parents discussing how to deal with alcoholic child

How To Deal With An Alcoholic Child

parents discussing how to deal with alcoholic child

Dealing with an alcoholic child can leave most parents feeling helpless. However, whether your child is a teenager or an adult, there are things that parents can do to help encourage their child to seek help for their drinking problem.

Teens and Alcohol

Underage drinking is a serious issue, with long-term consequences for teenagers regarding their health and well-being. Alcohol remains the substance of choice for teens. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) reported that almost 25% of 14- and 15-year-olds admitted to having one drink in 2019, with 7 million teens between 12 and 20 sharing that they had consumed more than a few sips of alcohol in the previous month.

Drinking for teenagers increases their risk of death, injury, and assault. The NIAA shares that underage drinking increases a person’s risk of developing alcohol use disorder.

Preventing Teenage Drinking

Parents of teenagers can decrease the chance their child will drink by modeling responsible behavior. If parents have a drinking problem, they should seek help themselves. Finally, parents should not give their children alcohol and should be clear that alcohol is off-limits to underage children and their friends.

Additionally, parents can be aware of their child’s potential risk factors for alcoholism. Signs that a child is at higher risk of developing a drinking problem include:

  • Significant social transitions, such as graduating to middle or high school or getting a driver’s license
  • A history of social and emotional problems
  • Depression and other serious emotional problems
  • A family history of alcoholism
  • Contact with peers involved in troubling activities

Alcoholism in Adult Children

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in 20 adults 18 and up engaged in heavy drinking in 2018. Heavy drinking is defined as drinking more than 14 alcoholic drinks a week for a man or more than 7 for a woman.

Even parents of adult children can help if they suspect their son or daughter has a problem with drinking. The first step is for the parent to share their concern with their child calmly. It is common for an alcoholic to minimize their parent’s concerns. A parent simply stating the facts that they have observed, without judgment, is the best approach.

It can be challenging for the parent of someone with alcohol use disorder to cope and not feel responsible. Many take on their child’s problems, entering a never-ending cycle of crisis and rescue that includes risking their financial security. Parents may find it hard to refuse to help their child with doctors’ bills, treatment center stays, attorneys’ fees, rent, food, and more, even when they do not have the means to do so.

Parents often blame themselves for their child’s drinking problem, trying to figure out what they did wrong or what they could have done differently to prevent it. Self-help groups like Al-Anon can support parents as they seek to come to terms with their child’s disease.

Helping vs. Enabling

No matter the child’s age, a parent will want to help their child recover from alcohol use disorder. Sometimes that help can go too far and end up enabling the child’s problem. Common signs that a parent’s behavior is enabling rather than helping include:

  • Avoiding the problem
  • Denying that there is a problem
  • Feeling resentful
  • Ignoring or tolerating the individual’s problematic behavior
  • Making excuses or covering for them so that they don’t have to face the consequences
  • Providing financial assistance that maintains the problematic behavior
  • Sacrificing or neglecting your own needs to care for the other person
  • Taking over responsibilities for the other person

To stop enabling the child’s drinking, the parent must first make it clear to their child that they know there is a problem. Then they must create boundaries and share those with the child. Finally, the parent must stop helping financially and allow the child to face any consequences that their drinking causes.

Doing all this may require tough choices, but it does not mean the parent is not supportive. Rather, it requires detaching with love so the parent can separate themselves from the adverse effects of their child’s alcoholism. This can help the parent look at the situation realistically and be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually strong when their child is ready for recovery.

A licensed mental health and substance abuse intensive outpatient program (IOP) in Scottsdale, Arizona, Rising Phoenix was created to offer a safe, welcoming, and nurturing environment where clients are not judged, but embraced, throughout their recovery process.

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