An estimated 14.8 million people ages 12 and older in the United States, or 5.4 percent of the population, had an alcohol use disorder in 2018. Chances are you are part of the large group of parents and families of someone struggling with alcohol addiction.
If one of those people is your child or family member, you know all too well the suffering that comes with alcohol addiction. Alcohol abuse affects more than the person doing the drinking; to some extent, it affects every person who knows and loves them. Some refer to alcohol use disorder (AUD) as a “family disease” and that couldn’t be closer to the truth.
It isn’t always easy to live with or love someone who struggles to control their drinking? One study showed higher rates of stress, depression, and anxiety in parents and families of someone struggling with alcohol addiction.
It means many concerned nights and plenty of frustration with your loved one. Empty seats at the table during holidays and other family events are common. Hoping and praying that something will finally change is constant.
Are you the parent or family member of someone struggling with alcohol addiction? It might feel like there is nothing you can do but there are ways you can help both your loved one and yourself. If someone in your family has an alcohol problem, these 10 tips can help you deal with their drinking.
1. Educate yourself about alcohol addiction
Educating yourself is the most important thing you can do as a parent or family member of someone struggling with alcoholism. Alcohol addiction is confusing and complicated from an outsider’s perspective. It might not make sense why your loved one won’t stop drinking. They might keep going even when it seems like everything around them is falling apart.
You have probably wondered at countless points, “Why can’t you just stop?” Maybe you blame yourself and wonder where you went wrong if it’s your child who has a problem. If you learn about addiction, though, you’ll understand their alcohol use has nothing to do with you. Educating yourself will help you better support your child or family member.
2. Find a support group
The disease of alcohol addiction often isolates both the person with the alcohol problem and their families as well. When your child or family member is someone struggling with alcohol addiction, it might feel like no one understands. It’s difficult to explain the cycle to someone who doesn’t know how addiction works.
But you aren’t alone. There are millions of other people whose loved ones struggle with their drinking, too. Plenty of support groups exist to create a space for you and others to express your feelings and frustrations. Groups like Al-Anon are a helpful place to start your search. You don’t have to deal with the difficulty of the situation alone; it helps when others understand.
3. Start seeing a therapist
It’s a good idea to find your own therapist when you’re the parent or family member of someone struggling with alcohol addiction. Alcohol addiction creates chaotic environments that are challenging for family members to navigate. Your frustrations and pain are likely pent up inside and it will help to have a place to release them.
It’s also likely you developed a few unhelpful coping mechanisms while dealing with your loved one. Therapy is a time for you to focus only on yourself and finding ways to better your own life separate from your loved one. You can look at and work through your own difficulties which will make it easier to deal with your child or family member.
4. Take care of your health.
Taking care of your health is often cast to the side when you have a family member with a drinking problem. When they’re your child it’s even more difficult to remember. It’s easy to neglect things like diet and exercise when your mind is preoccupied. Ironically, though, you’re less equipped to handle the challenges when you cut these from your life.
You should take the time to develop a routine to take care of your health. You don’t need to become a fitness guru or a health fanatic, but pay some mind to take care of your body. Exercise a few days each week and cook healthy meals for yourself and your family. Whether you like walking, running, doing yoga, or lifting weights, find something to get you moving.
5. Discover some activities you enjoy doing.
Along with neglecting your health, you might realize you’ve stopped participating in activities or hobbies you enjoy. Maybe you feel guilty for enjoying yourself while your family member is struggling, or it feels like you don’t have the time.
It’s important for you to prioritize finding an activity you enjoy. You can’t sacrifice yourself and your happiness for your loved one; it won’t help them get sober. Sometimes there isn’t much you can do to help, so participating in things you enjoy will keep you occupied. Taking care of yourself puts you in a better position to be helpful when the need arises.
6. Don’t unplug from your regular schedule.
Sometimes you’re tempted to uproot your entire schedule to make yourself available to the person in your life struggling with addiction. You feel like you’re helping them by being there when they need you, but it’s the exact opposite. It hurts more than helps when you enable their behavior and cater to their every request.
Instead, adhere to your usual schedule. Have a set time that you go to sleep and wake up in the morning, even when you want to stay up all night waiting for a call. Go to work during the day, take any other children you might have to school. Maintaining normality in other areas of your life helps you deal with the difficulties of your loved one’s alcohol use.
7. Remain loving and supportive while maintaining boundaries.
This tip goes hand in hand with the suggestion above. It’s important for parents and families of someone struggling with alcohol addiction to set healthy boundaries. This includes not only sticking to your usual schedule but also deciding where to draw the line. You get to choose what kind of behavior you will and will not tolerate.
It can be challenging to set boundaries at first. You want to show your loved one you care and you worry that setting boundaries might push them away. But boundaries are helpful for both yourself and your loved one. The support of a group or therapist who can guide you through this process will be helpful.
8. Try not to develop any expectations.
You start feeling hopeful when your loved one finally shows interest in getting sober. They might try to quit using on their own or ask for help finding a treatment center. The beginning of the recovery journey is difficult for everyone involved, though, and relapse is unfortunately common.
Parents and families of someone struggling with alcohol addiction will feel discouraged if the person relapses. Instead, work with your therapist or support group on managing your expectations. Try to avoid creating expectations that your loved one will stay sober. You’ll have an easier time dealing with it if they aren’t able to at first.
9. Participate in the family activities offered if they attend treatment.
Addiction treatment facilities offer groups for parents and families of someone struggling with alcohol addiction. These family groups provide a space for the person in treatment to communicate openly with their family. The guided sessions make it easier to have difficult conversations and work through challenging dynamics.
Do your best to attend family groups if your child or family member goes to treatment and invites you to come. You’ll receive the opportunity to express any feelings you might have about them in a safe environment. But it ultimately shows that you love them and are supportive of their recovery.
10. Prepare yourself to help when they’re ready.
Following all the tips above for parents and families of someone struggling with alcohol addiction will prepare you to help when they’re ready. You’ll have a difficult time showing up for them if you’re still struggling with self-care, boundaries, and expectations.
On the other hand, if you take the time to educate and care for yourself, you’ll be in a stronger state mentally, emotionally, and physically. When your loved one finally asks for help from a sincere place, you can sh