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 people like you going through similar things.
What you can do
Find out more about alcohol and the effects on the family
Understanding how alcohol affects the person drinking and everyone else in the family can help you make some sense of the chaos that often exists when a parent has a drink problem. This can make it easier for you to cope with what’s going on. To find out more, see the Information section.To look at some frequently asked questions, see our young peoples FAQ's.
Remember you are not responsible for other people’s drinking
You can’t control someone else’s drinking or behaviour. Pouring away, watering down or hiding alcohol may make things worse, and the person drinking may become angry, aggressive or secretive. Remember your mum or dad’s drinking is not, and never was, your fault.
Try to remember 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
Remember alcohol affects the brain
Alcohol can make people forget things. They often don’t remember silly, embarrassing or other things they have done when drunk; these are known as memory blackouts. Try not to argue with your parent when they are drinking; it may make things worse; they may say things they normally wouldn’t and will often not remember the conversation later.
When someone has a drink problem, alcohol often becomes their main priority. The need to drink becomes so important that they may hurt and upset people they love. Promises are often made that are not kept. This can be very difficult for everyone in the family. Young people may feel let down or forgotten.
Your mum or dad can only stop drinking when they are ready. There is help available, but they have to accept that they have a problem and want to stop. However, it can be comforting to know what help is out there, so you may wish to read Help for People with Alcohol Problems. If you do want to try talking to them about their drinking and its effect on you, read our Talking to Someone About Their Drinking information sheet for some ideas on how to raise the issue. Remember, it is not your responsibility to stop your parent drinking. It is important to look after yourself first.
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 being disloyal to your family and it can make you feel less alone. Sharing your feelings can help you feel better. At Nacoa we understand what it can be like when a parent has a drink problem. We will listen and we won’t judge; you can trust us.
Make time for yourself
You are important too. Find time for things that interest you, whether it’s sport or hobbies, going for a walk, reading a book or watching TV, walking the dog or just meeting up with friends. Perhaps join an after-school, youth or sports club, a Scout or Girl Guide group, or find people with similar interests. Sometimes worries can take over, and taking a break (even if just for a short while) can help you to feel less stressed.
Understand that your feelings are normal
It’s OK to hate the problems that alcoholism cause, yet love the person who is drinking. Alcohol problems in the family can result in a lot of complicated, confusing and upsetting feelings. Talking and writing about your feelings can help you make sense of them. Some people like to keep a daily journal, write poems, or draw and paint. Sometimes, people find it helpful to write a letter to their parent(s) explaining how they feel – a way to externalise experiences and emotional pain. Some people write with no intention of sending the letter.
Read people’s experiences
Hearing about the experiences of other people often helps to make sense of our own feelings, and helps us to feel less alone. Although every family is unique, there are many similarities in how alcohol problems affect the family. To read other young people’s experiences see the Experiences section.
Read about the problem
For books that may be helpful when a parent has, or has had, a drink problem see our Books section. Some of these books may be available at your local library.
At Nacoa, we understand what it can be like when a parent has an alcohol problem. Our helpline is free and confidential. We won’t judge and we are here to help. Sometimes just talking or writing to someone anonymously about how you are feeling can help.
When you call or email, you can tell us little or as much as you wish. 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 you’ve talked to us. For more information about contacting the helpline and our Nacoa promise see our Helpline section.
Meet others with the same problem
There are places you can go to meet young people in similar circumstances. Nacoa is always happy to research sources of support in your area. There are a few Alateen meetings around the UK for young people aged 12-17 affected by a family member’s drinking. If you are over 12 you can go to an Al-Anon Family Groups meeting; however, this is likely to be mainly adults. If you are a young person providing emotional, physical or practical support for your family because of substance misuse, see the Young Carer website to find a young carer’s project near you.
Nacoa has an online forum for people affected by their parent's dependency.
Access counselling services
Some people find professional counselling a helpful way to work through the lasting effects of growing up with parental alcoholism. If you think counselling might be right for you, you could talk to your doctor who may be able to refer you. There is also likely to be a counsellor you can talk to at your school or college. We can happily research organisations that offer counselling to young people in your area.
Ways to stay safe
You can’t control someone else’s drinking or behaviour. Pouring away, watering down or hiding alcohol may make things worse, and the person drinking may become angry, aggressive or secretive. Remember your mum or dad’s drinking is, and never was, your fault.
Sometimes, when people 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.
- Think about where you feel safe. Some people feel safe in their bedroom, with their brothers and sisters or other people they trust, like a friend, 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. Make sure you’ve got their numbers saved in your phone or you may like to print out and fill in this Important phone 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.
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 death of a parent
Sadly, sometimes when people have alcohol problem, 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 read our Coping with the Death of a Parent information sheet.
Other sources of support
Some other national organisations offering support to young people are listed below. You can also contact Nacoa and we will happily research services local to you and other national organisations that may be helpful.
Helpline: 0207 403 0888
Support for anyone whose life is, or has been, affected by someone else’s drinking, through local meetings and literature.
Helpline: 0800 1111
24-hour helpline and website providing support for young people around a range of issues.