Living with An Alcoholic Parent: Get Help And Start Recovery

Last Updated: April 10, 2020

Authored by Isaak Stotts, LP

Substance use disorders are difficult problems no matter who is affected, but when an alcoholic mother or father is involved, it is an especially difficult situation. It’s not easy growing up with alcoholic parents who are struggling with their duties at home and work because of their drinking problem. What makes coping with alcoholic parents even more challenging is that the very people who are supposed to provide guidance are the ones in need of help.

How to know if one is dealing with an alcoholic mother? What are the effects of growing up with an alcoholic father? And what to do about an alcoholic parent who refuses help?

How to Identify an Alcoholic Father or Mother

Sometimes children have the unenviable job of finding out whether their mother or father has a harmless drinking habit or it is a real problem. Some of the signs of an alcoholic parent include:

  • Drinking more alcohol with each passing day.
  • Consuming alcohol alone at home, outside of social gatherings, or drinking secretly.
  • Continuing to drink alcohol at parties when everyone else has stopped.
  • Passing out after drinking.
  • Irritability and mood swings.
  • Missing obligations at home or work.
  • Endangering the family or taking unnecessary risks to consume alcohol.
  • Suffering from withdrawal symptoms such as sweating and anxiety without alcohol.
  • Becoming angry when confronted about alcohol consumption.
  • Getting into trouble with law enforcement after drinking alcohol.

Alcoholic parent effects can vary from person to person, but the above-mentioned red flags are the most common signs that should raise concern.

Living with an Alcoholic Parent: What Is It Like?

The impact of an alcoholic parent on children has far-reaching consequences. A child whose father or mother drinks too much often feels embarrassed and angry. It is not unusual to worry about the mother or father and their health and safety. Young children may feel alone and scared. Older children may be forced to become an adult before they’re ready.

Children of people who drink excessively often try to stay out of the way to avoid upsetting their parents. They may begin to keep their feelings to themselves and hide the situation at home from friends. The child of an alcoholic mother or father may never invite friends over due to feelings of embarrassment. Teens with alcoholic parents may be forced to take on adult duties at home, leading to missed days at school and trouble completing schoolwork.

crying child of alcoholic father

Other effects of having an alcoholic parent may include troubling paying bills and not having enough money for food. Family life may be affected by frequent arguments between the mother and father. An abusive alcoholic father may mistreat or neglect his children. Living with a parent who abuses alcohol may compromise safety due to drunk driving.

Ways of Confronting an Alcoholic Parent

Kids with alcoholic parents should time an intervention wisely.

It is best for the child to choose a quiet moment and calmly express their concerns. Back this up with an honest discussion about why alcohol has become a problem. Provide reassurance that help is available. Children should seek the advice of a responsible adult family member.

If there are genuine concerns about a violent reaction, it’s best not to undertake the intervention alone. Young children can enlist the help of older siblings or relatives. The good news is that family intervention is often the turning point in alcoholic parent stories.

How to Cope with an Alcoholic Parent Who Refuses Help

What to do with an alcoholic mother or father who will not listen to reason? Denial among alcohol abusers is widespread and can be one of the most frustrating factors in dealing with this problem.

How to help an alcoholic parent in denial? If a father or mother cannot be convinced to get help, it may be useful to involve family and friends. The other option is to plan a professional intervention by a healthcare provider or clergyman. Some books that may be helpful include Get Your Loved Ones Sober: Alternatives to Nagging, Pleading, and Threatening by Brenda Wolfe and Robert Meyers and Love First: A Family’s Guide to Intervention by Debra Jay and Jeff Jay.

daughter talking to mother

Resources for Dealing with an Alcoholic Parent

How to help an alcoholic parent? There are many support groups and resources like the Adult Children of Alcoholics organization that specialize in helping children of people who drink excessively. They offer tips on how to deal with an alcoholic parent and provide emotional, and sometimes even financial, support. Some of the resources available include:

  • Al-Anon: This active support group for families of people with alcohol abuse issues has a nationwide presence and is modeled on the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program.
  • SMART Recovery: This evidence-based addiction recovery program focuses on teaching skills to manage cravings for alcohol through control of thoughts and feelings.
  • National Association for Children of Alcoholics: This association for children impacted by parental addiction provides family interventions and runs awareness campaigns.

People who are dealing with growing up with an alcoholic father or mother may find these books useful:

  • The ACOA Trauma Syndrome by Dr. Tian Dayton.
  • After the Tears: Helping Adult Children of Alcoholics Heal Their Childhood Trauma by Lorie Dwinell and Jane Middleton-Moz.

sad girl reading a book

Some online forums and blogs give advice on an alcoholic father-daughter relationship. They also offer other tools for long-term recovery from parental addiction. Reading about the experiences of other people on these blogs can help generate ideas about how to talk to an alcoholic parent. If nothing else, these stories can somewhat reduce the isolating effect of having a mother or father who drinks.

Effects of Growing Up with an Alcoholic Father or Mother

The trauma of parental alcoholism can have widespread emotional and behavioral consequences. It can lead to many psychological problems: hypervigilance, anxiety, trouble with self-regulation, and hyperreactivity (easily triggered). An alcoholic mother-daughter relationship may suffer from emotional numbing, loss of trust, or unresolved grief.

Unfortunately, alcohol abuse tends to run in families. This means having an alcoholic mother or father puts a person at a genetic vulnerability to develop the same problem. However, not every child of an alcohol-abusing parent will develop psychological problems or go on to abuse alcohol themselves. Studies suggest that nearly 60 percent of children with a mother or father who abused alcohol are resilient. They can successfully overcome the effects of alcohol-abusing mother or father through communication, self-help, and a desire to achieve.

Getting Help for an Alcoholic Parent

The effect of parental alcohol abuse can be quite extensive and damaging. For example, drinking alcohol during pregnancy can lead to serious medical problems. A baby born to an alcoholic mother may suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome. The effects of alcoholic parents on toddlers can result in neglect or abuse. However, there is a reason to be hopeful. Professional addiction treatment can lead to a full recovery and a happy family life.

There are many useful resources about alcohol that children of alcohol abusers can access. The important thing is to get help on how to live with an alcoholic parent from professionals and start the process of healing a broken family. Enrolling in a rehab facility is the first step on the road to recovery. Treating alcohol addiction is easier with the right help and support.

Page Sources

  1. Children of Alcoholics: Are They Different? National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism No. 9 PH 288 July 1990.
  2. Ka I Ip, Jennifer M. Jester, Leon I. Puttler, A. Zucker. Alcoholic Family Marital Heterogeneity Aggregates Different Child Behavior Problems both Pre- and Post-separation. Dev Psychopathol. 2019 May; 31(2): 771–788.
  3. A.M. Hussong, R.J. Wirth, M.C. Edwards, P.J. Curran,1 L.A. Chassin, R.A. Zucke. Externalizing Symptoms among Children of Alcoholic Parents: Entry Points for an Antisocial Pathway to Alcoholism. J Abnorm Psychol. 2007 Aug; 116(3): 529–542.
  4. RINA DAS EIDEN, FELIPA CHAVEZ, and KENNETH E. LEONAR. Parent–infant interactions among families with alcoholic fathers. Dev Psychopathol. 1999; 11(4): 745–762.
  5. Eva Tedgård, Maria Råstam, Ingegerd Wirtberg. Struggling with one’s own parenting after an upbringing with substance abusing parents. Int J Qual Stud Health Well-being. 2018.

Published on: December 10th, 2019

Updated on: April 10th, 2020

About Author

Isaak Stotts, LP

Isaak Stotts is an in-house medical writer in AddictionResource. Isaak learned addiction psychology at Aspen University and got a Master's Degree in Arts in Psychology and Addiction Counseling. After graduation, he became a substance abuse counselor, providing individual, group, and family counseling for those who strive to achieve and maintain sobriety and recovery goals.


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