If you are affected by someone else’s drinking, this page will help you find out more about alcoholism and the effects on the family. This can help you to feel better. You are not alone. Nacoa is here to help.
Alcoholism – when drinking becomes a problem
Understanding more about alcoholism can help make sense of some of the chaos that often exists when a parent is dependent on alcohol.
- Alcohol problems can affect people of all ages and from all walks of life.
- Alcoholism is like an illness, where the person has lost control over their drinking. They continue to drink despite negative effects on their lives, their health, and those around them and usually need help to stop.
- People don’t set out to become alcoholics. Some start drinking socially and end up drinking heavily and becoming dependent on alcohol. Others drink to forget problems, such as with work, relationships or finances, or to reduce anxiety and feel more confident. The slide into problem drinking can be gradual as they come to rely on alcohol more and more.
- Often the person drinking doesn’t realise they have a problem. Even when they become aware something is wrong, they may not see the connection to drinking. It is common for the alcoholic to place the blame on other people, or problems in their life. This is referred to as being ‘in denial’. Whatever anyone says, you are not responsible for your parent’s drinking and it’s not your fault.
- When someone has a drink problem, alcohol often becomes their main focus in life. Drinking is seen as the solution to their problems. They can become secretive, and often try to explain away how much they drink, when and where. The need to drink takes priority over everything else. It becomes so important to them that they may hurt and upset those they love. If they are a parent, this can leave their children feeling like they are not important or cared for.
- Support is available for people who need help to stop drinking, but as hard as it is for those around them, the person has to accept that they have a problem and want to stop. For information about where someone with an alcohol problem can get help see Help for People with Alcohol Problems.
Not sure if your parent has a problem with alcohol?
You may find it helpful to look at our Other Person Diagnosis sheet.
Remember that Nacoa is here for everyone affected by someone else’s drinking. We focus on how it affects you, whether they’ve been diagnosed as having a problem or not.
Wondering if your own drinking is becoming a problem?
Many young people try alcohol and may sometimes get drunk with their friends. However, it can be worrying if you find yourself drinking as a way of coping, or if it’s getting you into trouble. Try our Self Diagnosis sheet and see what you think. You can talk to us about your concerns. If you have any worries about your drinking, talking about it sooner, rather than later, can help. You don’t have to wait until it gets ‘bad enough’ or you think you have a ‘drink problem’.
For more in-depth information including definitions; why people drink; how alcoholism can progress; neurochemistry; and genetics, please read our Alcoholism information sheet.
Alcoholism and the family
Alcohol problems do not only affect the person drinking, but also everyone around them, including friends, family and colleagues. It can be especially difficult for young people in the family.
- Research suggests that 1 in 5 children in the UK are currently living with a parent who drinks hazardously.
- You can be affected by your parent, step-parent or carer’s drink problem, even if you are not living in the same house, or if they no longer drink.
- The effects can continue into adulthood. Millions of young people and adults in the UK are affected by their parents’ drinking. For more detailed information about the number of people affected, see Research.
- As the person drinking organises his/her life around alcohol, other family members can be left feeling unimportant and confused.
- Family members also adapt to cope with the drinking and associated behaviour. The drink problem often becomes the family secret. Young members of the family often ‘work together’ with the alcoholic and other family members to keep the problem hidden from the outside world. The family rules don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel develop to protect the illusion of a ‘normal’ family.
- Living with alcoholism can be chaotic and lead to other problems. Sometimes there are money problems, parents can argue a lot or there can be violence and mood swings. What’s OK one day may not be OK the next.
- This can lead to feelings of fear, anxiety, loneliness, embarrassment, guilt and shame.
- Worrying about your parent and what is happening at home, or being woken up in the night by arguments, can make it hard to concentrate in the day.
- Children of alcoholics can be more likely to suffer from low self-esteem, depression and thoughts of suicide, and sometimes use drink, drugs and addictive behaviours, such as eating disorders and self-harm, in order to cope
- Despite this, many grow up to lead happy and healthy lives. Just being aware of the problem and having support for you can make a huge difference.
- When drinking is hidden, it can be hard for anyone else to notice there is anything wrong. If people do notice, they often don’t know what to say or do.
- When no one speaks about the problem or offers help, it can feel like you are the only going through this. You are not alone and you can talk to Nacoa who understand what it can be like when a parent drinks too much.
See how a young boy called Toby is affected by his dad’s alcoholism in a short BBC film called "Toby's Dad". Watch Toby’s Dad on the BBC website.
Newsround have also made a special programme called "Living with Alcohol" which shows how children can be affected by their parents’ drinking. Watch Living with Alcohol on the Newsround website.
The devastating effects of alcoholism are also shown in this powerful music video for the single ‘Through the Eyes’ by Redzz. The song is based on a true story about Del, an alcoholic. It portrays the downward spiral in Del's life due to alcoholism and the knock-on effects on his family.
For more detailed information about how families adapt to alcoholism, please read our Alcoholism – The Family Illness information sheet.
You are not alone
Remember Nacoa is here for you. If you want to talk about anything on this page or in these videos, please call or email Nacoa.
- However you are feeling, or whatever questions are on your mind, we will always try to help.
- When a parent has a drink problem, it isn’t easy, but you don’t have to cope on your own.
- See Help & advice for ideas on ways to feel better.
- You may also find it helpful to read Experiences of other young people affected by their parent’s drinking.