Dealing with an alcoholic son can be one of the most challenging and confusing events in a parent’s life. First of all, no parent wants to believe that their child is capable of becoming an alcoholic. Secondly, many parents begin to wonder—is my son an alcoholic because of something I did? While it can be easy to go down the road of denying the problem completely or feeling guilt, shame, and responsibility for your son’s behavior, remember that none of that is helping your son. As a parent, there are things you can do if you’re concerned that your son is struggling with alcoholism. The first step involves answering a series of questions to help you determine if your son’s behavior is in line with that of an alcoholic.
If Your Son is An Alcoholic
Alcoholism can be more challenging to diagnose since, unlike drugs such as heroin or cocaine, consuming alcohol is legal and is often enjoyed recreationally by people without substance abuse disorders. However, there are some questions that can be asked and signs to look for if you’re concerned that your son is an alcoholic. These questions may help you in deciding what actions to take next in order to get your son the help he needs.
- Does your son consume alcohol on a regular basis?
- Does he drink every day?
- Does your son participate in binge drinking? (having 5 or more drinks in 2 hours or less)
- Does he spend a lot of time drinking or being sick due to drinking?
- Have you noticed that he needs more alcohol than usual to achieve the same desired effects?
- Is he having problems at work, school, or with family life due to drinking?
- Does he ever miss school or work due to drinking or the after effects of drinking?
- Has your son tried to stop drinking or reduce his alcohol consumption but has been unsuccessful?
- Does your son have cravings for alcohol?
- Has he given up hobbies, activities he once enjoyed, or time with family in order to drink?
- Does your son become defensive when asked about his drinking?
- Does he experience “blackouts” when he drinks?
- Does your son feel he needs alcohol in order to have fun or relax?
- Does your son need alcohol to feel “normal”?
- Has your son put himself or others in dangerous situations while drinking? (e.g. driving under the influence or having unprotected sex)
- Has your son lost friends due to drinking?
- Does he have new friends who drink more often?
- Has your son experienced legal or financial issues due to drinking? (e.g. DUI charges, jail time, or debt)
- Does he suffer from alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, nausea, vomiting, or sweating when he stops drinking?
Knowing the answers to these questions can be helpful if you’re considering treatment for your son. It can also be beneficial to discuss your son’s drinking behavior with a medical professional, such as a primary care physician or a psychiatrist. He or she may be able to help you ascertain whether or not your son qualifies as having an “alcohol use disorder” (AUD) and if it’s mild, moderate, or severe. Having this professional input may allow you to find an appropriate treatment option for your son, as someone with a severe alcohol use disorder may require a different level of care than an individual with a mild AUD.
It’s also important to note that your son does have to check all the boxes of being an “alcoholic” to suffer severe repercussions from drinking. Individuals who “drink too much” on a regular basis but are not yet physically dependent on alcohol can still experience the negative consequences that come with irresponsible alcohol consumption. What’s more, these individuals may still greatly benefit from some kind of substance abuse treatment. In fact, treating alcohol abuse early on decreases the chance that your son will evolve into a full-blown alcoholic.
Work to Avoid Denial
Most parents don’t want to believe that their son is capable of being an alcoholic. Consequently, they may tell themselves a multitude of things to negate their son’s drinking, such as:
- It’s normal to experiment at this age.
- It’s not as bad as I think.
- It’ll work itself out over time.
- He’s always been a good kid.
- I’m a good parent—my son can’t have this kind of problem.
By living in a state of denial, you’re not helping your son when he needs it most. As a parent, it’s important to come to terms with the situation, do your best to remove feelings of shame or guilt, and take action to get your son the help he needs.
Stop Being an Enabler
Most parents will do anything to help their children and feel it is their responsibility to do everything in their power to shield their children from pain. However, when your son is struggling with alcoholism, what classifies as “helping” him may actually be enabling his addiction.
Some examples of enabling may include:
- Making excuses for your son’s behavior.
- Lying to others to cover up your son’s alcoholism.
- Helping your son with legal feels or bailing him out of jail.
- Paying your son’s bills if he spent his money on alcohol.
- “Loaning” your son money that you never get back.
- Letting your son use your car after he’s been in an accident due to drinking.
While all of these actions may seem like something a good parent would do, the reality is, by continuing to “bail out” your son when he’s in trouble due to drinking, you’re not giving him any motive to come to terms with his addiction and begin recovery. When you stop enabling, your son will be forced to see the consequences of his actions and has the chance to truly recognize how his drinking affects both his life and others.
Seek Professional Help
Many parents feel they should have what it takes to be able to “fix” their son’s alcoholism. However, this is rarely the case. If your son has a problem with drinking, seeking professional help is actually the most caring and responsible thing you can do for him. There are many people you can contact for help:
A Trusted Medical Professional
A physician, especially one who specializes in addiction medicine, may be able to recommend steps you can take to get your son on the road to recovery. There are many ways to approach recovery from alcoholism or alcohol abuse, and the best methods will vary based on your son’s individual circumstances and his level of addiction. The physician may suggest one or more of the following options for your son:
- Long-term residential treatment
- Short-term residential treatment
- Outpatient treatment
- Individualized drug counseling
- Group counseling and support groups
A physician may also be able provide guidance as to whether or not your son can detox from alcohol at home or would be safer in an inpatient facility or hospital where he can undergo the process under medical supervision. Under certain circumstances, withdrawing from alcohol can be fatal, so it’s always best to talk with a doctor before your son begins the detox process.
A Drug and Alcohol Treatment Facility
If your son has a substance abuse problem or is an alcoholic, enrolling in an alcohol treatment program may be necessary for him to address and begin to recover from his addiction. In an alcohol treatment program, your son will work with therapists and addiction specialists to recover physically and mentally from his addiction while learning new ways to interact with the world without alcohol. Depending on the severity of his alcoholism, your son may be best served in an inpatient treatment program where he’ll live and receive treatment full-time or in an outpatient treatment program where he can participate in the program during the day but continue to live at home. Many treatment facilities, such as Nexus Recovery, have recovery advisors who can help determine whether or not their specific program would be a good fit for your son.
A Professional Interventionist
If your son is in denial of his addiction, has refused to enter treatment, is suicidal, or has a history of violence, a professional interventionist may be able to help. These specialists take full charge of planning and staging an intervention, which is a pre-planned, formal meeting between you (and any other appropriate loved ones) and your son, where the goal is to convince him to enter treatment for alcoholism. Since dealing with an alcoholic son can be emotionally taxing, having a professional there for support and to be the voice of reason can be incredibly helpful.
The Benefits of a Family Therapy Program
Getting your son the individual help he needs is crucial if you’ve been asking yourself, “Is my son an alcoholic?”, and that’s the first step in his recovery. But when a family member has alcoholism, parents and siblings also have to heal for themselves. If your son is struggling with alcoholism, consider adding family therapy to his treatment program. Family therapy is a great way to go through recovery together and work as a team to create healthy coping strategies. Family treatment can strengthen your family’s relationship with each other, and with your son.
Family treatment provides a safe space for your son and the rest of your family to come together and express your emotions. A therapist will guide your conversations, but you’ll be able to speak freely about the circumstances. Opening up about how your son’s behavior is affecting the rest of the family is an important step in the healing process.
A question many parents have is, “How can I help my son stop drinking?”, and sometimes, your child might be reluctant to get help. Have him meet with a family therapist who can explain the process, field any concerns, and encourage him to participate. Oftentimes, getting educated about family therapy can ease their apprehensions and convince them to join.
Dealing with an alcoholic son is never easy. Consequently, it’s important that you take care of yourself during this time. In addition to being kind to yourself, you may find that you need to enlist support to remain physically and emotionally healthy. Some resources that may be helpful include:
- Al-anon: A support group for families and friends of alcoholics.
- SMART Recovery: An alternative to Al-anon that provides support to friends and family members of addicts.
- Talking to a therapist or counselor. Look for treatment programs, such as Nexus, that offer a Family Intensive Program to help parents of addicts during the recovery process.