How to Help a Child Who Drinks Too Much Alcohol
If you have an adult child who is struggling with their alcohol use, it’s natural to be concerned and to want to help. You might feel angry or confused and you might not know where to turn. If you’re worried about how to help, you should know that you’re not alone.
Encouraging your alcoholic son or daughter to get help may lower their risk of serious mental and physical health problems, reduce the likelihood of family, work, legal, and other concerns, and help your adult child regain control of their lives.1 Keep reading to learn about how to support your child and the types of alcohol rehabs that can help..
What Is Alcohol Addiction?
Alcohol addiction is diagnosed as an alcohol use disorder, or AUD. It is a chronic, relapsing disease that causes lasting brain changes that make it very hard for someone to stop drinking.2
Recovering from AUD is not simply a matter of willpower or being “strong enough” to quit—AUD is a medical disorder that is characterized by an inability to stop or control alcohol use despite the negative consequences.3 Your child probably knows that their alcohol use is harmful to their health and relationships, but they might keep drinking anyway. They may rationalize their behavior, make excuses, hide their drinking, or engage in other secretive or harmful behaviors.
Just like other diseases and conditions, AUD is a medical problem that can be treated. Evidence-based treatment can help the brain heal and help the person start living a healthier and sober life.4
I Think My Son or Daughter Drinks Too Much
It can be frustrating to learn that someone can’t control their alcohol use. If you’re wondering “does my daughter have an alcohol problem” or “does my son have an alcohol problem,” keep in mind that only doctors or licensed addiction professionals can diagnose someone with AUD.
But some possible warning signs that could suggest your child’s drinking has gotten out of control may include:3,5
- Drinking more or for longer periods than they intended.
- Saying they want to cut down their alcohol use but being unable to do so.
- Spending most of their time drinking or recovering from the effects of alcohol.
- Having family, work, or relationship problems because of their drinking.
- Bloodshot eyes or strange smells on their breath.
- Engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors.
- Neglecting their responsibilities, including their children.
- Sudden mood swings or changes in personality.
How to Support an Alcoholic Child
If you’re asking “how can I help my son or daughter stop drinking,” you should understand that you can’t make someone stop drinking or force an adult to seek treatment. However, there are many ways to help your child and show your love and support.
Keep in mind that when your child is under the influence, they will probably not be in the best mental space and may be unwilling to hear what you want to say. Save the conversation for when they are sober, in a private setting without distractions.6 Alcohol can make someone act in unpredictable and possibly aggressive ways, so you’ll also want to be sure to keep yourself safe.
You don’t necessarily have to wait until your child is ready to talk, because that may never be the case, but it’s also important to realize that confrontations are not always the best way of helping.7 Try to remember that you’re coming from a place of love and concern, and that’s the best way to encourage your child to start the healing process.
What to Say to Someone with Addiction
It’s probably not going to be easy to have the conversation, but preparing yourself in advance can help. Writing down your concerns in a list can help you organize your thoughts and feelings. It can also be useful to refer to your list during the conversation to help you stay on track.
Some things to keep in mind can include:6
- Use direct but empathic “I” statements. For example, you could say, “I understand that you are struggling, but I am concerned about you.”
- Express your concerns directly—don’t beat around the bush. Focus on concrete, observable behaviors and consequences, such as “Your kids get very upset when you come home drunk.”
- Listen to their thoughts and concerns without interrupting. Ask them how they are feeling and if there’s anything you can do to help.
- Let them know that you are willing to assist them with seeking help. You could encourage them to consult their doctor for an evaluation, help them research treatment centers, offer to go to family therapy, or give them whatever support is necessary.
- Be patient and don’t give up hope. It could take a few tries before they’re ready to seek help.
Remember that it’s not easy for someone to admit that they have a problem. Offering encouragement and letting them know that it takes courage to reach out might give them the motivation they need to take the next step.
What Not to Say to Your Loved one
There are also certain things you should try to avoid when talking to your adult child about their alcohol use.
- Avoid ultimatums or threats. This could cause increased frustration and difficulty, because they may become defensive or combative.
- Don’t lecture or criticize them. Again, this can cause them to become defensive and be much less willing to hear what you’re saying.
- Avoid blaming them. Don’t refer to them as an addict or an alcoholic because this is stigmatizing and can make them feel attacked.8
- Avoid confrontations. Research shows that confrontational interventions are not likely to help and could actually backfire.9
Take Care of Yourself
Dealing with a son or daughter who has an alcohol problem is stressful. It’s important to take care of yourself; your needs are important, and if you’re exhausted, it will also be much harder to be there for your child. Individual counseling can be a helpful way to make time for yourself, give you a place where you can talk about your feelings, and learn healthy ways of self-care. You could also attend mutual support groups for families and friends of people with alcohol problems, such as Al-Anon.
It’s also important to avoid enabling. This can cause harm to both you and your child because you’re only rescuing them from the consequences of their substance use.10,11 If they aren’t able to face these consequences, they may not see the need for change.
Enabling behaviors can include:10
- Giving them money to pay for alcohol.
- Bailing them out of jail.
- Calling in sick to work for them.
- Lying to others or making excuses for them (such as when they’re hungover and not present for family gatherings, etc.)
- Paying their bills for them.
Setting healthy boundaries means that you set limits that protect you and lets them know what you will and will not tolerate.12 This might help them take responsibility and perhaps see the need to seek help, but also prioritizes your feelings and needs as well. Remember, you don’t need to justify or apologize for your boundaries.12
Some examples of ways to set healthy boundaries include:
- Saying things such as, “I will not lie to friends or family about your drinking anymore.”
- Not giving them money.
- Not calling in sick to work for them.
- Letting them know you won’t allow them to drink in your house anymore.
- Telling them you won’t bail them out of jail or other legal or financial problems anymore.
Types of Alcohol Rehab for Your Child
Researching and learning more about rehab can help you explain the options to your child. There are many different treatment options, such as:13
- Detox, which helps them safely undergo alcohol withdrawal and prepares them for further treatment.
- Inpatient rehab, which means they live onsite and get 24/7 care, support, and treatment.
- Outpatient rehab, which means they continue to live at home but travel to rehab on a set schedule for treatment.
The setting that is most suitable for your child can depend on different factors, such as the extent of their alcohol use, their overall health, the level of support they have at home, and their insurance coverage. Treatment should be tailored to their individual needs.3 Regardless of the setting, your child will receive counseling, different therapies, perhaps medications, and other services to help them start the path to recovery.3
If your child refuses treatment, you could try the CRAFT approach, which is a type of time-limited behavioral therapy designed to support family members and increase the odds of their loved ones seeking treatment.14 You can consult a qualified psychologist or other mental health professional to learn more about this approach.
Getting Help for a Child with AUD
No matter how things might seem right now, it’s never too late to reach out for help. American Addiction Centers (AAC) is here to help you understand treatment options and answer questions if you’re not sure how to help a child with alcohol use disorder.
We offer evidence-based AUD treatment at rehabs across the country that can help your child regain control of their lives. Please contact our free, confidential helpline at any time of day or night to learn more about treatment and rehab options.