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A Guide to Helping Your Alcoholic Son: Understanding, Approaching & Seeking Help

Seeing a child struggle with alcohol abuse can be extremely difficult. This article can’t make that process easy. What it aims to do is help walk you through some logical steps to offer immediate and then long-term support to get your child the help they need. 

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As you follow along, remember to stay informed and compassionate. A person struggling with alcohol abuse isn’t weak. They have a serious mental health condition that needs professional help.

Immediate Steps to Support Your Alcoholic Son

One of the first steps a parent should take if they believe their son is an alcoholic is to learn about alcohol use disorder (AUD).[1] You should understand the basics of why alcohol use can lead to addiction, how addiction is typically treated, and the signs of AUD. 

In some cases, a person’s struggles with alcohol may be obvious. However, many people become fairly good at masking their addiction and things can sometimes be worse than they might appear. Learn how you can spot the signs of a drinking problem

Don’t start your conversation about your son’s drinking with them while they’re drunk. You want to begin your first conversation in a calm, nonconfrontational manner while your son is sober. Choose a place to have the conversation where you think your son is likely to be comfortable. 

Avoid expressions of anger or shame. Instead, express that you’re worried their drinking might be having a serious impact on their safety and quality of life. Tell them you want to help and, if you can, have resources available to show them. This can include alcohol addiction treatment options and even basic informational pamphlets to help them understand what you’re talking about from an expert’s perspective.

Healthy Dialogue Can Take Time

This first conversation is likely to be especially tense. Your son may reject the notion that he has a problem or needs help. If your son is under 18, you can potentially force him into treatment, but this won’t work for most adults. Be aware that multiple conversations will likely be needed to convince your son to get treatment. 

When preparing to have these conversations, it’s a good idea to work with addiction treatment professionals. These professionals can offer you guidance on how to approach the situation. A professional interventionist can help you stage an intervention with the goal of convincing your son to get needed treatment.[2]

Explore the treatment options and support groups available to you, with an emphasis on those tailored to the needs of your son’s age demographic. For example, some programs and groups may cater to teens or young adults. The more targeted the care you can get your son, the more likely it is to work for him. 

Identifying AUD in Your Son

Alcohol use disorder is what many people call alcoholism or alcohol addiction. AUD is characterized by serious struggles with alcohol, and it comes in different levels of severity, from mild to moderate to severe. 

Common signs of AUD include the following:[3]

  • Drinking more or longer than intended
  • Trying and failing to cut down or stop drinking
  • Spending significant time drinking, being sick from drinking, or recovering from drinking
  • Thinking about drinking to the exclusion of other important thoughts
  • Drinking (and/or recovering from drinking) enough that it begins to impact one’s home, family, job, or school life
  • Drinking even when it starts to cause problems with friends or family
  • Reducing engagement in activities considered important or interesting to drink more
  • In multiple instances, getting into unsafe situations as a result of drinking, such as driving, engaging in unsafe sex, or operating heavy machinery
  • Drinking even when it leads to depression or anxiety 
  • Drinking much more to achieve the same effect
  • Experiencing symptoms of alcohol withdrawal when alcohol abstinent for an extended period, including feeling shaky, restless, nauseous, uneasy, a general sense of being unwell, paranoid, or even experiencing seizures

AUD can often worsen over time, which is part of why it’s important to address the issue as early as possible. Regular alcohol abuse can cause this spiral where physical, emotional, and social health all deteriorate. With fewer healthy outlets to escape from their anxieties and stresses, your son may turn to alcohol more frequently or in higher doses. 

How to Approach Your Son About His Alcoholism

If you want someone to listen and actually consider getting help, you need to take the right approach. Choose a time for the conversation that makes sense. You may need several hours to talk. The setting should be comfortable. For many people, a conversation in the home may be a good place to start. Others might prefer a more neutral setting, like a diner. Choose the setting based on your son’s comfort, not your own.

These early conversations will take a lot of empathy, especially if you get the impression that your son doesn’t see or doesn’t care how his drinking is affecting you. Put yourself in his shoes. He is addicted to alcohol. Even as it damages his life, it is difficult or impossible for him to reduce or stop his drinking. That’s a very hard situation to be in, and it can consume much of a person’s mental energy, making it hard to focus on much else.

Support, Not Attack

Convincing someone to get help is often a delicate balance between making sure they understand they have a real problem without coming off as attacking them. Try to frame things in a way that shows why you’re concerned about him, rather than how he’s hurt himself or others in your family. 

Tell him you love him and will be there for the recovery process. When he’s ready, explain some of the options you’ve learned about and why you think they’ll help him. 

Seeking Professional Help

The primary goal of initiating these kinds of dialogue should be to get your son to agree to see a treatment professional. The reality is that a loving family isn’t typically enough to help someone recover from addiction, although it can be an excellent recovery resource for people who are also getting professional help.[4] Addiction is complicated, and tackling it effectively is generally a multi-step process that requires medical expertise. 

A professional can diagnose your son with AUD and its severity. They can then construct a logical treatment plan based on your son’s needs, which likely involves medical detox at a treatment facility, going to rehab, and finding the types of supportive care that work best for him.

Understanding Alcohol Rehab Options for Your Son

These are some of the options in treatment for your son:

Medical Detox

Alcohol may be legal for adults to purchase in most places, but it can cause severe dependence. When a person drinks for a long time, they will go through withdrawal after they stop. In some cases, this can even be life-threatening if not done with care. 

To make withdrawal safer, it’s usually recommended for an individual to detoxify at a treatment facility, where doctors can monitor them and make sure they’re as comfortable as possible. 

Inpatient Rehab

Inpatient rehab is a type of addiction rehabilitation where a person stays at a care facility for multiple weeks or months. This helps them focus completely on recovery and makes accessing alcohol much harder, giving them a window to build their recovery skills and better resist substance abuse when they regain the autonomy “normal” life allows. The downside of this care is that it can admittedly be expensive and requires a significant time commitment.

Outpatient Rehab

Outpatient rehab is a type of addiction rehabilitation where an individual goes to a treatment facility at scheduled dates and times and then can spend the rest of their week as they normally might. It’s often much easier to fit this type of rehab into one’s schedule. 

For many people, it’s the level of intensity they need to start recovery. However, some people don’t handle the autonomy as well and may need more intensive care than can typically be provided in outpatient rehab.

Ongoing Support

There is no cure for addiction. It’s a chronic condition that can be effectively managed for life, but it requires continual support to do that.

Even when a person has gone through rehab and maintained alcohol abstinence for multiple weeks or months, they need some level of ongoing support to help them track their own mental health and make sure they’re taking steps to prevent relapse. Many individuals in recovery continue to attend support group meetings regularly. Most people who want to sustain long-term recovery continue seeing a mental health professional regularly, even if they may transfer from an addiction specialist to a more general mental health professional. 

Self-Care for Parents of Alcoholic Sons

Self-care is important for parents of alcoholic children or anyone else trying to help somebody enter recovery. Keep in mind that your own mental health is still important even as you try to help your son. 

You also need to keep in mind that “nonconfrontational” doesn’t always equal “helpful.” For example, enabling behaviors aren’t healthy, such as when a parent buys their son alcohol because not doing so might start a fight or cause their son anxiety. 

It’s important to set hard boundaries when trying to help someone get into recovery. You may need to set certain rules, like how you won’t tolerate them stealing or letting dangerous people into your home, even if they may lead to conflict. It’s very important to maintain firm boundaries, and seeing a therapist of your own can help you do that.

Many parents also benefit from finding support groups designed to help parents in similar situations. This can connect you to individuals also dealing with children who struggle with addiction. Al-Anon is a good resource for this.[5] You may be able to find a support system there that’s difficult to get elsewhere, as well as find a source of useful advice that may help you and your child on his recovery journey.

The First Step

In summary, helping your son who struggles with alcohol takes patience and empathy. Do your research and make your primary goal to guide them toward professional help. Try to make the process of them entering recovery as simple as possible. Have information about treatment resources available and even know dates and times they may be able to admit your son if you can get that information.

If you don’t know where to begin, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a helpline you can call at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) to learn more about relevant addiction and mental health treatment resources that can help meet your needs. This service is free, confidential, and available every day of the year.[6]

We’re also ready to help you here at Boca Recovery Center. Reach out today to learn more about how we can help your son start on the path to a better future. 

Profile image for Dr. Alison Tarlow
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated February 21, 2024
Resources
  1. Alcohol use disorder. Nehring SM, Freeman AM. StatPearls. Published 2020.
  2. Brief alcohol interventions for adolescents and young adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Tanner-Smith EE, Lipsey MW. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. 2015;51(51):1-18.
  3. Understanding alcohol use disorder. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Published January 2024. Accessed February 14, 2024.
  4. The impact of substance use disorders on families and children: From theory to practice. Lander L, Howsare J, Byrne M.Social Work in Public Health. 2013;28(3-4):194-205.
  5. Al-Anon Family Groups. Al-Anon. Accessed February 14, 2024.
  6. SAMHSA’s National Helpline. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Published June 9, 2024. Accessed February 14, 2024.
  7. CRAFT: Help with addiction for you and your family: Section 5: How to respond to substance use: What is enabling? National Center for PTSD. (n.d.).
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