Living with an alcoholic parent can be scary. Not only can alcohol make their behavior erratic and unpredictable, it has a serious impact on their health and longevity. Alcoholic parents may not be able to properly take care of themselves, let alone their children, leaving teens virtually fending for themselves. Fortunately, there are some things teenagers can do for both themselves and an alcoholic parent.
What you can do for an alcoholic parent
The first and most important thing for teens to remember is that this is not their fault. It’s easy for them to fall into a trap of thinking that if they had just behaved better or done better in school, their parents would be happier and not feel the need to drink. This isn’t true. Alcoholism is a disease, but adults make the choice to either ignore it or seek treatment. Someone else’s behavior is not responsible for alcoholism. Teens should never blame themselves.
Next, it’s important to acknowledge the problem for what it is. Many kids try to pick up the slack for their alcoholic parents, to help keep things running smoothly and outsiders from finding out. This might seem helpful in the short-term, but it isn’t a good long-term coping strategy. People often avoid seeking treatment for alcoholism because they don’t acknowledge that there is a problem. Attempting to cover for an alcoholic parent can make it easier for them to keep avoiding the truth. The longer they avoid the truth, the longer they may continue to drink.
It’s also important to seek help and support when it’s needed. Blame is only one of the complex and potentially destructive emotions that teenagers may feel about their alcoholic parents, and some parents even become abusive. Contacting guidance counselors, school drug or alcohol programs, or groups dedicated to substance abuse prevention and treatment can help put teens in touch with counselors and support groups that give them a safe atmosphere to express and deal with their feelings. They can also help teach kids what to do if a situation becomes dangerous, and how to talk to their parents about seeking treatment.
The children of alcoholic parents are up to four times more likely to become alcoholics themselves. This doesn’t mean that every teenager in this situation will grow into an alcoholic adult, but it’s important for kids to bear this in mind before they take their first drink. If they don’t drink, they shouldn’t start. If they do, they should stop.
The unfortunate truth is that an alcoholic has to decide to seek treatment for himself. The best teens can do is to keep themselves well while living with alcoholic parents, talk to their parents, and hope that they will make the choice to change. If you are a teenager currently living with a parent with alcoholism, know that it isn’t your fault. Nothing you did caused this situation. You can love and take care of your parents, but you can’t force them to stop drinking. Talk to your school psychologist, counselor, or another adult you trust who can help put you in touch with a group of other kids going through the same scenario. Even though you might feel completely powerless in this situation now, having an outlet to talk about what you’re experiencing can help you feel safer and more in control.