How Can I Tell When My Parents’ Drinking Becomes A Problem?
Alcohol abuse is often considered an individual issue, but alcohol use disorders (AUDs) reach well beyond the individual to their partners, friends, and family. Specifically, children of alcoholic parents (COAs) are significantly impacted by parental alcohol abuse and can face long-lasting effects as a result. Living with an alcoholic parent brings a lot of challenges, but with proper resources and aid, family members can play a central role in getting their loved ones the help they need.
One of the first steps in helping a parent who potentially may have an issue with alcohol is to determine to what extent, if at all, they misuse alcohol. It may be challenging to recognize the signs of alcoholism, especially if a parent is hiding their alcohol use. However, there are common behavioral warning signs that a loved one may be misusing or abusing alcohol. A loved one may have a drinking problem if they:
- Cannot cut back on alcohol consumption, even after multiple attempts.
- Regularly consume more alcohol than intended.
- Spend a lot of time drinking alcohol, recovering from drinking too much, or getting alcohol.
- Have difficulties keeping or maintaining relationships due to alcohol use.
- Miss important work, school, or social events due to alcohol use.
How To Approach A Conversation About Alcohol Use With A Parent
After determining that a parent is misusing alcohol, it is important to begin a conversation about alcohol abuse with your loved one. Some worry that initiating a conversation about alcohol abuse with a parent will result in retaliation or the problem worsening; in some cases, a loved one may respond poorly at first for many reasons, but that does not mean having the conversation was the wrong choice. Sometimes an alcoholic parent is unaware of how their actions impact those in their lives, so the conversation may first take them off guard. Their confusion may be expressed as agitation, confusion, or anger. If violence is a concern, it is best not to have this conversation alone.
There are multiple ways to approach a conversation with a loved one about alcohol use. Here are 5 ways to help guide this conversation:
- Start with a private setting: One way to ensure that you are not catching a parent “off guard” is to discuss a date and time for this conversation. A private setting with limited distractions (like at home or during a walk) can help ease conversation that may otherwise be difficult in a public or less private environment.
- Avoid starting a conversation when they are under the influence of alcohol: When someone is intoxicated, they are not in the right state of mind to discuss this topic, and emotions may spike.
- Express your concern: When expressing your concerns, it’s essential to show compassion while also being direct. State the behaviors and actions you’ve observed, and explain how they are concerning. Try to use “I” statements to show how their drinking habits have affected you: “I think,” “I feel,” I’ve noticed,” etc. Using “I” statements helps center the conversation on observations, not on placing blame or making accusatory statements.
- Acknowledge how they feel: Listen intently, openly, and without judgment. Your loved one will often have a different perspective of the situation, so it is important to acknowledge whatever feelings come up for them during this conversation.
- Offer help: During this conversation, tell your loved one that addiction is treatable and that mental health and substance abuse treatment facilities are available.
Examples Of What You Can Say To Start The Conversation
“I’ve been worried about you. Can we talk? If not, who would you be comfortable talking to?”
“I noticed that you’ve been going through something. How can I best support you?”
“I care about you and am here to listen. Do you want to talk about what’s been going on?
“I’ve noticed that you haven’t seemed like yourself lately. How can I help you at this moment?”
When Is A Formal Intervention Necessary For An Alcoholic Parent?
After several unsuccessful conversations with an alcoholic parent, a formal intervention may be necessary. A formal intervention is a planned, structured conversation between loved ones and an individual struggling with substance abuse, often led by an intervention specialist or counselor. An intervention is often necessary when an individual with an AUD denies receiving treatment for their addiction or if they deny having an issue in the first place. One of the goals of interventions is to provide a space for loved ones to express their concerns and to convince an individual to pursue treatment for their alcohol abuse.
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Resources Available To An Alcoholic Parent
It may take a few tries and multiple conversations before a parent with an AUD agrees to get help, but after this integral step, numerous resources are available for alcohol abuse treatment. Such resources include treatment facilities, support groups, and therapy for substance abuse recovery.
Treatment facility options for AUDs include inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, and partial hospitalization treatment. During inpatient treatment, individuals stay at the rehab facility for the duration of their treatment, lasting anywhere between 30 and 90 days. Inpatient treatment offers around-the-clock care and support and medically-supervised detoxification. Outpatient treatment is suited for those who require more flexibility in their schedules due to work, school, or other responsibilities. Individuals in outpatient treatment must attend once a day, where they receive medications or therapy. Partial hospitalization treatment is more intensive than inpatient treatment, takes place in a hospital setting, and does not require individuals to stay overnight.
There are several support groups geared toward those recovering from alcohol abuse, one of the most known organizations being Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA is a worldwide organization that implements a 12-step program, or set of guidelines, to help those overcome their alcohol addiction. Another support group option for alcoholic parents is SMART Recovery™. Another worldwide organization, SMART™, or Self-Management and Recovery Training, teaches tools and techniques to help individuals make healthy life choices after rehab.
Psychotherapy, or traditional talk therapy, can be used to help someone with an AUD understand and manage their cravings and triggers while developing coping strategies. Other therapies include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). CBT helps people address problematic thoughts and feelings and replace them with positive thoughts and actions. In DBT, individuals learn several skills, including mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotional regulation, which help individuals develop the skills to stop using drugs and alcohol.
Get Support For Yourself
It may seem counterintuitive at first, but reaching out to others for support and seeking additional resources for yourself is imperative in the grand scheme of aiding your loved one. Being a caregiver can be highly stressful and emotionally and physically draining, so it is important to reach out for help. There are specific support groups geared toward the family members of alcoholics, including Al-Anon. Al-Anon helps family members and friends of those with an addiction cope and better serve their loved ones.
Addiction Is Treatable
Remember, AUDs are treatable; people can, and many do recover. Supporting a loved one through addiction takes compassion, patience, and outside resources. Contact a treatment provider today to learn more about treatment options for your loved ones.
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