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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, such as:

  • depression or anxiety
  • poor self-esteem
  • getting upset easily
  • acting younger than their age, bedwetting or speech disorders
  • not wanting to leave the house or mix with other people
  • being aggressive
  • getting into trouble
  • being too 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 of problem drinking, such as arguments.

Focus on their needs and feelings. It will help to have a stable adult in their lives.

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

Do not 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 often how they are feeling. Check if they are OK when 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 did not cause it.
  • I cannot cure it.
  • I cannot 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 such as 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.

Do not burden children with your problems or expect them to give you emotional support. Get your support from other adults such as friends, family, a professional, or a 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:

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

Explain what alcohol dependence is.

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

Building 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.

Alcohol support services for families

Non-urgent advice: Get help with problem alcohol use

Freephone 1800 459 459 for confidential advice

Page last reviewed: 3 August 2023
Next review due: 3 August 2026