do with your parents’ drinking problem. You did not cause this, and it is important to remember that they probably didn’t mean for this to happen.
Life can have its ups and downs, and people make mistakes. Children of alcoholic parents have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to apologize for. Try to remember that even though your mom or dad might not be acting like themselves, and might say or do things they don’t mean, they love you. They are not acting the way they usually do because they are hurting and likely need to see a doctor.
What Does Alcohol do to the Body?
When drinking lots of alcohol, your body can get hurt. The organs inside your body each have a job to do to keep you healthy and strong. Just like your heart pumps blood through your body, your liver cleans out all the poisons in your body that make you feel sick. Drinking too much alcohol makes your liver work extra hard to clean your body and can cause damage that may not be fixable.
However, drinking too much alcohol can hurt more than your liver. Your brain, heart, and pancreas can also get hurt from alcoholism. These organs need to be healthy to work correctly, and damaging those organs can cause lots of different pains and struggles.
How Alcohol Hurts the Body
Your heart controls the blood flow in your body. You can feel the steady rhythm with each heartbeat, letting you know your heart is healthy and strong. When alcohol hurts someone’s heart, their heart can get sick and not work the way it’s supposed to. Their heart can beat too fast or too slow, or freeze up and stop pumping blood like normal.
Your brain controls your whole body. From the way you speak and feel to moving your arms and legs, the brain is responsible for it all. When someone drinks too much alcohol, their brain can stop working normally. Since the brain controls our feelings, people who drink too much alcohol can have a hard time expressing their feelings healthily or appropriately.
Your pancreas is located behind your stomach and controls how you digest the food you eat. When an alcoholic drinks too much alcohol, their pancreas can become swollen and not digest their food correctly. When food is not digested correctly, people can get terrible stomach aches and have uncomfortable bathroom troubles.
If an alcoholic does not receive the help they need from a doctor, they could die. However, there are professionals whose entire job is to help people like your parents. They are medically trained to help your parents clear their bodies of all the poisons that make them sick and help them not want to drink anymore.
Dealing with one or both parents having a drinking problem
Everyone comes from different families and different experiences. Some kids have both parents living together, while others have a place to stay with each parent. In the same way, some kids have one alcoholic parent, while others have two alcoholic parents.
It can be confusing to know what to do when your mom is an alcoholic, and your dad isn’t. Or, in the same way, what to do when your dad is an alcoholic and your mom isn’t. When only one of your parents struggles with alcoholism, the other parent can likely become a champion for you.
If one of your parents is an alcoholic, the other parent may not be aware of the situation. Especially if they travel for work or are away from home for long periods of time. Talk to your other parent about the problems going on at home. This can bring them closer to the situation, and find the best way to keep you safe and help the parent struggling with alcoholism.
Additionally, if your parents do not live together, talking to your sober parent can open the possibility of staying with them while your alcoholic parent takes care of themselves or gets help.
Both Parents Are Alcoholics
If both of your parents are alcoholics, you will need to reach out to an adult outside your home.
It can be scary thinking about what to do when your parents are alcoholics. You might be worried about making them upset, causing trouble at home, or even whether someone will believe you. Do not be afraid to speak to an outside adult about what’s going on at home. Whether you talk to your grandparents, teachers, or a friend’s parent, someone is going to listen and help you.
If both of your parents are struggling with alcoholism, you may need to stay at someone else’s house for a while. This is to give you a safe and clean place to stay and give your parents the time and space they need to take care of themselves and go to a doctor. These things can be scary, but know that this is the best place for you to be right now, and your parents love you.
So now you know a little more about what to do when your parents are alcoholics. Understanding the reasons behind alcoholism, what it does to the body, and the best way to reach out for help may improve your situation.
There might be many changes after you talk to someone, but know that talking to someone is the right thing to do. As a kid, your parents are a lot bigger than you, and you do not know how they would react to you trying to jump in.
Alcoholism can drastically change someone’s behaviors, making their emotional reactions unpredictable. Some people behave like completely different people when drinking and can say and do things that aren’t normal.
As a child or teen, you deserve love and protection from your parents. You deserve to feel safe and cared for.
Just know that everything is going to be okay…
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