How Do I Cope Living & Dealing with My Alcoholic Son or Daughter?

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How Do I Cope Living & Dealing with My Alcoholic Son or Daughter?

In 2020, during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the nation’s consumption of alcohol increased dramatically. According to a recently published University of Arizona study on alcohol dependence, incidences of “hazardous drinking” actually doubled during the period from April to September, leaving more and more mothers and fathers now the proud parents of alcoholic sons and daughters, regardless of whether their child is a stay-at-home college student or the CEO of a Fortune 500.

Questions will naturally arise, regardless of your alcoholic son or daughter’s age, and whether or not they’re still living with you: 

How can I help them? What should I do? How do I cope living and dealing with their alcoholic behavior?

Being under lockdown… has been hard on everyone, and many people are relying on greater quantities of alcohol to ease their distress. Younger people [are] the most susceptible to increased alcohol use, which could set them on the dangerous path toward long-term alcohol dependence.” – Dr. William “Scott” Killgore, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry, UArizona College of Medicine, Tucson

Parenting: The Constant Conundrum 

As a parent, you are filled with a sense of pride, accomplishment, and love every single time your son or daughter excels at a particular point or event in their lives – however important or inconsequential it may be. It’s how any parent feels as we look on lovingly at our child’s progress from the sidelines.

However, on the flipside, when our offspring “excel” themselves in a bad, scary, slightly depraved or embarrassing way… it can be a different story.

Suffice to say, no parent is provided with a free, midwife-approved, and comprehensive “How To” guide on the subject of successful child-rearing when their newborn first screams its tiny and helpless way into the world.

You just do what you can, and silently, you hope it’s good enough. And if it isn’t good enough, well, it has to do. It just has to do. That’s a life lesson right there.

The vast majority of parents, at some point in their child’s life, have witnessed their “sweet and innocent” son or daughter arriving home one night, and drunk for the very first time – late and way past curfew, stumbling and slurring their words, and way, way past understandable. All part of your “education” as a parent.

Parenting an alcoholic child, though – a son or daughter who has progressed rapidly from the odd “party night” to a distinct lack of sobriety most of the time – now, that is a different proposition entirely. They may be a teenager living at home, a young adult, or even a married father or mother themselves, perhaps even with kids of their own…

Whatever age they are, they are still your child. However, whatever their age, you’re still faced with exactly the same conundrum, the identical puzzle to find a solution for: “How do I cope living and dealing with my alcoholic son or daughter?

teen drinking

Teenagers & Alcohol: Substance Use, Risky Behaviors & Victimization

One particular and often cited benchmark study “Substance Use, Risky Behaviors & Victimization Among a U.S. National Adolescent Sample” – an analysis of data collected from one year’s U.S. National Adolescent Student Health Survey – highlights perfectly the effects of high alcohol consumption on teenagers in the U.S.

Here are just a few of its disturbing conclusions, looking at teenagers who drink heavily in comparison with non-drinking teens:

  • 16x more likely to have used illicit drugs in the past month
  • Over 7x more likely to have been arrested
  • 5x more likely to drive under the influence of drugs (DUI) in the past year
  • 3x more likely to self-harm or attempt suicide
  • 3x more likely to get into a physical fight

1. The Thin Line Between Empathy & Enabling

Let us offer up the following points for you to consider when living and dealing with an alcoholic son or daughter, all of which are considered by addiction experts to be essential elements in effectively not only helping your child, regardless of their age, but, importantly, helping and protecting yourself, too.

If you’re desperate to know how you can cope, this is for you.

One of the first things you need to confront with an alcoholic son or daughter has little to do with their current behavior – it’s far more centered on your own behavior. Are the actions you’re currently taking to deal with the situation helping or hindering? Are your actions showing empathy or are you enabling the behavior of your child?

In the context of living with an alcoholic, “enabling” is deemed to be doing something because it feels the right thing to do for a loved one, with your motives appearing to be empathetic when in reality all you are achieving is maintaining your child’s alcohol excessive consumption, and enabling their self-destructive behavior.

In other words, to use a now common expression: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

For example, and assuming in this instance that your child has left home, they come to you asking for money because they can’t make their rent payment this month. Your parental instinct will say to you quite clearly, “Help pay their rent, or they might end up homeless.”

However, consider what you are actually achieving by doing this for them:

  • Nothing changes whatsoever
  • You’ve just given an alcoholic hundreds of dollars, and, the chances are, their first stop after your house will be the local liquor store or their favorite barstool, and
  • Their obvious inability to cope on their own (to pay rent, to buy food, etc.) has zero consequences for them

It’s not easy to discern between the two. Empathy and enabling usually come from the same place – your natural and parental compassion and an eager desire to help. However, it’s not your motives behind your decisions that you need to concentrate on – it’s the potential outcomes of those decisions. Enabling allows self-destructive behaviors to continue, and it can have many scenarios:

  • Ignoring any unacceptable behavior from your child
  • Making excuses for your child’s behavior
  • Giving your child money, so they do not steal
  • Avoiding expressing how you feel in order to avoid your child becoming upset or leaving

It is always worth keeping this in mind: Protecting your child from the potential outcomes of alcoholism (damaged health, broken relationships, homelessness, jail, financial troubles, losing custody of their own children, and so on) will prevent them from seeing the real danger they’re in, and it will only prevent them from realizing and understanding they need help – and they need it now.

So, is it empathy or is it enabling? Always think of the potential outcomes, and then you’ll know.

Talking to your alcoholic son or daughter

2. Boundaries: Discuss, Establish & Respect

An alcoholic living in the family home affects and impacts upon everyone else living there, not just the alcoholic and their parents. For the sake and sanity of the entire family, the situation you find yourself in needs a framework – a set of clear boundaries – to ensure what can best be described as “damage limitation.”

A boundary, in this sense, is a physical or emotional limit that parents agree with the alcoholic. It is a way to prioritize the former’s mental health and wellbeing, and to ensure a level of safety for the drinker, too.

Make no mistake, an alcoholic within a family can be extremely damaging if the situation is left to spiral (and it would, given half the chance) unless boundaries are put in place to retain some measure of control. These boundaries, which need to be discussed and mutually accepted by both the alcoholic and their parents, will only work if they are fully respected after they have been established.

Furthermore, they need to be applied fully by both parties – for example, a boundary that says actively drinking alcohol in the home will result in immediately being told to leave for good (yes, eviction) is only worth the figurative paper it’s written on if the consequence is sufficiently powerful enough, and then the consequence is actually realized if the alcoholic fails to abide by their part of the bargain. 

In other words, if they drink, they go. If you, as a parent, fail to follow through with any of the consequences agreed when setting the boundaries, the boundary itself becomes meaningless. Any other boundaries will become meaningless, too.

Please remember, healthy boundaries provide a safe, supportive, and respectful framework for your relationship; here are a few examples of boundaries that you, as a parent, can agree with your alcoholic child:

  1. No consuming alcohol in the home
  2. If you are arrested because of your alcohol consumption outside the home, I will not pay for either your bail or for your lawyer
  3. Do not ask for money
  4. I will not lie to anyone on your behalf
  5. As your parent, I do not want you to consume alcohol, as it seriously affects your behavior and your health. Therefore, your only way forward is to seek and attend treatment (I will help you to do this), and, until you do, these are the boundaries you must abide by if you want to continue to live here

3. Protect Your Family First

As mentioned previously, an alcoholic living in the family home will negatively affect everyone else living there. As a parent, you will be spending large amounts of time and energy trying to help one child overcome alcoholism. However, it is vitally important for the security and future of your family that you understand other family members have their own needs, too. 

Here’s the hard truth: The protection of your entire family as a whole must come before the specific need of one of its members.

self care

4. The Importance of Your Self-Care

As the parent of an alcoholic child, unfortunately, you are squarely in their firing line, and, as such, you will have to deal with all the disruptive, drunken behavior, and the anger, frustration, and other negative emotions that will emanate from the alcoholic child. This places you in a highly compromised and vulnerable position and requires you to be proactive to protect both your mental and physical health and wellbeing.

What is Self-Care?

Defined as “the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider” by the World Health Organization, self-care has increasingly become an important part of many peoples’ lives. It’s no surprise that the number of searches for “self-care” has more than doubled since 2015, according to Google Trends.

It is important to understand that self-care, as a principle, is not self-indulgent or selfish. It simply means to take proactive steps to ensure your health and wellbeing, and it is vital if we are constantly presented with stressors in our lives, such as living and dealing with an alcoholic child. Therefore, find something you love – a hobby, sport or pastime, that either excites you or relaxes you, and put aside time to participate in this on a regular basis.

In the circumstance of dealing with an alcoholic child, one specific way to help yourself is to find like-minded peers in a similar situation to yourself, eg. by attending a support group. These group meetings allow you to connect with others who can directly relate with your experiences, and can provide a constant source of support and advice.

how to cope with a drunk

How Do I Cope with a Paralytic Drunk?: A Practical Guide

One important piece of information that rarely seems to get mentioned, let alone helpfully explained, in articles such as this is the practical side of parenting someone who engages in serious alcohol abuse – put simply, how you can safely and correctly cope with that person should they become paralytically drunk.

  1. Stay Calm

Seeing your child hopelessly drunk for the first time throws up a host of emotions, but, through all of them, it is important to remain calm. Regardless of their condition, your child is physically and mentally vulnerable, and he or she needs your care:

Do Do Not
Speak clearly and calmly Force your child to consume food or drink
Stay with your child until he/she is sober Punish your child while he/she is intoxicated
Take responsibility for your child’s health Shout, criticize, argue, or threaten
  1. If Possible, Ascertain How Much Alcohol Has been Consumed

Young people (with a low alcohol tolerance) can appear extremely drunk after consuming small amounts of alcohol. However, you are dealing with an alcoholic, who has built up a high tolerance level. Still, your child may be at risk of alcohol poisoning.

  1. Get Medical Help If Required

You should take your child to the ER if they:

  • Have fallen or sustained any injuries
  • Have (or you think they have) used other drugs, including prescription medications
  • Have lost consciousness (pass out or blackout) at any point.
  • Are unable to speak or incoherent
  • Have vomited, as this is his body’s first line of defense against overdose
  • Cause you concern about their health or well-being for any other reason
  1. Call the Police If Your Child Becomes Violent

Heavy alcohol use increases the risk of family violence. If your child is threatening or violent to others or your property, call the police immediately.

  1. Rehydrate

Encourage your child to slowly sip water to rehydrate, if they are able to do so without vomiting. If they do vomit, take them to the ER.

  1. Keep Your Child Awake

The risk is asphyxiation from vomiting while sleeping is your greatest concern. Try to keep your child awake when drunk – it is the safest thing to do. If your child becomes more intoxicated from the alcohol already in their system, take them to the ER.

  1. The Recovery Position

If they are simply too drunk to stand or you’re unable to take them to the ER, put your child in the recovery position, and call an ambulance.

Springboard Recovery

SpringBoard Recovery Can Help You & Your Alcoholic Son or Daughter

SpringBoard Recovery, located in Scottsdale, near Phoenix in Arizona, treats those with substance issues as the people they are – as mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters, and sons, and you have a past, a present, and a promising future. We fully understand that your struggle is with a chronic illness, not a lack of willpower. At SpringBoard, you’ll be treated with respect.

SpringBoard Recovery provides effective treatment for individuals struggling with alcohol use disorder and mental health disorders. Our flexible outpatient treatment program allows you to maintain your daily work and family commitments while receiving treatment at our facility. You can either continue living at home, or stay in our recovery home for added support, safety, and structure. Contact us today to learn more.


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WRITTEN BY GERARD BULLEN
FEBRUARY 28, 2021

Gerard has been writing exclusively for the U.S. substance addiction treatment industry for the last 4 years, providing a range of medically-reviewed work, including white papers, long-form and short-form content articles, and blog posts for accredited addiction treatment centers. A professional member of the American Medical Writers Association, Gerard’s specific focus is the field of substance addiction (an area that has impacted Gerard’s personal life in several ways), and he is particularly drawn to the topics of professional, evidence-based treatment, new and alternative therapies, and enabling readers to find their own sustainable, long-term recovery. Gerard lives and works in Maryland, U.S., he’s happily married, and a proud father, too. His interests include hiking with the family, reading fiction (from the classics to virtually all of the current NYT bestseller list), American and British film classics, and his beloved dogs, Toby and Coco, both rescued from the local pound.