Living with a Parent Who Abuses Alcohol

Is living with a parent who abuses alcohol harmful?

While most children have stresses in their lives, children who live with a parent who abuses alcohol have extra stress. Alcoholism is a disease that often tears families apart. Often, parents who abuse alcohol are emotionally or physically abusive to others in the family. Sometimes drunken parents get violent or they do embarrassing things in public.

Children of parents who abuse alcohol may:

  • Abuse drugs or alcohol themselves or engage in other risky behavior
  • Avoid inviting friends home
  • Become a family clown or peacemaker to smooth over troubles
  • Become super-responsible, like a miniature adult
  • Blame themselves for a parent’s drinking. The parent may also blame the child. As a result, many children of parents who abuse alcohol feel unloved and unlovable.
  • Feel angry and disappointed by parents
  • Feel depressed or suicidal
  • Feel lonely and helpless to change things
  • Have problems in school
  • Have unexplained physical symptoms like headaches or stomachaches
  • Lie, steal, or become violent
  • Worry all the time about whether the parent who abuses alcohol will get sick or injured or become violent

What can I do to help?

If you know a child living in a home where there is alcohol abuse:

  • Gently encourage the child to talk about life and listen to what they say.
  • Tell the child that he did not cause, and cannot control or cure the parent’s drinking problem.
  • Tell the child that alcohol abuse is a disease and it’s okay to love the parent but hate the disease.
  • If the parent drinks and drives, give the child your phone number and offer to come pick him or her up.
  • Invite the child to an outing or offer a quiet place to do homework.

If you have a parent who abuses alcohol:

  • Find out more about alcohol abuse and how it affects family members.
  • Talk about your feelings and experiences with someone you trust. It might be a friend, relative, school counselor, teacher, religious leader, or healthcare provider. Talking to someone about your feelings can help you feel less alone.
  • Get involved in school activities, such as the school band, Boy or Girl Scouts, or sports. These types of activities can help you meet friends, have fun, and learn new things about yourself and about how other people live their lives.
  • Do not try to help by ignoring the problem.
  • Don’t ride in a car when the driver has been drinking. Walk if it is safe to do so, or get a ride with an adult you know who has not been drinking.
  • Don’t try to water down your parent’s alcohol or pour it down the drain. The only person who can change alcohol abuse is the person who is drinking. It is up to your parent to get treatment.

Alateen is a support group for people age 12 through 20. Alateen is a part of Al-Anon, a worldwide organization that helps people whose lives have been affected by someone’s else’s drinking. For more information, contact:

Get emergency care if you or a loved one has serious thoughts of suicide or self-harm, violence, or harming others.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2013-04-29
Last reviewed: 2013-04-26
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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