Alcoholism in the Family:

Therapy Tips on Explaining Alcoholism
to a Child


Alcoholism is a devastating and destructive disease for any family. When a member of the family is dealing with alcoholism, the entire family suffers. The secrecy and deception surrounding alcoholism often breaks trust, perpetuates destructive behavior and can ultimately tear families apart.

In many cases, the signs of alcoholism are unavoidable for a child to be exposed to. And as much as every parent wants to protect their child, it is crucial to engage in an open dialogue, especially when a parent or family member displays signs of alcoholism in their presence. So how do you have this conversation? Here are some tips to help guide you:

Be Honest and Age-appropriateIt’s important to be honest and direct when explaining alcoholism to your child, but use age-appropriate language that they can understand. Explain that alcoholism is a disease and that it can make a person act in ways that are harmful to themselves and others.
Emphasize that it’s not their faultChildren of alcoholics often feel responsible for their parent’s drinking or blame themselves for the problem. Reassure your child that the alcoholism is not their fault and that they are not responsible for fixing it. Enforcing this conversation, even at a young age, is extremely important in creating a healthy narrative in your child’s mind.
Offer SupportLet your child know that they can talk to you or other trusted adults about their feelings and concerns. Whether it be a trusted adult or a mental health professional, give them space to process. Provide emotional support and reassurance that they are loved and cared for.
Encourage Healthy Coping MechanismsHelp your child develop healthy coping mechanisms to deal with the stress and uncertainty of living with an alcoholic parent. This may include engaging in physical activity, talking to a counselor, or participating in support groups for children of alcoholics.
Set BoundariesIt’s important to set boundaries to protect your child from the negative effects of alcoholism. This may include limiting exposure to the loved one’s drinking, setting rules for behavior in the home, or seeking outside help such as counseling or support groups.

No matter the advice given, this conversation and following journey is difficult for any child. As a parent, the most important support you can provide is being there for your child. Knowing they are loved in the midst of turmoil is crucial in their process of healing.

Whether it’s you, your partner or another member of the family suffering from alcoholism, you are not alone. In any state of overwhelm and confusion, Decade2Connect is here to support your family and available to connect you to addiction resources.

Our Intensive Outpatient Program is in-network with United!