Help & advice
- Feel too embarrassed to take friends home?
- Feel confused when your mum or dad change when they drink?
- Feel nobody really cares what happens to you?
- Feel guilty and don’t know why?
- Feel different from other children?
- Keep secrets about problems in your family?
- Tell lies to cover up for someone’s drinking?
- Believe no one could possibly understand how you feel?
You are not alone. Many families keep alcohol problems a secret, so sometimes it can feel like you are the only one. 1 in 5 children in the UK live with a parent who drinks too much. This means other people you know at school, clubs etc. may have similar problems, and may be trying to hide it.
If your parent, step-parent, grandparent, carer or anyone else important to you drinks too much, it can affect you, even if you are not living in the same house. A child of an alcoholic can be 1 or 101 – it doesn't change the fact that your parent drinks too much, and the problems this brings.
Alcoholism is like an illness, where the person has lost control over their drinking and usually needs help to stop. There is help and you can feel better if your parent continues to drink or not.
If you are a child affected by your mum or dad’s drinking, we hope this page will help.
You are not alone
Nacoa is here to help. Watch the music video for our single “A change is gonna come”, which shows there are many children like you.
Things to remember
You are not responsible for your mum or dad’s drinking
You can’t control someone else’s drinking. Pouring away, watering down or hiding alcohol may make things worse, and the person drinking may become angry or secretive.
Alcohol affects the brain
Alcohol can make people forget things. They often don’t remember silly, embarrassing or other things they do when drunk. Try not to argue with your mum or dad when they are drinking; it may make things worse; they may say things they normally wouldn’t and may not remember the conversation later.
It’s not your fault
When someone has an alcohol problem, drinking becomes so important that they may upset people they love. Promises are often made but not always kept. Children may feel let down or forgotten.
Your mum or dad can only stop drinking when they are ready. There is help, but they have to accept that they have a problem and want to stop. Remember, your mum or dad’s drinking is never your fault.
The six Cs
- I didn’t cause it
- I can’t cure it
- I can’t control it
- I can take care of myself
- I can communicate my feelings
- I can make healthy choices
Ways to feel better
Talk to someone you trust
Talk about how you are feeling to a friend, relative, teacher or Nacoa. This is not telling on your family and it can make you feel less alone. At Nacoa we understand what it can be like when a parent drinks too much. We will listen and we won’t judge; you can trust us.
Find out more about alcohol and the effects on the family
Understanding how alcohol affects everyone in the family may help you to see things more clearly and help you to feel better. To find out more, see Information. You can also look at questions other children have asked in FAQs.
Spend time doing things you enjoy
Find time for things that you like. It maybe sport or hobbies, playing in your room or in the garden, reading a book or watching TV, or going to a friend’s. Perhaps join an after-school, youth or sports club, or a Scout or Girl Guide group. Sometimes worries can take over, and taking a break (even if just for a short while) can help. You are important too.
Understand that your feelings are normal
It’s OK to hate the problems drinking can cause, yet love the person who is drinking. Alcohol problems in the family can result in a lot of confusing and upsetting feelings. Talking and writing about your feelings can help. Some people like to keep a diary, write poems, or draw and paint.
Read other children’s stories
Reading the stories of other children who have a mum or dad that drinks too much can help you to know you are not alone. To read these stories, see our Children Experiences section.
Look at books about the problem
For books that may be helpful, see our Books section. Some of these books may be available at your local library.
Talk to Nacoa
At Nacoa, we understand what it’s like when a parent drinks too much. Our helpline is free and confidential. We won’t judge and we are here to help. Sometimes just talking or writing to someone helps.
When you call or email, you can tell us as little or as much as you want. Your calls or emails can be long or short and you can contact us as often as you want. You don’t even need to tell anyone else you’ve talked to us. For more information about contacting the helpline and our Nacoa Promise see helpline in our about section.
Ways to stay safe
Sometimes, when mums or dads drink they can change and hurt themselves and people around them. Call Nacoa and we can help you to make a plan just in case you get scared. It does not have to be about the drink problem but anything which frightens you. Making a plan means you will have all the things you need to stop feeling scared when you need it most.
- Some children feel safe in their bedroom, or with their brothers and sisters, some children feel safe with someone they trust, like a grandparent or neighbour.
- You could make lists of places where you feel safe and friends and family you trust with their telephone numbers so you have everything you need to keep safe and separate from the problems at home. You may like to print out and fill in this Important Numbers card to keep in your pencil case, wallet or bag.
- If you are frightened at any time, contact Nacoa and we can help you to find a safe place or phone ChildLine on 0800 1111 and ask for help. The Police and Ambulance Service are also here to help and want you to be safe. You can call 999. They may put you in touch with someone from the Family Support Unit who knows what it’s like living with people who drink too much.
Even if you have other people – like Social Workers – in your life you can continue to contact Nacoa. Nacoa is here for life. You can call as often as you want, even if you just want to talk to someone so you are not alone.
Coping with the death of a parent
Sadly, sometimes when people have alcohol problems, it can lead to them dying. This is scary for everyone and can bring up lots of difficult feelings. If this has happened to you, you may also find it helpful to talk to someone like Nacoa and to read our Coping with the Death of a Parent information sheet.
Other sources of support
Remember Nacoa is always here for you. Here are some other places that you can also get help.
Helpline: 0800 1111
24-hour helpline and website providing support for young people around a range of issues.
Support groups and activities for children who help look after other members of their family, because of alcohol or drug use or other health problems.