How to help the child of a problem drinker

Children can struggle to cope with the effects of someone's problem drinking.

They may develop stress, mood or behavioural problems.

These include:

  • depression or anxiety
  • poor self-esteem
  • getting upset easily
  • acting childishly, bedwetting or speech disorders
  • not wanting to leave the house or mix with other people
  • being aggressive
  • getting into trouble
  • overly well-behaved and obedient
  • looking for approval all the time
  • difficulty making friends
  • taking risks

Supporting a child to cope

It may help to protect your child from the effects, such as arguments. 

Having a stable adult in their lives, who focuses on their needs and feelings, will also help. 

Routines and rituals at home are important. For example, celebrating birthdays. So is support from friends and family outside the home. 

What you can do to help a child

Don’t deny there is a problem or laugh it off, especially if the child mentions it to you.

Explain the drinking behaviour in a simple way and ask them how they feel about it.

Ask them how they are feeling often, and check if they are OK if something bad happens. For example, an argument or embarrassing behaviour.

Try not to interrupt if a child is telling you about how they feel or what effect drinking is having on them.

Tell them the 7Cs that young people should remember:

  • I didn’t cause it.
  • I can’t cure it.
  • I can’t control it.
  • I can care for myself.
  • I can communicate my feelings.
  • I can make healthy choices.
  • I can celebrate myself and be proud of who I am and my achievements.

Protect them

Ask the person drinking not to drink in front of the children.

Try to avoid children seeing or overhearing fights and arguments.

Try not to let the needs or demands of the drinker get in the way of the needs of the children.

Take your child away from home if they are likely to be affected by drinking behaviour. Do homework in a café or library. Go for a walk or visit a friend if things are tense.

Keep some stability in their lives

Keep routines and try not to let drinking spoil special occasions like birthdays. If necessary, celebrate without the person who is drinking.

Try not to break promises and stick to any plans you make.

Let them be children

Watch out for children taking on too many adult responsibilities, such as:

  • cooking
  • cleaning
  • minding other children

Make sure they have time for their schoolwork and to play or meet with friends.

Don’t burden children with your problems or expect them to give you emotional support. Get your support from friends and family or a professional or support group.

Build their confidence and resilience

Support your children to have hobbies, interests and friendships outside the home

Watch out for signs of stress and help them to cope in a healthy way.

Do this by:

  • talking
  • getting some exercise
  • learning simple stress-management techniques like deep breathing

Help them make a plan for what to do in an emergency, so they don’t feel anxious about this and know they can handle it.

Explain what dependence is.

Encourage and support them to set and achieve goals for themselves. Praise them and celebrate small successes.

Alcohol dependence

Build resilience in young people to prevent alcohol misuse

Get support for them

Tell your child’s teacher or school guidance counsellor about any problems at home. The school can then support your child.

Arrange for some support with other young people or with you as a family. For example, Al-Anon Family Groups.

Page last reviewed: 8 November 2019
Next review due: 8 November 2022