Below are some questions that children often have about alcohol and the effects on the family. If you have a question that isn’t listed, please email the email@example.com.
If you have a question about the Nacoa helpline see the helpline page.
Why do people drink alcohol (even when it makes them ill, cry, angry, do silly things)?
People have drunk alcoholic drinks for thousands of years. There are many reasons why people drink. Some people like the taste. They may drink at parties and other social events, often with family and friends. Some people drink because they like the feeling of being drunk. Alcohol is a drug made from fruit or grains when put through a special process called fermenting. Drinking alcohol affects the brain and the body, so it can change the way people feel and act. It can change their moods and make them happy, sad, angry, tearful, chatty or quiet.
Some people use alcohol as a way to help them feel calm, or to try and cope with problems, such as job or money worries. Alcohol can affect memory, meaning people often don’t remember silly, embarrassing or other things they have done when drinking. People keep drinking because the good feelings they experience outweigh any horrible effects, such as being sick or feeling ill the next day (a hangover).
When does someone have a problem with drink? Is my parent an alcoholic?
If you feel affected by someone else’s drinking, there could well be a problem. The following questions look at what alcoholism is and why people continue to drink even when it’s affecting their lives and those around them. Remember that Nacoa is here for everyone affected by their parent, step-parent, grandparent, or carer’s drinking.
What is alcoholism?
Alcoholism is like an illness where someone has lost control over their drinking. They might only mean to have one or two drinks and end up drinking more. They often need professional help to stop drinking.
How does my mum or dad manage to drink all day every day?
People can get used to drinking and they end up needing to drink more alcohol to have the same effect. When they haven’t had a drink they can get anxious, shaky and sweaty. Sometimes they can even have a seizure (fit), where their whole body shakes and they may go unconscious. This is called ‘withdrawal’. Drinking more alcohol can make these feelings stop. This means that people need to carry on drinking in order to feel ‘normal’. By this time people have often become dependent on alcohol.
Can drinking too much be harmful?
Too much alcohol can be harmful to the body and brain. Because of this, alcohol can sometimes be the cause of accidents and injuries. Drinkers can also feel ‘run down’ or ‘low’ as they can’t always fight off infections. Drinking too much can lead to health problems such as liver disease, heart disease, some cancers and diabetes. Alcoholism can also affect mental health and can lead to problems such as depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
Why does my mum or dad continue to drink when it’s hurting them and me?
Once somebody has become dependent on alcohol they continue to drink even when it is having a negative effect on their lives, their health, and those around them. Often the person drinking doesn’t realise they have a problem. Even if they become aware something is wrong, they may not think it has anything to do with drinking. They may blame other people, or other problems in their life, such as at work. Whatever anyone says, you are not responsible for your parent’s drinking and it’s not your fault.
When someone has a drink problem, alcohol becomes their main focus in life. They see drinking as the solution to their problems rather than the cause. The need to drink becomes so important that they may hurt and upset those they love. If they are a mum or dad, this can leave children not feeling important or cared for.
My parent has a drink problem; are they going to die?
Not everyone with a drink problem dies but, sadly, sometimes this can happen. This can be very worrying for all family members, particularly for children. The idea of a parent dying is scary for everyone, and when alcohol is involved it can bring up a huge range of difficult feelings. It is common to feel sad, scared, angry, to blame or even relieved. When alcohol is involved, the death of a parent can cause problems in the entire family. If this has happened to you, you might find it helpful to read our Coping with the Death of a Parent information sheet.
Why do people become alcoholics?
People don’t set out to become alcoholics. They often start drinking for fun with friends, or to try to cope with problems in their lives. They end up drinking heavily and needing alcohol to feel ‘normal’. Over time, they can lose control over their drinking.
Is there a cure for alcoholism?
Alcoholism is treatable – people can find help for their drink problems and go on to live healthy lives. For some people this is possible by not drinking alcohol at all. This is often referred to as ‘being in recovery’. Some people do this with the help of self-help groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Some people need medical help and go into treatment or rehab. This can mean they have to live somewhere else for a while.
Why can’t our doctor do anything about it?
Doctors can offer advice and suggestions, but the person with the drink problem has to accept that they have a problem and want help. Help is available but no one can be forced to accept it.
Should I hide, pour away or water down their alcohol?
You can’t control someone else’s drinking. Hiding, pouring away or watering down alcohol may make things worse, and the person drinking may become angry, aggressive or secretive.
How can I stop my parent from drinking?
You can’t stop anyone drinking. There is help for people with drink problems, but they have to accept that they have a problem and want help. Please remember that their drinking is not your fault. You can feel better whether your parent continues to drink or not. Try talking to someone you trust, like a friend, teacher, relative or Nacoa.
What else can I do?
Remember that you are important too. Find time for things that you like, whether it’s sport or hobbies, playing in your room or in the garden, reading a book or watching TV, or going to a friend’s. Sometimes worries can take over, and doing something you enjoy (even if just for a short while) can help.
How many people are affected by their parents’ drinking?
1 in 5 children in the UK are currently living with a parent who drinks too much. Even if you do not live in the same house as the person who is drinking, or they have stopped, you can still be affected.
How does a parent’s drink problem affect the family?
Alcohol problems do not only affect the person drinking, but also everyone around them, including family and friends. It can be especially difficult for children when their parent has a drink problem. Alcoholism can lead to other problems. Sometimes there are money problems; parents can argue a lot or there can be violence and mood swings. What’s OK one day may not be OK the next. Children may feel upset, scared, lonely, confused, forgotten, ignored, embarrassed or ashamed. Remember, none of this is your fault. You can talk to us at Nacoa.
My parent has a drink problem; does that mean I will too?
People who have grown up with a parent who has a drink problem can be more likely to develop an alcohol problem themselves. This does not mean that you will end up drinking like your parents. Be aware of the risks, look after yourself and learn healthy ways of coping. Talking about your worries to someone you trust or the Nacoa helpline can help.
Why doesn’t my mum or dad love me enough to stop drinking?
When people become dependent on alcohol, they often see drinking as the solution to their problems rather than the cause. Alcohol becomes their main focus in life. The need to drink becomes so important that they may hurt and upset those they love. If they are a mum or dad, this can leave children feeling as if they are not important or cared for. Children often feel to blame for their parent’s drinking or feel they may have caused it. Whatever anyone says, you are not responsible for your parent’s drinking and it’s not your fault.
Why has this happened to me? Have I done something to deserve it? Is it my fault?
No. You do not deserve it and it isn’t your fault. Drink problems can affect people of all ages from all sorts of families and places. There are many reasons why people may develop alcohol problems. Children can often feel guilty and ashamed that they have not been able to help their parent stop drinking. Please be assured that someone else’s drinking is not your fault; you did not cause it and you can’t control it. Parents sometimes blame children, and everyone else, for their drinking. You had no control over the problem starting and you can’t make it stop. Only your parents can take responsibility for their behaviour. For ideas on how you can feel better, click here.
Why doesn’t anyone talk about it?
When someone has a drink problem, families often keep it a secret and try to hide it from the outside world. Some people have said it can be like living with an ‘elephant in the room’ because there is this big thing that everyone knows is there, yet no one talks about it, and sometimes they try to pretend that it isn’t there at all. Not everyone is always able to ignore the problem but talking about it can feel like you are telling on your family. It is OK to talk to someone you trust. You can always talk to us at Nacoa.
Why doesn’t anyone help me or notice what is going on?
Families often want to keep problems to themselves. They may not talk about what’s going on. This means that it is difficult for people to offer support or even realise there is a problem. If people do notice, they may not know what to say or do. Sadly, when no one speaks up or offers help, children often feel alone and that they are the only ones going through this. This can make you feel that you are not being noticed or that you are not important. Or you may feel you are going crazy or that you are the problem because no one else seems to see what’s going on. You are important and you are not alone, there are people you can talk to who understand. You can always talk to Nacoa.
How can I cope with an alcoholic parent?
Try to find someone you can talk to who understands the problem. You could talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling and what you are going through. This could be a family member, teacher or an organisation like Nacoa. Talking about your feelings is not being disloyal to your family; it can help you feel less alone. Sometimes people feel that they are to blame for their parent’s drinking and feel guilty. Sharing how you feel can help you understand that this is not your fault and make you feel less alone.
What can I do to help my brothers and sisters?
You could let them know about this website. They can talk to us at Nacoa too, if they want to. Remember they may think that talking about family problems is like telling tales. It is OK to talk about it and it’s not your (or your brother or sister’s) fault. Doing things and spending time together can help you forget about the problems for a while.
At Nacoa we will happily look for support near where you live (you don’t have to give us your address). There are people and places that can help. For more information, click here.
What can I do if people say nasty things about my family?
Many people do not know very much about alcoholism. They don’t understand why your parent can’t just stop drinking. People with no experience of this may not understand how drinking affects the whole family, especially children. They can be quick to judge and may say nasty things. If the person who is criticising or judging your parent is important to you, you could let them know about the Nacoa website.
What can I do to feel better?
You are important too. Find time for things that you like. Remember, your parent’s drinking is not your fault. Try talking to someone you trust. You are not alone and you can always talk to us at Nacoa. We understand what it can be like when a parent drinks too much. We will listen and we won’t judge; you can trust us. For more ideas on how you can feel better, see Help & advice.
Where can I read about other peoples’ experiences?
Reading the stories of other children who have a mum or dad that drinks too much helps you to know you are not alone. To read their experiences, click here.