How to Ask for Help with Alcoholism as a Parent with a Family

In the 1994 Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia film When a Man Loves a Woman, two parents struggle with the effects of Ryan’s character’s alcoholism and fight to keep their marriage and family together.

The reality of seeking care for alcoholism is certainly no Hollywood movie, but When a Man Loves a Woman beautifully illustrates some of the challenges and things to consider when seeking treatment, such as:

  • Talk to someone

The first step in getting help is simply talking to someone. Therapists and licensed counselors are required by law to not disclose what you discuss in sessions unless they need to break confidentiality in a limited manner to protect you or someone else who may be at imminent risk. As a result, you can feel safe knowing that you can talk with someone about your struggle and that person is legally and ethically bound to protect what you talk about, and even to keep confidential the fact that you are attending therapy.

  • Make sure children are safe.

All mental health professionals, and many other professionals such as pastors, priests, and teachers, are part of a class of individuals known as “mandated reporters.” Mandated reporters are required by law to disclose any and all information necessary to keep a child, elderly person, dependent adult, or other person who may be at risk safe.

The tragic reality of alcoholism is that children in the family of a person with alcoholism will bear the brunt of that person’s anger. Even if a parent with alcoholism is not directly aggressive, other situations, such as having to ride in a car with a drunk parent, can place a child in danger. As a result, if you know that your child may be in danger because of your alcoholism, be honest with your care providers. It is rare for children to be permanently removed from a home. If your children are in danger, work with your care providers to keep them safe until your alcoholism no longer makes your home an unsafe environment.

  • Understand your family dynamics

Mental health professionals often refer to alcoholism as a “family disease.” This phrase has two meanings. First, a genetic predisposition towards alcohol addiction can be passed down from parents to children, so alcoholism is, in a limited sense, biologically a family disease. Second, certain family relational dynamics can sustain or enable alcoholism to continue. A family often acts as an entire system with different members playing different roles. For example, a parent with alcoholism may be a family “scapegoat” and take the blame for family tension while a spouse may enable alcoholism by needing to feel powerful, like a martyr, or simply important by constantly taking care of the individual with alcoholism.

Successful alcoholism treatment will require the entire family to examine each member’s role in keeping alcoholism alive. As a result, many treatment programs provide family therapy to give treatment participants a chance to meet with their families and honestly discuss the relational dynamics that allow alcoholism to continue.

Alcoholism treatment is no doubt a difficult and taxing process, but with proper help and professional care, many people find that they are able to free themselves from the grips of addiction and achieve long-term sobriety. Help is available; you have only to ask.