Worried about a parent's drinking?
If you suspect a parent might have a drinking problem it's important to look after yourself, there are also ways you can offer support.
It can be tough when you’re worried about someone else’s drinking. But when it’s a parent, it can make it even more difficult to deal with. Recognising when there’s a problem means you can be on hand to offer support – but more importantly, take care of your own needs.
When someone drinks heavily regularly or drinks to get drunk it can be seriously harmful to their health and others around them. It can also be worrying or upsetting to see someone you love drink in this way.
Many people don't know if they are drinking at a harmful level. If you choose to drink, to keep health risks from alcohol low, it is safest for men and women to drink no more than 14 units a week, spread over three or more days with several drink-free days. It is also important to avoid binge drinking, which carries additional health risks.
If a parent is drinking more than 14 units a week on a regular basis, their risk of developing longer-term health issues increases. Alcohol consumption is linked to several serious health conditions including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease, poor mental health, and seven types of cancer. Regular drinking over time can also build up a tolerance to alcohol. A tolerance to alcohol means you feel you have to drink more to get the same effect; and it can be an early sign of alcohol dependence.
Many people who become alcohol dependent don’t admit to how much they drink. But there are some signs to help you understand if their drinking may have become a problem, including:
If you are concerned about a parent’s drinking, you should only approach the issue if it is a completely safe environment for you to do so. If for any reason there may be a risk in you doing so, because your parent is drinking heavily or their behaviour can be aggressive or unpredictable, do not approach them about their drinking and seek help from an adult you trust instead. This adult could be another parent, a close relative, teacher, or tutor. You can also seek advice from any of the support services listed below.
Only if you feel confident that it is safe to do so, you might decide to try beginning a conversation with your parent about their drinking, but only if they are not drinking. Pick a happy time when things are calm and try not to judge or be confrontational. You could start by saying you’ve noticed how much happier the atmosphere at home is and suggest that this is how it is when they are not drinking. It might just be enough of a trigger to make them start thinking about stopping their drinking.
If your parent seems ready to make a change, you might want to encourage them to complete a self-assessment. This can help to see if their drinking is putting their health at serious risk. It can also identify if they might be at high risk of alcohol dependence and only takes a few minutes to complete.
It’s important to understand that a parent’s drinking is never your fault, or your responsibility. For someone to stop or reduce their drinking, they first need to acknowledge that there’s a problem and want to stop themselves. It is not your role to help them with their drinking, but it can help to know what support is out there.
Above all, it’s important that you put your safety first, and talking to a trusted adult first about any concerns you have is always the safest option.
Having a parent who drinks heavily and regularly can impact you in different ways. As a young person, you may well feel scared, worried, or confused about what’s going on at home. In fact, it’s thought that one in five young people in the UK lives with a parent whose drinking is at a hazardous or even higher level.1 It’s normal to feel angry, embarrassed, or upset about their drinking. These feelings can exist as an adult too. The important thing is to know that you’re not alone, and that there are people and organisations who can help.
If you feel you may be at risk of any type of harm, including domestic or sexual violence because of a parent’s drinking you should dial 999 and seek immediate help.In addition, you can seek urgent advice from any of the organisations listed at the end of this page.
A parent’s drinking can negatively impact your mental health and everyday activities. You may feel some anxiety and stress, blame yourself or feel unable to cope. Remember, it’s important to prioritise your own safety and mental health.
Even if you are an adult concerned about a parent’s drinking, it can still help to talk to someone – whether that’s a friend, relative or confidential support line.
It’s important to know that you are not alone and that there is help available for you and the parent in question. The following services specialise in guidance for families, adults and young people affected by a parent’s drinking.
Adfam offer support for families affected by drug or alcohol problems
Al-Anon provide support to anyone affected by someone else’s drinking. You can contact the helpline on 0800 0086 811 or email email@example.com
Bottled Up offer help and support to individuals and families who are experiencing problems due to problem drinking
The Children’s Society can offer advice and resources for young people living with an alcohol dependent adult. You can contact the helpline on 0300 303 7000
Childline provide all types of support for young people in crisis. You can contact the helpline on 0800 1111.
Family Lives provide guidance on any issues affecting the family and offer a signposting service. You can contact the helpline on 0808 800 2222
NACOA provide help and support for everyone affected by a parent’s drinking. You can contact the helpline on 0800 358 3456 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
NCPCC provide support for young people regarding any form of abuse. You can contact the helpline on 0808 800 5000 or email email@example.com
SFAD provide support to anyone concerned about someone else’s alcohol or drug use in Scotland. You can contact the helpline on 08080 101011.
Last Reviewed: 3rd March 2022
Next Review due: 3rd March 2024