For children of individuals who struggle with an alcohol use disorder, life can feel extraordinarily and unnecessarily complicated. Worrying about a parent who is dependent on alcohol can eat away at even the good things in life; when our parents are in the throes of an alcohol use disorder, we are often bombarded by a series of “what-ifs” that seemingly cannot be answered. Children who are raised in families experiencing alcohol use disorders often display similar behaviors or symptoms. These can include:
- Performing poorly in school
- Experiencing issues related to low self-esteem
- Struggling with an inability to set healthy boundaries
- Maintaining loyalty in unhealthy relationships
Overcoming such issues can sometimes feel like a monumental task. But things can get better even if life seems difficult at present.
When Finding an Answer Is Difficult
A question often arises among individuals who want to help their parents overcome issues related to alcoholism: How do I get my mom or dad into an alcohol treatment program? What does it take to convince them to seek help? What can I do if they refuse to get better? The great novelist Leo Tolstoy once wrote that “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” He may well have written that each family struggling with alcohol dependency issues struggles with these issues in its own way. To wit, some fathers can react to concern from children about drinking patterns with a surprising amount of self-reflection. More often, however, an alcohol use disorder goes hand-in-hand with denial. This is not a criticism of individuals struggling with alcohol; the nature of alcohol use is that it will slow and distort an individual’s thought processes. A person who is drinking cannot think clearly; under the influence of alcohol, it is very easy to slip into a mindset defined by denial.
When Children Act as Parents
From time to time or even day to day, you may even find yourself playing the role of the parent in your family because of how alcohol changes the dynamics of your life at home. This kind of scenario can make confronting a parent about their issues related to alcohol very difficult. For example, a parent who is confronted about their drinking may slip into the role of a rebellious child. This kind of behavior is not designed to hurt your feelings; rather it is designed to protect your parent from having to change. As almost all human beings are afraid of change on some level, this is something of a normal response.
Contending With Guilt and Shame
The difficulty in this situation arises when you are made to feel guilt or shame for expressing your boundaries towards your parent. This can set up a pattern that in later life can lead to boundary issues in your personal or professional life. To wit, do not play down the value of your concerns even if your parent disregards the gravity of your feelings. If you feel upset about your dad’s drinking, you’re right to do so. Even if it is unlikely that your dad means to scare you with their behavior, it’s still a frightening thing to experience the behavior of someone who is out of control.
It is important to recognize that how your father reacts to your assertive behavior with regard to their drinking is out of your hands. All you can really do is put forth an effort to help them. Beyond that, you are not accountable for their decisions. At times, you may feel as though you’re responsible in some way for your dad’s drinking issues; however, recognizing that everyone is responsible for their own decisions is a vital step towards moving past issues related to codependency.
To express your feelings to someone with issues related to alcoholism is never easy. But sometimes being assertive is about getting your feelings out. To express your feelings in a healthy way, try practicing “I feel” statements. “I feel” statements are designed to minimize conflict without minimizing boundaries. They allow us to express our feelings in healthy ways.
Practicing “I Feel” Statements
An “I feel” statement from a child to a father who is struggling with alcohol dependency issues might look like this: “Dad, I feel deeply stressed when it seems like you are using alcohol as a coping mechanism. Do you think it might be possible for you to seek help in overcoming your relationship towards alcohol?” Note how the speaker in this case is not accusing their parent of any wrongdoing. They are also not putting forth an argument: After all, how we feel is how we feel. At least that is not up for discussion!
Note also how the speaker also puts forth a solution without attempting to control the situation. They have opened up a channel for dialogue rather than shut down any lines of communication. To wit, they were assertive rather than passive-aggressive or demanding. It might take a while to master these kinds of “I feel” statements; however, doing so can be a life-changing experience. Remember that being assertive is about getting your feelings out rather than controlling the behavior of others. This is a far more effective strategy in eliciting change from those we love! If you feel as though your dad needs professional help to conquer their alcohol dependency problem, please get in touch with us today at 424-499-2603. We are always here to help!