Alcohol

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.