Living with an Alcoholic
- A Helpful Approach

If you find yourself living with an alcoholic, you may feel you are in an extremely difficult situation. It is very understandable if you want to seek help for yourself even if the alcoholic will not. There aren’t all that many programs that will help you cope with the issues that are bound to come along.

One group that offers help for the person living with an Alcoholic is Al-Anon. This can be very effective help but be prepared for the ‘tough love’ approach. Most people are told to throw the problem drinker out (or leave them depending on your circumstances).

This is wise advice in situations where your own or your children’s health and safety may be at risk. However there are many situations where this isn’t the case and the blanket ‘chuck him out’ fix all is not always the best course of action for someone you care about.

Living with an Alcoholic Parent

A young person who is living with an alcoholic parent needs others to talk to. This situation is one that will in effect reverse the parent and child roles. The alcoholic parent may forget to buy groceries or in getting drunk forget the stove is on.

The child then must take on the responsibilities that are normally the parents. I have personal experience of this and know how frightening this situation can be.

In extreme situations, it is better if the child reports the alcoholism and receives help for them and their parent. It’s important to talk to an adult you trust – maybe your school has a counsellor, or a teacher you get on with? In America some schools have a D.A.R.E. (Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education) officers, Uncles or Aunties may also be a source of help.

A group for teenagers exists as an offshoot of Alcoholics Anonymous and it’s called Al-Ateen.

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Living with an Alcoholic Child

A parent who finds they are living with an alcoholic child has a few more options than the reverse situation. In the US if your child is under age, you can have them committed to a residential treatment facility for help. On the other hand should this be an adult child you are dealing with your options will be more limited.

In the best-case scenario, you may be able to convince him/her to seek treatment for alcoholism on their own; you could do this by talking to them or in extreme situations through an intervention.

I’ve found in these situations that someone from outside of the family can often get the message through. I’ve been asked to intervene in a number of cases where the child just won’t listen to either parent.

With an adult child, should the alcoholism become a real threat to your safety, say for instance they get violent, or behave in a dangerous manner (fall asleep with lit cigarettes for example) then you should ask them to leave immediately – in this situation it isn’t just their life that may be at risk.

Living with an Alcoholic Spouse

The spouse is a very different ball game when it comes to alcoholism. Unlike your grown children or parents, you cannot simply move out without ramifications. I mean if you move away from your grown child there is still a parent child relationship. When you leave your spouse, you may be leaving your marriage.

Firstly though let me repeat what I said at the start of this page – you are not responsible for someone else’s drinking problems – period! Unless you physically tie them down, hold their nose whilst pouring alcohol down a funnel into their mouth – YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE – THEY ARE.

They are also responsible for their recovery, no one else is, this doesn’t mean however that you shouldn’t help them if you feel motivated to do so.

The best advice for a spouse of an alcoholic is to first not take it personally. Do not start thinking that their addiction has anything to do with you or their love for you. Spouses especially are prone to thinking ‘if he or she loved me enough then they would quit’ or ‘if I was a better wife/husband then they wouldn’t drink like this’.

Generally, this is not the case; your spouse has an addiction that only they can decide to deal with.

I hate to be hard but this ‘it’s my fault’ thinking is so damaging – you are not to blame under any circumstances (other than the tying him down with a funnel like I described above!).

What you decide to do will really depend on what type of alcoholic your spouse is. Happy drunks are not generally dangerous to anyone but themselves, however they do tend to be irresponsible with finances.

Protect yourself if they ever become violent, protect your home by holding on to the finances and paying the bills and protect your sanity by joining a support group of others in your same situation if you can.

Living with an alcoholic can be a nightmare, however I’m aware that because of the stigma surrounding alcoholism many people affected by someone else’s drinking are reluctant to join groups. For that reason I work with a lot of spouses on a one to one basis for stress relief and self-confidence building.