Living with an alcoholic parent

It’s embarrassing when your parents or carers get drunk from time to time. But ultimately you’ll just laugh it off and store it as an anecdote for when you’re older. The real problem comes if their drinking habits turn into an addiction. Then it’s really not funny at all. The Mix explores living with an alcoholic parent.

Two young women are thinking. They are wondering about the impact of living with an alcoholic parent. This is a wide-angle image.

T/W: This article discusses substance abuse.

How do I know if I’m living with an alcoholic?

It’s not always easy to figure out. Some alcoholics leave empty bottles and cans lying around, but others hide the evidence well. Signs to look out for include behaviour such as:

  • Slurring their words
  • Being clumsy
  • Breath smelling of alcohol
  • Sleeping at odd times
  • Problems getting up in the morning, and being grumpy when they do
  • Drinking early in the morning
  • Shaking and sweating
  • Losing interest in their appearance, and yours
  • Spending money on booze rather than food or clothes for you and your siblings
  • Not cleaning the house or doing laundry, which they normally would
  • Becoming emotional, crying, or having violent outbursts

How will living with an alcoholic parent affect me?

You’ll probably feel very muddled. It’s likely you’ll also feel ashamed it’s happening in your family, and may try to hide it. Please know that while this is only natural, it’s completely unnecessary. We promise, no one is going to hold it against you or your guardian. The most important thing for you to do right now is seek help. You shouldn’t be bearing this burden by yourself.

Other common ways a family member suffering from alcoholism can impact you include:

  • Being bullied at school because you can’t invite your friends over
  • Taking on more responsibilities, such as housework or looking after your siblings
  • Feeling frustrated, and worried that you’re growing up too fast
  • Constantly feeling tired, angry and stressed if your parent’s behaviour is erratic
  • Being fearful of the future because you don’t know what your parent might do next, or if they’ll get worse

Is it my fault?

Many children of alcoholics blame themselves. But it’s not your fault. This is an indiscriminate disease. It affects people for a variety of reasons, most of which have to do with their own childhood. 

Georgina Patrick, a senior mentor for charity Children of Addicted Parents and People (now part of Action on Addiction), is the child of an alcoholic mother. She says children shouldn’t feel guilty. “You could be the best behaved kid in the world and they’ll still find a reason to drink,” she says.

Alcoholism is often triggered by a negative event in a person’s life. Alcoholics drink because it numbs emotional pain. The issue is that the more a person drinks, the more tolerance they develop, so they have to drink even more to have the same numbing effect. Eventually they become trapped in a vicious cycle that it’s extremely difficult to come out of.

How to help an alcoholic parent

If you’re wondering how to help an alcoholic parent, unfortunately there’s not a lot that you can do. Experts with years of experience treating alcoholics have found the only person that can help an alcoholic is themselves. It might be hard to accept, but it’s the truth. Alcoholism is an illness. People suffering from alcoholism find it almost impossible to stop drinking, even when they know they have a problem. 

You may be tempted to pour away your parent’s booze, but that won’t solve their alcohol problem. Most likely, all it will achieve is starting an argument. If you try and talk to them about treatment options, they’ll probably just deny there’s an alcohol problem. Denial often goes hand in hand with addiction.

The best thing you can do is to help yourself by opening up to someone else. Once you’re feeling more confident, you might have more success in talking to your parent and helping THEM get the support they need.

For more information about addiction, see our resources here. That way, when they’re ready to talk, you’ll have all the information you need on support groups such as alcoholics anonymous. Then you know you’ve done all you can to stop your parents drinking. The rest is up to them.

Talk to a trusted adult

You might feel like you’re betraying your parent, but it’s honestly for the best. Share your feelings with someone you trust, such as a teacher, doctor or school counsellor. You don’t have to tell them everything about your parent’s drinking at first. Instead, you could start by testing the water and sharing your concerns online. The Mix’s discussion boards are a great way to do this.

It’s likely you’ll find someone with a similar experience. Recent studies have found that in England almost 500,000 children are living with a parent who struggles with alcohol abuse or drug addiction.

A relative could help, but sometimes they can be part of the problem. “At Coap we see cases where grandparents don’t help grandchildren because they won’t admit their child has an addiction,” says Georgina. If this sounds like you, chance’s are you feel isolated. Remember – just because it seems you’re the only one noticing a problem, doesn’t mean it’s not there. The fact that alcohol is legal also makes it that much harder for people to recognise that it can cause a very real disease.

Will they ever get better?

Your parent’s habits won’t stop overnight – it could be years before they admit their problem. And even if they do, recovery is a rocky road. This is why, regardless of where they’re at, you need to look after yourself. We’ve listed some sites that can help with this below: 

Next Steps

  • Addaction helps people recover from drug and alcohol addictions.
  • Shelter's advice website for young people offers help with housing problems and a free helpline 0808 800 4444. If you're in Scotland, use instead.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


abuse| alcoholism

By Gabriella Jozwiak

Updated on 09-Jan-2022