The Elephant in the Room: When Your Father is an Alcoholic

June 13th, 2019
The Elephant in the Room: When Your Father is an Alcoholic

If you grew up with an alcoholic father, you know what it feels like to fear the person who is supposed to keep you safe. To feel anger and frustration towards someone you love. For chaos to be your everyday normal. See, when you are the child of an alcoholic, you learn not to wait for dad to pick you up from school. You make excuses for his erratic behavior. You learn to avoid him when he’s in one of his moods, and get used to him disappearing for days at a time. You feel mad, confused, and sad, but mostly you feel helpless because you desperately want what everyone else seems to have — a normal, loving family. 

There are approximately 6.6 million children under the age of 18 living with at least one alcoholic parent. But when your father is the one addicted, it’s easy to feel alone. As an adult, watching your father struggle with alcohol doesn’t get any easier. Regardless of your age, you can’t help but feel guilty that you can’t do more to help. And carrying the weight of your father’s addiction can take a tremendous toll on your well-being, leaving a lasting impact for many years to come.

How to Help Yourself

As you’ve experienced first-hand, addiction is a disease that doesn’t just affect the person drinking or using. Your father’s battle against alcohol has become your battle, and it is time that you stop fighting it on your own. Asking for help for yourself is the best thing you can do. Whether it’s through therapy, family support groups, or a support group for adult children of alcoholics, addressing your fears and anxieties is necessary for you to heal from the effects of addiction. Surrounding yourself with support can also help you understand that you are not alone in your experiences and give you hope for a happier future. Most importantly, it enables you to understand that you did not cause your father’s issues with alcohol, and that no matter how much you may want to, it is not your job to fix them.

How to Help an Alcoholic Father

You can’t cure your father’s alcoholism, but you can help guide him towards a life of recovery.

Address the Issue Head On:

Often, when someone dies from addiction, their loved ones will say that they didn’t realize just how serious it was. How they wish they would’ve said something. You have the chance to be open and honest with your father about his addiction. And while it will be a difficult conversation — or a series of difficult conversations — it could be what makes him finally get the help he needs.

You may fear that he will tell you that it’s none of your business. That you’re the child and he’s the parent and knows better. Maybe he’ll deny having an issue and assure you that everything is under control, but don’t give in. The conversation may become uncomfortable fast, but your father needs to hear you say that he has a problem. He needs to hear how his drinking has affect your life and your relationship with him.

Do Not Hide It:

There is so much stigma surrounding addiction that you may be inclined to keep your father’s struggle a secret. However, it is important that you do not hide his addiction from those around him. While it will be difficult to admit that your father had to miss an important family function because of his drinking, this will hold him accountable and let other family members truly understand what is going on. Not only will they be there to support you, but they may be able to help your father realize just how much his addiction is impacting others.

Set Boundaries:

When it’s your father who is struggling, it can be easy to excuse bad behavior or to want to cover up the effects of his actions, but if you don’t let him experience the true consequences of his drinking, he may never feel the need to stop. Establishing boundaries is a difficult and emotional process, but it is truly what is best for you both. Take some time to think and determine what you are willing to accept and what you’re not. Perhaps your father is not allowed to be around your children when he has been drinking, or you decide you won’t bail him out of legal trouble. Whatever your boundaries are, it is important that you stick to them. And while they are not meant to serve as punishment, they may help your father realize just what a damaging effect alcohol is having on his life.

Seek Treatment:

Convincing your father that he needs treatment won’t be easy, especially if he has tried it before. But the reality is that addiction is a lifelong battle and for many, one stint in rehab simply isn’t enough. For treatment to work, one must be truly ready to get sober. To want to change their life. Because of this, you can’t force your father into treatment. But what you can do is educate yourself about addiction, research different treatment centers and treatment options, and provide your father with options. He may deny needing treatment, and that is okay. Just let him know that help is out there and that you are ready to support him whenever he is ready to seek treatment.

It’s not easy having a father who struggles with alcohol but know that you are not alone. There is support available and you can heal from the effects of addiction. While your father’s journey to recovery won’t happen overnight, you don’t have to allow addiction to destroy your life.   

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Bhupendra Singh on September 21, 2020 7:53 AM

My father is the sole bread earner of my family, he has been an alcoholic since last 5 years, I've seen him hitting my mother, abusing her. Many times he drank that much that he is not able to walk from liqour shop to home, and i have to pick him up and take him home. I studies in a city far from home. He never cares about studies of me or my sisters and he doesn't even talk to anybody, i've tried many things, I've even hit him once. And now i feel guilty but nothing ever is fruitful, sometime i feel that i am lossing this battle and i don't even have any hope left, juat hoping for a miracle


View 1 Reply

    Anthony on September 22, 2020 9:40 AM

    Hello Bhupendra, I would like to start by saying I am sorry you have had to witness your father struggle with alcoholism and see your mother suffer from abuse due to his addiction. If you ever need a safe space to go to talk about your experiences and gain insights from our clinicians and others who share a similar experiences, please attend one of our free virtual Friends & Family Support Groups. Also, please do not feel guilty or blame yourself, it can be difficult trying to help someone battling addiction. But, this is not your fault. I also would like to recommend you read up on what to do and what not to do when trying to help someone struggling with addiciton. I hope our resources are of help to you.- Anthony


Claire Hinkle on July 20, 2020 1:19 PM

Hello, My dad has been struggling with alcoholism for a while now and we just kind of kept brushing it under the rug. When he is drunk he does stupid things that hurt my mom. My mom ended up kicking him out a while ago and he ended up in the hospital for saying he was going to commit suicide. He spent a couple days in the psych ward and thought that was good enough. Well it wasn’t and the other day my mom found out he was drunk again, later that night I found my dad in the ditch upside down in his car from drunk driving. He is in the hospital with minor injuries but is all alone because we are all mad at him. I don’t know what to do anymore. I feel bad he is all alone and I want to go see him to support him, but I want him to know his family is mad at him for his choices and that he needs to get help.


View 2 Replies

    Tabitha on July 21, 2020 4:07 PM

    Hi, Claire. I can definitely relate. My dad is an alcoholic too. I wrote this blog post about my experiences with him. Loved ones of folks struggling with addiction have found our Friends & Family Virtual Support Groups very helpful. A Mountainside clinician is always present at the meetings to offer pro advice, and you can hear how others are coping with similar problems. The support groups are online and free. Learn more about our Friends & Family Virtual Support Groups here. Hope this helps a little. Wishing you the best, Tabitha @


    TJ on July 25, 2020 9:31 AM

    I cried reading this Claire. My dad has too been struggling with alcohol. We just got back from a family vacation with him for a week and he couldn't hide it..He snuck vodka even though he told us he wouldn't be drinking because he's on prednizone for his gout (caused from drinking). My mother and sisters and I are at our wits end. He is ridiculous and mean and nonsensical when he's drunk and it's going to kill him but everyone is too scared and no one knows what to do. We're starting to look into intervention options as a last resort. It's heartbreaking and emotionally exhausting because we love him so much. Big hugs I understand.