Coping With Parent’s Drinking

Living with a parent who has a drinking problem can be really rough on you – and the rest of the family. In this tape, we’ll try to help you deal with some of the feelings you may be having about your parent’s drinking. We’ll also suggest some things you can do to try to cope with this situation.


You’ve probably asked yourself over and over if your parent really does have a drinking problem. Generally, a person has problem when someone’s use of alcohol creates problems between him and his family and friends, interferes with his ability to work, and affects his physical and mental health. A person with a drinking problem doesn’t necessarily drink all the time – but when he or she does, he can’t stop even if he wants to. He loses control over his actions. He continues to drink despite the consequences.

Kids whose parents are problem drinkers will often blame themselves for their parent’s drinking. if you’re blaming yourself because you think your behavior is driving your parent to drink, try not to think that way. Nothing that you do or don’t do is making your parent drink. And if he or she tells you that you do, don’t accept it. That parent is looking for an excuse for his drinking, and you’re handy.

The reason you’re not to blame is that your parent’s problem drinking is like an illness, if he or she had diabetes, you wouldn’t blame yourself. Neither should you blame yourself if he or she has a drinking problem. Many doctors say that the problem drinker can be considered ill because he needs to drink. Whether he wants to or not has nothing to do with his drinking. One out of every 10 people who drink develops a drinking problem, and even doctors don’t know yet what causes some people to react differently than others.

Another problem that kids with drinking parents sometimes have is that they think the drinking parent doesn’t love them. That’s easy to understand if your drinking parent constantly puts you down, insults you and your friends, breaks promises to you and the family, hits you, and makes your life generally miserable. You might argue to yourself that if he loved you, he wouldn’t drink, and if lie didn’t drink, he wouldn’t treat you this way. But your parent’s drinking has absolutely nothing to do with his or her love for you. It’s just that his drinking may keep him from showing his love.

As we said before, the problem drinker cannot control his behavior when he drinks, and once he starts drinking, he has no control over his ability to stop. Your parent may be able to manage periods of sobriety on his own, but without professional treatment the problems will continue for you, your parent, and the rest of the family.

Living with a parent who has a drinking problem can seem impossible at times, but there are certain things you can do to help yourself get through the rough periods. For example always try to remember that your parent’s drinking is not your fault and has nothing to do with the love he or she feels for you.

Another thing you can do is to try very hard not to bring up the subject of drinking with your parent while he or she is drinking or drunk. That’s really tough, because you’re feeling especially hurt and angry at that time and want to let him know how much his drinking messes things up for you. But chances are he already knows that and probably does feel bad about it when he’s sober. He just hasn’t found the courage to admit he has a drinking problem and talking to him when he’s drunk will be total waste of time.

There is very likely to be an argument and you may feel sorry later for some of the angry things you say, and yet, he probably won’t remember any of it. The best time to approach him with your concerns about his drinking is when he’s sobered up. Be as understanding as you can and tell him you’re worried about him because you love him. Ask him if he’ll talk about his drinking to someone who can help him. Don’t preach because he can quickly turn that to guilt and he’ll use that as an excuse to start drinking again to try to feel better about himself.

If you get down when you see your parent drink too much, or if you can’t stop yourself from picking a fight with him or her, the best thing you can do is get out of the house while he’s drinking. Go to a friend’s house, become involved in after school activities, go to a movie but don’t stick around and become more upset.

You might also have problems getting along with the other parent, who doesn’t drink or with your brothers and sisters. Try to remember that everyone in the family is suffering as a result of one member’s drinking problem. The parent who doesn’t drink is under great strain trying to keep a normal family life going.

Younger brothers and sisters may have problems trying to understand what’s going on. If you’re the oldest in the family and have to do the chores and handle some of the responsibilities the drinking parent can’t, you might be feeling resentful, or angry. Family members can try to help each other by talking honestly about the situations and how they feel about it. You can do your part by trying to understand the special problems that each of you face. Sometimes, one or two family members refuse to admit that a parent’s drinking is actually a problem or as serious as others may think. They usually are feeling a need to protect the drinker and the family from facing the truth. They mean well, but this can make it really hard on everyone, since there can be no hope for a solution unless everyone agrees on the problem.

What can you do if your parent refuses to get help, or even denies that he or she has a drinking problem? This is going to be really tough, but you have to realize that you can’t make him give up drinking. You don’t make him drink and you cannot make him stop drinking.

That’s a decision he has to make by himself and for himself. Try to love your parent as much as you can and respect him when he’s sober – and then try to live your own life.

You may not be able to do much about your parent’s drinking problem, but you do need to take care of yourself. We suggest that you get help to deal with your own feelings by joining your local Alateen organization. Alateen is for teenagers whose parents, or close friends or relatives are problem drinkers. Members meet regularly to help each other learn how to cope with their own feelings and problems. The Alateen group can also provide you with information about alcoholism which will help you to understand how this disease works, and why it’s so hard for the alcoholic person to give up drinking.

To find out about a chapter in your area, call your local Alcoholics Anonymous Organization, listed in the white pages of your telephone book.

You already know how rough it is to live with a parent who has a drinking problem. We’ve suggested some things you can do to make the situation more bearable, like not arguing with your parent about his behavior when he is drinking, getting out of the house when you can’t deal with the situation. Figuring out how the rest of the family can help one another, and getting help for yourself through Alateen. This will take love, patience and understanding on your part. Try not to feel guilty or responsible for your parent’s behavior.

For additional support and resources please call our 24-hour Teen Hotline by dialing 2-1-1 or 954-567-8336 (TEEN.)

Teen Tapes is produced by the University of Wisconsin, Madison.