If you’ve lived in a family where one or both of your parents suffered with alcohol abuse, the following may resonate with you:
My Parent is an Alcoholic
On the surface, your family may seem normal with a well-kept home and everyone keeping to the humdrum routine of everyday living. But for you, the normalcy is a facade erected to hide parent alcoholism. Behaving like your peers is a conscious effort to cover up a home situation that you may have been dealing with even as a young child.
Learning to Cope with Alcohol Abuse in the Family
Living with an alcoholic takes artifice. When one or both of your parents are alcoholics, you develop a keen sense of survival and a lot of courage as a coping strategy. You learn that you may not always be top priority in their life especially when the alcoholic binges are at their worst. You miss important events such as Parent Night or Recognition Day, but you are thankful that you’ve saved yourself from another embarrassing scene.
There is no doubt that you are capable of handling your difficult home situation, but it pays to have someone to confide in. Find an adult you can trust such as a neighbor, a teacher, your pastor or a coach. Sometimes, just knowing that you have someone you can call when you need help is a comforting thought.
The Code of Silence in Alcoholism
Silence is a weapon. Silence is your defense. If you stay silent when the drunken tirade is ongoing, you will be safe. If you are silent, they will exclude you from their constant arguments, and you can focus on studying or quietly pursuing extracurricular projects. You may become confidant and consoler at your age, but if you stay quiet amidst the ranting, the torture ends sooner.
There is also a code of silence that parent alcoholism forces on the family. No one should breathe a word about the family’s dark secret. You make up excuses to dissuade friends from hanging out at your house. You make up stories about your parent’s illness or busy schedules to explain their absence from important events in your life.
These white lies are part of your defensive strategies. People are less likely to interfere without knowledge of the real situation. However, being responsible for an alcoholic can be a heavy burden on a young person especially if you have your academics and work responsibilities to contend with at the same time. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone who can help. Reach out to family members who live elsewhere to give you some respite on finals week, and ask a trustworthy neighbor to look in on your ill parent when you need time for yourself.
Days of Sunshine
Alcoholics may also have good days. They wake from their stupor long enough to realize that you’re still there, heroically holding up despite the lack of support from them. Take this opportunity to enjoy their company. Get your parent involved in some of the simple tasks at home such as cleaning up, sorting the pantry, shopping or just enjoying each other’s company.
One of the best things you can do for a parent dealing with alcoholism is intervention, but it’s not something you should do on your own. Identify community resources that you can tap to help with the intervention process. The group may include close family members, good friends, church members and professional interventionists trained to handle the emotions and drama that may ensue. It’s a process that requires preparation, coordination and follow up. At times, you may feel like you were better off just tolerating the situation.
But remember this: You are your own person, and you have your own life. You’ve done very well getting yourself this far while living in a home beset with alcoholism. Now that you are an adult, seek the counsel of other adults. Even if your parent is not ready for recovery programs, find the support you may need by attending programs for family members of alcoholics. Do it for yourself.
About the author:
Nicole earned her doctoral degree in Psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy at California School of Professional Psychology. Her doctoral thesis was a grounded theory study exploring the role of alienation and connectedness in the life course of addiction. She specializes in treating addiction and trauma. She is certified in DBT and EMDR, two of the most highly regarded evidence-based methods in psychotherapy. Dr. Doss is a strong LGBT advocate and provides open and affirming support to her LGBT clients.
Dr. Doss’s earlier education included graduating cum laude from the University of California, Irvine in June of 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. While there, she received honors recognition by Psi Chi and Golden Key honor societies.
Nicole has been working with alcoholics and addicts in our California drug and alcohol rehab center as an advisor and counselor for many years. She is passionate about providing quality counseling and care to her clients. Her main focus is on integrating the 12 Step and disease models of addiction with experiential therapeutic theory. She is married to Greg; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.