No matter how old you are, it is extremely painful to deal with a parent who has an alcohol problem. Instinctively, you may want to help them because you worry about their physical and mental well-being and fear they may come to harm. You may feel embarrassed by their behaviour, especially if their excessive drinking has occurred in front of relatives and friends. This can make you feel angry at them for not being responsible and adult enough. You may have told them, time and time again, to do something about their drinking – to stop, control, be like other mums – but your efforts seem to fall on deaf ears. Consequently, you fall into the trap of blaming yourself and feeling helpless and hopeless, which in turn, causes exhaustion and isolation.
So, what can you do if you are worried that your parent is drinking too much?
Rule number 1 – you cannot change anybody. You cannot make them stop. You cannot make them drink less. You cannot make them seek help. What you can do is share your thoughts and feelings with them about their drinking behaviour. The following are some ideas of how one can have such a conversation:
- Never speak to them when they are under the influence of alcohol. If they are drunk, just make sure that they are safe and hold on to your conversation until after they have sobered up.
- Find a time and place where you know they are most comfortable. Make sure there is enough privacy so that they feel safe and avoid feeling shamed. If you suspect that there may be violence, do not talk to them by yourself. Make sure that you are safe too.
- Start the conversation by saying that you want to talk to them because you are concerned for them.
- Do not take a blaming approach – never start a sentence with, “You…”. Instead, focus on what you think about their drinking. So, for example, you may say, “I am worried about how much you are drinking”, or “I have noticed that you are drinking more often”, or “I am concerned that your drinking will affect your physical and mental health.”
- You may wish to remind them of certain incidents that happened while they were intoxicated and what concerns you about them. Again, remember not to take a judgmental attitude and keep reminding them that you are only concerned about their well-being.
- If you feel that the conversation is going well, you may also add how you feel about their drinking behaviour, for instance, that you feel angry, scared or confused. Helping them become more aware of how their behaviour is effecting others, may be more motivating for them.
- Allow them the space to respond and talk about their own thoughts and feelings.
After all is said and done, there is still the possibility that your parent may refuse to do anything about their drinking. In such a situation, you may wish to refer to professional help, where you will be assisted to support your parent to seek treatment.
Of course, your parent may refuse professional help too. Although you may feel that you are alone in this reality, remember that you are not. It is crucial that you invest time and energy in taking care of yourself. Speak to other family members and trusted friends. Reach out. There is professional help for you and a number of self-help groups, which can offer invaluable support on how to take care of your own emotional well being as well as in dealing with your day-to-day reality.
Stephanie Caruana is a counsellor at Willingness. She offers counselling services to adolescents and adults experiencing some form of distress. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.