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What Do I Do if My Parent is an Addict?


If you clicked on this blog, then you are most likely worried that your mother or father drinks (or uses) too much. It can be difficult living in your house with someone who is hard to predict. It can be okay one minute, and the next you can be criticized unfairly. This can cause a lot of confusion, and it can feel scary and unsafe. If you are in this type of environment, you have learned many things to help you survive. Some of them are good ways of coping, and others you may find are harmful. While there is not anything you can do to stop your parent from drinking (or using), there are things you can do to protect yourself, and things to keep in mind that may help you cope.

How to protect yourself:

Often times when you are growing up in an environment where someone is struggling with addiction, you learn not to trust yourself, not to feel the way you are feeling, and not to talk to anyone in order to survive. You can protect yourself by...

  • Seeking support from a therapist or a group such as Al-anon to help you process the things that come up at home, and find healthy ways of coping if you aren't feeling good about the ways you are currently coping.

  • Being aware of the way you are talking to yourself. Sometimes this can make things more difficult.

  • Learning more about what addiction is. The more you understand it, the more you will learn how to handle it, and the more you will know how to support yourself.

  • Learning what your boundaries are and how to set them.

  • Understanding that while we cannot control how other people interpret what we say, we have full control over how we say it. Pay attention to what you are saying and how you are delivering it. If you are frustrated, wait to talk so that you are able to respond instead of react.

Anytime you feel unsafe, overwhelmed, or that “gross” uncomfortable feeling, that is a good sign that a boundary needs to be set or was not respected. Setting boundaries will protect you, even if it may not feel that way. Sometimes we don't feel safe even communicating that a boundary needs to be set because of how the other person will react. If this is the case, do whatever you need to do to protect yourself. I am not saying to disobey your parents, but if what they are asking you to do is going to put you in harm's way, don't do it. For example, if your parent has been drinking and picks you up from a friends house, it is okay to refuse to get into the car. If a parent is calling you names, you do not have to fight back, even if it may feel really good to get that last word in. When someone is acting in an unsafe way, they are not in a rational space and you cannot reason with them. You will be safer if you walk away from the argument and take a break instead of engaging in it.

Things to keep in mind:

  • You did not cause this - it is not your fault.

  • It may not feel like it, but your parent(s) do love you. They are struggling and are not happy or healthy. How they are acting is because of what they are going through. It has nothing to do with you.

  • You cannot fix this - it is your parent's responsibility to do so. Your parent may struggle to get the help they need if they are truly addicted. This is still not your responsibility.

  • You have a right to your feelings, and to communicate them.

  • It is never okay for anyone to hurt you physically or put you down.

  • We may not get to pick our families, or how they treat us, but we do get to pick what kind of relationship we have with them and how we respond.

While addiction and abuse do not always coincide, sometimes they do. If you or someone you know is being abused, please get help. Abuse can affect the way you function on a day to day basis. It can negatively impact the way you think about yourself, the relationships you have with other people, and your motivation at school. If you find that you are struggling with these things, see an outside therapist, call a hotline, tell a trusted adult, or if you are feeling really unsafe - call 911.

Here are some resources you may find helpful:



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