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Being the Child of an Alcoholic: Helping your Parent by Helping Yourself

Written by Hannah Woods
Published on October 3, 2019

It is exhausting. The feelings of constant worrying and anxiety about having to expect the unexpected. Knowing that all you want is the best for them but, struggling to understand why they make the decisions that they do. Loving them but being angry at all the pain and hurt they may have put you or other loved ones through. Knowing even when things are good you have that fear in the back of your mind because you don’t know when it’s going to get bad again. Carrying a heavyweight on your shoulders whether you live in the same house with them or live 1000 miles away. These are just some of the many emotions that come with being the child of someone actively suffering from alcoholism.  

I’ve had to work through these same emotions, and I know countless people are in this same position. Years of experience in coping with my own parent’s alcoholism have helped me come up with strategies that may help others in a similar position.  

Set Boundaries  

This is so important in any kind of relationship you have. Boundaries are what keep a healthy and prospering relationship. Whether it be the amount of time you spend with them or how close you let yourself get to them. The relationship between my parent and I was closer to being best friends rather than parent and daughter, making it even harder when her drinking got bad.   

It is also important to make sure you aren’t their only resource for help; you can’t be the only person they have to fall back on. Having all the pressure on you can lead to strains in your mental health and in your relationship. It’s okay to be there to support them, just make sure there’s a team of you because it can be draining.  

Remember That You’re Not Alone 

No matter what they say or how much they put you down they are still your parent and you will always be their child. Nothing will ever change that. Sometimes they will say things that they don’t mean, and it will always be hard to not take it to heart. Just keep reminding yourself that it’s the disease talking, not them and learn to forgive them.  

According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholic, one in every four children lives with a parent who is an alcoholic or drug addict. You are not alone when it comes to living with this pain and you don’t have to carry the burden on your own. Talking to a therapist can be extremely helpful when managing this difficult situation while trying to maintain a healthy relationship. There are also al-anon meetings where you can go and talk to people who may be in similar situations as you. 

Never blame yourself, Even if they do  

Since you are one of the people closest to them, they may fall back and put the blame on you because they aren’t ready to own up to their own mistakes. Like I said earlier, don’t take this to heart. Just remind yourself that you are doing all that you can to help and it is not your fault. No one asks to be an alcoholic and no one asks to be put into the position you’re in. It’s a disease that affects everyone who loves the person but isn’t placing blame on them.  

Put Yourself First  

Your own mental health and well-being should always come first in your list of importance. Always make sure to do check-ins with yourself to make sure you’re in a good place. It is difficult to help someone else if you aren’t even in the right place to help yourself. Taking care of your parent when they should be taking care of you can really affect your trust and ability to create healthy relationships in the future.   

Keeping all of this in mind can help you move forward with your own life while also being there for them as they move forward with theirs. Being put in this situation as a child is draining but remembering that you’re not alone and that there is support out there can be helpful. My hope is that my experiences with being in this position can help at least one other person who may be going through something similar. 



Hannah Woods is an intern at the O’Connor Professional Group (OPG) in her senior year at Salem State University where she majors in Marketing with a Psychology minor. Hannah’s personal experiences have sparked her desire to speak out in hopes to share what shes learned and help others who might be going through similar things. 

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