Caring for an Alcoholic Parent: A Special Challenge


Last updated: November 04, 2008
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When people find out that my mother was an alcoholic, and that my sisters and I cared for her up until her death from the complications of a drunken fall, they're often at a loss for words. Unless, that is, they're in the same or a similar situation. And then the stories come pouring out.

Dealing with an aging parent who has a drinking or addiction problem isn't quite like any other challenge. How do you cope day to day with someone who can be kind and communicative one moment and raging and incoherent the next? How do you keep a family member safe who could stumble and fall when drinking alone or pass out in an alcoholic stupor? What about hiring a caregiver or finding a home? Our experience was that no assisted living facility would take my mother, and although we found a part-time caregiver with the patience of a saint, my mother fired her on an almost weekly basis.

If you're reading this and want to share your story, please comment below or e-mail us and let us know what your experience has been like caring for a parent with an alcohol or addiction problem. You'll be surprised how good it feels to connect with others who are desperate to hear from someone who's been there.

At Caring.com, we've had several discussions on our bulletin boards about how to handle a parent's out-of-control drinking, and our members have found solace in each other's sympathy and good advice. That's a valuable resource, because there are probably few situations as lonely -- and as thankless -- as this one. Since most alcoholics don't admit they have a problem, it can feel like trying to help someone who refuses to be helped -- or doesn't even acknowledge needing help in the first place. The guilt, frustration, and fear can be overwhelming. And few people can understand what you're going through.

It took my sisters and I a long time to feel comfortable speaking openly about our mother's alcoholism and the challenges of trying to keep her safe. But once we did, we found that nothing was as comforting as hearing we weren't alone.

Image by Flickr user Leposava used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.

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9 Comments So Far. Add Your Wisdom.

Anonymous said over 1 year ago

Alcholism is an acutall sickness. You need to understand... all i can think of doing is just being there when she falls or when she feels lost she leaves and gets lost and i always wait for her at home till she rembers to come back she has only this one life but she is to sick to feel any better so the best we can do as carrying individuals is make them feel happy and safe if there was a way to keep her body from needing alchol i wish but its very difficult once a habbit becomes a life style drinking probably bucuz she was depressed yeah she might be like some big kid but she is blood is part of who i am its up to me who else will be there?! let time pass be HAPPY /Do NOT support habbits dont give up ! bcuz one day she/he might not be here on earth again my mom never lived with me growing up but i understand that alcholics are sick they need emotional and mental support it might last the rest of her/his life... its something that is out of our control bcuz its not our life we are not the sick ones but we need to be there bcuz we are the strong ones be strong and they will feel strong too


Anonymous said almost 3 years ago

I just found this article and this forum. I'm currently dealing with this. My mother is an alcoholic, currently sober (I think) plus she's partially disabled. She needs me to help her with certain things, but she abuses my help. She's one of those "emotional vampires". Those super needy people who take and take and take? She doesn't need a caretaker, so therefore she doesn't qualify for assisted living or even an in home nurse (my husband and I cannot afford to pay for either). But every month so far that she's lived by us she's spent her money on alcoholc and taking a cab to the drug store to buy it (because she can't walk to the corner...or so she says). She's running me ragged, and is abusing my generosity. When she runs out of money to buy her dog food, she comes to me. She no longers asks me for the money. I have to draw the line at some things. Such as refusing to take her to the store and even threatening to leave her at the store if she bought alcohol (beer). But I can't let her dog starve, and she knows this. So she uses it against me, manipulates me in order ot get me to do things she can and should be doing herself (like taking her trash out). If she doesn't need something, she doesn't want anything to do with me. She never comes to my house. Never calls just to say hello. Only when she needs something. Like toilet paper and dog food because she's run out of money (she makes more htan enough on SSI). When I refuse to give in to her demands (she doesn't even ask anymore, she just says, "give me this" or "take me here"), she plays the disabled card in an attempt to manipulate me and then gets angry. that article--what getting mad at your parent reveals about you--I needed to hear that. Thanks for posting it. And yeah. My mother didn't take care of me either growing up. She checked out and her boyfriend abused me. I'm at the point where I want desperately to walk away from her. But I feel guilty even thinking about it. because she's partially disabled. and she uses it against me.


Anonymous said about 3 years ago

I had to leave a good job and friends, a home I built for myself, behind to care for an old alcoholic parent. These days I hate where I live and everyday I am secretly seething that I have to be here. But I know if I hadn't moved the guilt at not doing anything would have eaten me.. it's a catch 22 though because leaving my friends and career behind - all that I had made for myself in 10 years - has ruined me. It's like being in my Mom's prison.. just a long term waiting room with very little, if no, joy. And here I sit on watching as she carries on drinking.. it's the worst thing a parent can do.


over 3 years ago

Hi Deelu, Thank you very much for sharing with the community. I'm very sorry to hear about your situation, that must be extremely difficult. You may find this article on caregiver anger useful: (http://www.caring.com/blogs/self-caring/what-getting-mad-at-your-loved-one-says-about-you). You may also find this article particularly useful: (http://www.caring.com/articles/caregiving-and-anger). I hope those resources help. Take care -- Emily | Community Manager


over 3 years ago

My dad has been an alcoholic for as long as I can remember, but now he's older, has diabetes and is malnourished it's so much worse. I moved out from my parents house last year as I just couldn't cope with him. My mum is amazing and tries to look after him, but it's really hard for her as she works full time too. My brother lives at home, but he drinks and smokes and I'm afraid he'll end up the same as my dad if he doesn't cop himself on. I'm just visiting them tonight, and I havent seen them for a couple of weeks. My dad is so thin and can hardly stand, we have to walk behind him up the stairs in case he falls. The last time I was here he went to wee in the garden. I love my dad but I am so resentful of how much our lives have been dictated by his condition and how he feels. I feel guilty if I get angry, and feel the most awe-consuming sadness when I'm with him or I think about him. I wish I was numb. He's a good man, but it's like he can't deal with life so he numbs it. I'm so angry that we don't get the same choice. My mum is the strongest woman I know, but I also have moments of resenting her for staying with him, then I feel guilty for that. I realise this sounds self-absorbed, but I just feel angry all the time or sad all the time and I don't now what to do with it.


about 4 years ago

I would do anything to have my mum back for one day, drunk or sober,


about 4 years ago

I lost my mum in December 2009 we only recieved a pathology report last week. i am heavily pregnant (due in august) and just had my first baby in september. Though my mum suffered chronic liver desise Mums death was sudden and unexpected. I had been visiting her with the baby just 3 weeks beforehand. The night she died I got the phonecall at 2.40am tellin me my mum had dropped down dead suddenly I went into shock. We were supposed to be visiting her for xmas and had just seen her. I knew my mum was an alcoholic all my life but when she had been in hospital in 2003 she had turned yellow, was bloated and very noticably sick. AND she still managed to pull through . She had remained largely abstinant from drink since - though not completely as shed get fits and black out when coming off drink too suddenly. there was no tell tale signs however, this time that anything was wrong, apart from mum complaining of feeling constipated a couple weeks before her death. She was lively outgoing and full of life havng just moved to another part of the country and very much looking forward to being a grandma. My mums sister and family had never done much to help her and I watched them critise her and alternatively deny /turn a blind eye to her drinking problem my whole life. mum would beg them to visit but they saw her as bringing shame on the family and instead outcasted her largely. when mum died having named me her next of kin, my mums sister decided to contest it. her argument was that my father who my mum had never legally seperated from should be n.o.k by uk law. I had spent years listening to my aunt tell me what a loser and bad man my dad was however she knew that he would want no financial rsponsiblity over the funeral as he hated my mum and would allow her to take hold of the reigns and organise everything ( my mum held an injunction against my father right up until the time of her death (because of his own drinking and domestic violence)so I believe she was within her rights to name me as next of kin - and she had been living with her partner for the past 8 years in a different part of the country to my aunt and dad where they had never visited her -despite her always asking my aunty to come see how well she was doing in her new house (where consequently i had seen her happy for the first time in her life and not having to endure my dads verbal and sometimes physical abuse) I was basicly cut out of the funeral and they buried my mum in london near where shed endured all those years of misery with my dad and because they wouldnt allow the coroner enough time to conduct his tests before the burial we had to endure a 6 month delay in getting the cause of death/death certificate and pathology reports which has put me through sheer hell. I do not belive the coroner should have even rleased my mums body to them just because they were ringing him daily and harrasing the office. I was left grieving pregnant and powerless to fight as I was told id have to get legal action or help to stop my mums body being handed over to the man who used to beat her and the family who disowned her. However they released the body without ensuring i had time to get said legal advice. and have just done te same thing with the inquest.not past me o any information until i heard through a friend the night before my mums inquest was to be the next day, i rang the coroners office in a panic saying im heavily pregnant and wanted to be there and that i Had important medical notes of hers to submit and questions to ask but he said it was too late. I feel like ive not only lost my mum but ive been completely pushed aside.my stepdad is depressed about it all aswel.we hadnt even heard from these people for years and then they disturbed m mothers last wishes and those of me and her partner in wanting to say goodbye. I think my aunt and father would only want next of kin rights so they could access any of my mums bank accounts now shes dead - as thats the sort of voulchers they are, whilst I cant even decorate her grave without permission. or see her be buried n ireland as she would have wanted or near her partner. When I was visiting my mum the last time i begged my aunt to come see her and told her i didnt think mum was too well and could do with some help as she was collapsing randomly (though shed done this all my life) and her partner is elderly so not much help at lifting a grown woman off the floor whilst shes shaking. i was there with a 7 week old baby and finding it hard to look after my mum the baby and her partner (i was also sufferng post natal depression) and begged my aunt to come up for a few days and help me but she just said stupid things like "well you know what your mums like" and "she sounded fine to me on the phone" three weeks later my mum was dead.I was due to come back to visit her the following the week, and had only come back to london to sort out my move to be nearer to her. It seems crazy to me that someone who could leave there sister to die and not come when begged by their neice to save her mum could then go on to act oblivious as to why my mum had died and attempt to take over her funeral and cut me my baby daughter and my mums common law husband out whilst buddying up to the man who used to beat her. It makes me think is there revenge for her drinking they o againsther daughter and partner and all her wishes in death? could people be that resentful? At the moment i dont know what to do im heavily pregnant cant sleep and worried sick about my mums partner who is drinking aswel now and stuck there in the house on his own.I plan to move to somerset where he and my mum lived as I had planned too before my mum died but Im scared he'll be the next to go.I feel cursed sometimes that I grew up with two alcoholic parents but whilst my dad was cruel and manipulative my mum always had a good heart and I felt she drank because she wanted to block out her misery.I will always miss her and kick myself I wasnt able to save her or at least her funeral.feels like the people who destroyed her life and drove her to drink then danced on her grave :-( i think sometimes my aunty has gone mad with guilt because she never went to help my mum when i asked but that doesnt mean she should hurt me at the hardest time of my life.


over 4 years ago

Hi anie, I stumbled on this website after talking to my sister about my mom, her alcoholism, her death. Do you have family you help you? My sister and I shared the burden. Her sisters and relatives didn't want to believe it. She drank since we were in grade school. It's hard, it hurts and you don't know if you should be pissed as hell or feel guilty that you didn't do enough. For your own sanity you have to know there is nothing you can do. Esp. when it's been going on so long. Just love her as much as you can so you won't feel guilty for not doing enough and get therapy for yourself.


over 4 years ago

I have been carring for my alcoholic mother for 2 years now. It is the hardest thing I'v ever had to do.i FEEL SO BAD FOR WRITING THIS. but she did not take care of me when i was a kid and i needed a mother . All she did was get drunk.


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