It’s never easy to talk to someone about their drinking or substance use, especially a parent. Chances are, you have a lot of big feelings about it. You may feel anxious, sad, angry, isolated, or even find yourself wanting distance. It’s frustrating, and you might feel burnt out and angry about what’s happening.
The negative emotions you have can feel even more confusing, especially because we also feel love towards our parents. You want something to change, and you might not feel like you can cut them off because they’re your parent. It’s complicated, and everything you’re feeling is real and valid.
Be honest about your feelings
Check in with yourself about how your parent’s drinking or substance use is affecting you.
- You might be worried for your parent’s safety because when they’re drinking, they tend to drive, and you’re nervous they might get into an accident.
- Maybe you notice that you’ve been feeling fearful, down, or isolating from others more than usual.
- Maybe you’ve been doing things outside of the norm (crying, yelling/screaming, running away, etc.) because you want attention.
- It’s also possible that you’ve been feeling scared because your parent’s drinking causes them to be explosive, abusive, or violent.
It can be hard to think about and deal with these feelings. Be aware of how you’re feeling and what you need to feel safe. To do this, start with a deep breath to slow things down. Then, you can try some of these tools:
- Naming your feelings (anger, sadness, fear)
- Noticing what’s happening in your body (sweating, heart pounding, upset stomach)
- Journaling your thoughts and feelings and what you think causes them
- Ask yourself questions like, “What am I feeling?” and “What do I need right now?”
Understanding what you’re feeling can be the first step to taking care of yourself and being able to share your thoughts with your parent.
Accept this is not your fault
If you have a parent living with addiction, you might wonder if you caused it in any way. Know that you are not to blame. You are not the reason things get worse or that they’re still using. Your parent’s addiction is not your fault. You didn’t cause it, and sadly, you can’t fix it. It’s OK if you’re having a tough time accepting this.
It may help to know that addiction is a disease. When someone is sick, they see a doctor. This can bring them relief and get them on the path to feeling better. Addiction is similar. Your parent needs help. As they get the treatment and support they need, things may start to change as they work on their recovery. Recovery is a process and it takes time. People living with addiction are struggling and their actions don’t always match how they truly feel. Remember that your parent still loves you. They’re having a difficult time showing you because they aren’t truly themselves.
If it’s safe, advocate for yourself
It can feel strange advocating for yourself with a parent, but sometimes you hit a breaking point, and you feel the need to speak up. You know what feels safe and what doesn’t.
You might feel worried talking to your parent about their drinking because it’s a difficult topic. Before sharing how you feel and what you need, you can try talking to a friend, other family member, trusted adult, or a therapist for support. With this person, you can work through what you might say and what change you want from your parent before you speak to them. This will help you prepare emotionally and focus on specific requests.
If you can, find a moment when your parent is sober. Let them know you have something you want to discuss related to their drinking. Use “I” statements to keep the focus on how you’re feeling and what you need.
For example, you can say something like, “I feel anxious during nights when there’s been drinking. I feel especially afraid when there’s yelling or things being thrown. I really want and need to feel safe at home.”
Keep in mind that your parent probably won’t change overnight. You may need to have more than one conversation about it. Your safety matters, and it’s OK to keep talking about it.
Your parent’s substance use might be so overwhelming that you can’t even begin to think about having this conversation. In that case, it’s OK to prioritize finding safe people and places you can talk to and go to when you need it.
What if they don’t listen?
A person who is drinking may not be in the best headspace to hear your concerns. You might feel ignored or brushed off. That can be hurtful. If you’re feeling unsafe and like your feelings aren’t being heard, it can help to seek out another family member or trusted adult.
Sometimes telling others can lead to legal authorities getting involved. It’s part of their job to look into situations where anyone under 18 may be unsafe. You might be worried about child protective services getting involved or getting yourself in trouble. It’s OK to seek out others to talk to and places where you feel comfortable. Know that setting boundaries and keeping yourself safe is important.
Ultimately, the goal is to create a safe environment for yourself and your family. As you get older, you’ll likely have more opportunities to create or find that safety. Some do this by staying over with friends’ houses, being with other family, or even finding a job. While things can be scary when you’re very young, there is hope for your parent to change and for yourself to find safety. Don’t be afraid to keep voicing your concerns and hope that your parent can have the ears and heart to hear it.