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Mom Has A Drinking Problem - How Can I Help Her And My Family?

Published: December 19, 2013
Dear TeenHealthFX,
My mom's family has a history of alcoholism, and I've known about her drinking for most of my life. Lately, however, it's begun to take a toll on everyone, including myself. Every other day she'll hide her drinks, usually beer or mugs of wine, and then she'll get into arguments with my dad. She is the main reason that I can't wait to move out, which will happen late next year. (I have a feeling that my dad is pushing me to live at home for college because he doesn't want to handle her on his own.) I envy my brother greatly at times like these because of his infrequent visits home from college, and my dad just writes her off as being "a little wacky" when she repeats herself or makes absurd statements. I confronted her about her habits the other day and she promised to start drinking in front of us rather than in private. However, today she was acting strangely and I found an empty beer can in her hiding place. I can't tell you how angry I am at her, but I don't want to cause any more tension in the house during the holidays. What can I do to help my mom and ultimately my family without causing more pain than it already has?
Signed: Mom Has A Drinking Problem - How Can I Help Her And My Family?

Dear Mom Has A Drinking Problem - How Can I Help Her And My Family?,


Dealing with a parent with a substance abuse problem can be a very difficult thing. It is especially difficult because it ends up not being simply a problem with the individual abusing drugs, but a problem with the entire family system. In your situation you have the following to deal with: your mother’s alcohol problem, your father’s tendency to enable her and not address her drinking problem, your brother totally removing himself leaving you perhaps feeling abandoned by him, and your feelings of distress and guilt that are driving you to feel like you need to fix this problem. Family systems that revolve around a substance abuse problem create many levels of difficult feelings and situations for children to cope with.

To help yourself, and hopefully influence your parents to get the help they BOTH need, FX recommends the following:

·         Let your mother know that you are concerned about her drinking. Be clear and direct with her that you see her as having a drinking problem and that you hope for the sake of her own physical and emotional health, as well as the sake of your relationship with one another, that she will seek out help for herself. Let her know that there are inpatient rehabs, outpatient programs, AA meetings, and lots of other resources available for her and that you hope she will contact her insurance company to find out what her options are so that she can get the help she needs. If you feel there will be any consequences to her not getting help for herself (i.e., you will be home less often, less involved with the family, or there will be a distant or strained relationship between the two of you) let her know what those consequences will be. Try and convey this information to your mother in as calm and matter-of-fact way as you can do. Raise this at a time when you are calm, not as a threat, but as something you want her to be aware of. Do not put this out there only as a response when you are angry at her.

·         Have a private conversation with your father about your mother. Let him know that you see her as having a serious drinking problem that requires professional treatment. Let him know that you do not see her as being simply “a little wacky” and that you will not brush her behaviors under the rug as something to be minimized or ignored. Let your father know that it concerns you that he minimizes how problematic her drinking is, and that you think for his sake, for your mother’s sake, and the sake of their marriage you feel he needs to see this and treat this as a substance abuse problem. Let your father know you think it would be very helpful for him to attend an Al-Anon meeting or see a private therapist so that he can figure out how to best address this situation. As with your mother, let your father know what the consequences will be if he does not act on this (again, that you might not come home as often, etc.).   

·         Attend a support group that will help you to address the feelings going on with you about your mother’s drinking, and that will give you support and guidance as to how you want to deal with these issues. You can contact the Al-Anon/Alateen Hotline, 1-800-344-2666, 8am-6pm EST. Help for young people who are the relatives and friends of problem drinkers.

·         Consider meeting with a private therapist, as well, to address the feelings you have about your mother’s drinking and how the family seems to be dealing with it. If you live in northern New Jersey and need help finding a therapist you can call the Access Center from Atlantic Behavioral Health at 888-247-1400. Outside of this area you can log onto the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website for referrals in your area. You can also contact your insurance company to get a list of in-network mental health providers or check with your school social worker or psychologist to get a list of referrals in your area.

·         Remember that you cannot change your mother or father. You can state your feelings and follow through with consequences, but in the end it is up to them to make the necessary changes they need to in order to address this problem. This is an issue you may need to work on in therapy as often children will feel overly-responsible for their parents or spend too much time and energy focusing on wanting to change them.

·         Focus on what you need to in order to stay mentally healthy, yourself. If you need to go away to school, distance yourself from your family, or whatever else to stay emotionally healthy, then that is what you need to do. You are not responsible for your mother’s drinking. You are not responsible to take care of her or your father. People with substance abuse problems often end up in relationships where both partners are co-dependent – basically meaning that they are emotionally over-dependent on the other person. It is important that you not get sucked into this, but that you keep firm and healthy boundaries when it comes to individual responsibility. Again, therapy can help to provide you with some help and guidance with this issue.

·         Talk to your brother about how you are feeling. As your sibling, hopefully he can understand and empathize with what you are going through. Look to him as a source of guidance and support with this – try and help each other out to be as emotionally healthy as you each can be.  

Signed: TeenHealthFX