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What Can I Do if My Mother or Father Is an Alcoholic or Drug Abuser?

One of the most common issues we hear about is that a parent has become an addict and the children don’t know what to do about it. Sometimes, they’re scared of being taken away from the parent if the authorities find out. Sometimes they want the parent simply to get better. And sometimes, they’re suffering from the effects of the parent’s mood swings and violence. It is a tragic situation, but here are a few of your options.

If your parent beats you while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, you need to seek help. It’s likely that people have already noticed that you suffer from a lot of injuries or miss school a lot. You might have little money even though your parents seem to be doing reasonably well job-wise.

You need to treat this like any other disease. If your parent was sick with the flu to the point where he or she could not function, you’d take your parent to the doctor. The same goes for addiction, although it’s not quite as simple to fix.

How to Talk to an Addicted Parent

The first thing that you need to do is sit down and talk with your parent when he or she is sober. Be gentle but persistent. If your parent does refuse to talk the first time, try again and again. Eventually, you should get through.

The reasons for alcoholism and drug abuse vary, but no one sits down and thinks, “today, I am going to become an addict.” Instead, it tends to be a slippery slope. Be prepared for a fairly long story when your parent is able to open up.

It’s important to simply ask questions, not act disapprovingly. The idea is to help your parent reach the conclusion that he or she is in a mess and needs help. Ask questions like:

  • When did you first start using [drug]?
  • How much do you reckon you get through in a day?
  • Where do you get it from?
  • How do you feel when on it?
  • And how do you feel off it?
  • Would you like to never have to take it again?

Questions like these encourage parents to open up about their drug misuse. Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive list, but it is a start. Your goal is to provide an opening for your parent to talk and possibly seek help or treatment for the addiction and drug abuse.

You should also speak to your other parent if possible. Ask for ideas and why that parent puts up with it. You might also ask whether your addicted parent has sought help or treatment for it. Often, a nonaddicted parent might not realize that you’ve realized that something is not right. Again, it’s important to talk about the issues facing you as a family.

Seeking Help Outside the Family

If you cannot get through or your parent is violent, you need to seek extra help. You should not have to live in a home where violence happens, whether it’s to your other parents, you, or your siblings.

People notice more than you think. If you’re having such severe issues that you cannot function as a family, it is usually fairly obvious to those outside the family. The first step should be to confide in someone you trust, preferably someone who is in a position of authority. Explain what’s happening and ask that person’s advice on how to proceed.

In general, that person will be shocked, but they should provide good advice or refer you to someone who can help. In extreme cases, someone may call Child Protective Services. If that happens, it’s generally because the violence is unacceptable and that person fears for your safety. This is a risk you take, but most people don’t use this option lightly. At the end of the day, it’s generally reserved for children suffering from injuries that require or should require hospitalization.

You can also call a dedicated drug or alcohol hotline, and the call is usually free. You can contact American Addiction Centers (AAC) free at at any time, day or night. We can give trusted advice over the phone that is targeted to your particular situation. We can also talk to you about your options and your parent’s options, whether it’s for rehab or other measures.

Ultimately, you need to ensure that you’re in a safe environment. If you find that your life is suffering, whether it’s from a lack of money, food, support, or guidance, or because you’re afraid of violence from your parent, you need to take action.

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