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Whether we’re big or small, we all worry about our dads. Maybe you’ve noticed your dad’s behaviour has changed – he’s become moody and grumpy, or perhaps he’s shouting at you and other family members, and this is scaring you.
Perhaps you’ve noticed a change in his lifestyle – he’s not getting to work on time, or he’s lost his job, and this has coincided with him looking less groomed than usual – he isn’t shaving and his clothes aren’t always clean. These could all be signs that he has a problem with alcohol.
It might be that you’ve found empty bottles hidden around the house and you suspect he’s been drinking in secret and hiding the evidence. It might hurt to think your dad is lying to you, but alcoholism is an illness, and his behaviour is symptomatic of that illness.
There are many reasons why you might be asking yourself, ‘is my dad an alcoholic?’ Whatever your age – if you’re a child, teenager, young adult or middle-aged with a family of your own – you can learn to recognise the signs that your dad is abusing alcohol, and then find help and support for him, and you. Rest assured, you are not alone and you don’t have to cope with this on your own.
Ten Signs of Alcoholism
Alcoholism can be subtle. It doesn’t mean rolling around in the gutter, looking like death warmed up, and it doesn’t even mean being drunk. Alcohol abuse can be hidden from family, friends and work colleagues very well, and it may be that you suspect your dad is an alcoholic but you’re not sure. Here are the signs to look out for.
1. My dad uses any excuses to drink
Drinking to wind down after a stressful day, drinking to celebrate a good day at work, drinking in front of the TV, drinking at dinner, drinking with friends, drinking at Sunday lunch. If you’re struggling to think of an occasion when your dad doesn’t drink, it could be that he has a problem with alcohol.
He might never get drunk, or even tipsy, but if he’s drinking pretty much every day, it’s a sure sign that he has an alcohol dependency.
2. Drink is interfering with my dad’s daily life
Is your dad failing to fulfil his responsibilities? These could be attending work daily and on time, doing his usual duties at home, coming to family events, ferrying family members around in his car or anything else that is expected of him. If he isn’t, it could mean that drinking, or the effect of drinking, is taking up too much time in his life.
If he’s in the pub or nursing a hangover when he should be at work or doing things at home, has stopped seeing friends as he prefers to drink at home, and can never drive anywhere as he’s always over the limit, these are signs that your dad is an alcoholic.
3. My dad has terrible mood swings
Alcohol is a depressant, which means that once the highs of boozing have worn off, it can leave you feeling sad and low. If your dad seems up and down, it could be that excess drinking has affected his ability to regulate his emotions. Drinking a lot can make him angry too. So if he’s shouting and being aggressive after a drink it’s a sure sign that he has a problem with alcohol.
4. My dad is having accidents
Drinking alcohol lowers inhibitions, which means you start engaging in risky behaviour. This could mean having unsafe sex, driving while over the limit, or taking drugs. If your dad is embarrassing himself – propositioning work colleagues for example – or coming home bloody and bruised from attempting silly daredevil activities, it could be an indicator that he has a problem with excessive alcohol.
5. My dad gets drunk quickly
Picture the scene: you go out for dinner with your dad, and after a glass or two of wine, he’s slurring his words and is obviously drunk, while you’re nothing of the sort. If this is the case, he’s almost certainly been drinking before he met you. If you ask him, he might say he had one while he was waiting for you, or he might deny it. Either way, it’s a sign that he’s drinking secretly.
6. My dad is impulsive
It can be exciting to have a dad who lives for the moment. Booking a weekend to Paris on a whim, surprising the family with a new puppy or whisking the family away on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday can be fun, and it might make you feel that your dad is great to be around.
But this kind of impulsive behaviour, without thought for the consequences (can you afford these trips away? Who will look after the puppy?) can indicate that your dad has a problem with alcohol. Impulsivity and alcohol use disorder go hand in hand.
7. My dad is ill all the time
Shaking, sweating, breathing quickly, having a racing heart, insomnia, confusion, tiredness, anxiety and depression are some of the withdrawal symptoms you experience if you stop drinking. It’s your body and brain’s reaction to the alcohol leaving your blood and if your dad is drinking a lot, he is almost certainly going to experience these symptoms. He might dismiss these ailments as a bug or a fever – but it’s a concrete sign that your dad is an alcoholic.
8. My dad is lying to me
Claiming to be at work when he’s not, saying he had lunch at his desk when he made a trip to the pub (and you only find out when you ask if he can drop you off somewhere), finding empty cans or bottles around the house – these are all indications that your dad isn’t telling the truth. It can be upsetting when you realise that he’s lying to you but alcoholism is a disease that he is battling, and he is lying to you because it is his way of coping. Thinking of it that way can make it easier to accept.
He needs immediate help, and so do you. At Smarmore Castle, not only do we offer treatment for people struggling with alcohol abuse, but we also offer family therapy to help those who have alcoholism in their family.
9. My dad is struggling with money
If your dad doesn’t have enough money or owes money, especially if he’s always lived within his means, it could be a sign that he’s been spending money on drinks. It is very easy for debt to spiral out of control and this can have serious ramifications if he isn’t keeping up with rent or mortgage payments, is gambling to ‘get rich quick’ or he has borrowed from illegal loan sharks who have started knocking on the door. Don’t let him bury his head in the sand, contact the Citizens Advice Bureau for free advice and immediate help.
10. My dad denies he has a problem with alcohol
If you or someone else has spoken to your dad about his drinking and he’s denied he has a problem then he might be in denial. Perhaps he doesn’t think there’s anything to worry about, especially if he is holding down a good job, earning a decent income and has a great family. This can be frustrating for you, but you are not equipped to deal with your dad’s inability or refusal to accept the facts.
At Smarmore Castle, our experts are trained to talk to people who may be abusing alcohol and help them understand the danger they are in. Let us chat with him on your behalf.
Can I Stop My Alcoholic Dad From Drinking?
You can’t stop your dad from drinking as only he can decide to stop. However, you can tell him that you’re concerned about him, his health and the impact his drinking is having on you and your family. He might not even realise he’s abusing alcohol and your honest conversation, coming from a perspective of love and care, might be the trigger he needs to get help.
Maybe you’ve covered up for him before (e.g. called in sick for him at work) and this is the time to tell him how uncomfortable that made you feel and that you’re not going to do that anymore. Up until this point, he may not have realised the difficult position he’d put you in.
While you can’t stop your dad from drinking, you can support his decision to get help. Do some research and advise him about what’s available, starting with his GP, who will be able to signpost him to local support groups. Explain that you will be there for him while he gets himself better.
How Does an Alcoholic Father Affect a Child’s Future or Outlook?
One person’s alcoholism affects the whole family. The mood swings, changes in behaviour, time spent in recovery and withdrawal, and the drain on the finances, these all have a wide-reaching impact. Alcohol abuse can tear families apart and leave children with no father figure in their life as they grow up in a single-parent household.
Children of alcoholics are more likely to develop emotional problems in childhood and adolescence, and alcoholism in adulthood. And so the spiral continues as they inflict their addiction on their own children.
If you are asking yourself ‘Is my dad an alcoholic?’, there is an obvious problem. Your dad needs help now because the longer it is pushed into the long grass, the harsher the consequences for him, you and his loved ones. The good news is at Smarmore Castle the whole family can receive treatment for your dad’s addiction, and we can help repair the damage done by the bottle.
Advice for Children and Young People With Alcoholic Parents
Firstly, you need to know that if one or both of your parents is drinking, it’s not your fault and nothing you do or say is making them drink. This can be difficult to understand if they get angry and blame you for something or other. Alcoholism is a disease and they are not well, which is why they might say things they don’t mean.
You must not suffer in silence. If you can, speak to a relative. It’s unlikely your parents’ alcoholism has gone unnoticed, and they will not be surprised to hear from you. If you can’t approach a relative, talk to a teacher or an adult that you trust. They can then take over and get your and your parent’s help.
Frank is a website for young people that has advice on how to deal with an alcoholic parent. It has a free helpline, as does Childline. You can call these organisations and speak to someone trustworthy in confidence.
It is important that if your parents make you feel scared or in danger, you report this to a trusted adult or call 999 and speak to the police.
How to Talk to Your Dad About Alcoholism
This can be a difficult conversation and if you’re concerned that he may turn aggressive or violent, don’t do this. Firstly, speak to him when he’s sober, and don’t raise your voice. Tell him how concerned you are for him and his health, and explain how it is having an impact on you and your family.
Phrase it from your point of view: ‘I’m worried about your drinking’, rather than, ‘You have a drink problem’. Give some examples of when his drink was an issue (maybe he missed an event that was important to you due to a hangover, or embarrassed you in front of friends as he was under the influence). Until you tell him, he might not recognise the impact his drinking is having on you.
While you can talk to him as a concerned family member, you can’t advise on how to tackle his alcoholism, as he needs professional addiction treatment for this therapist at Smarmore Castle can talk to him in a way that unpicks the reasons behind his alcoholism, and they can steer him back to sobriety.
Can My Dad Recover From Alcohol Use Disorder?
Yes, he can. With the right support, he can go on to live a long fulfilled life free of addiction. As everyone’s journey to addiction is different, their route out of alcohol abuse also differs. Treatment is not a one-size-fits-all, although accessing support at a residential treatment centre, such as Smarmore Castle, is the safest and most successful way to get clean.
At Smarmore Castle, there are various therapies (including group, individual, and family therapy, trauma therapy, and grief therapy) for your dad to access, plus medical treatment and psychiatry sessions. An initial in-depth consultation with your dad would establish exactly what help he needs.
Recovering from an alcohol use disorder is not easy, but studies show that people who access help are more likely to remain sober and less likely to relapse than those who do not receive help.
How to Get Your Father Help for Alcoholism
It is not your job to help your father with his alcoholism. However, you can signpost him to places where he can get help and say you will support him as he detoxes and recovers. For many people with an alcohol use disorder, the initial step is the hardest, so he may appreciate a guiding hand.
The GP should be your first port of call as they can help with referrals and may be able to prescribe medication for the effects of the alcohol (such as painkillers to cope with withdrawal symptoms). Alcoholics Anonymous is always a good place to start as well. A call is free and confidential, and there may be a meeting near him that he can attend.
Perhaps the root of his alcoholism is issues such as debt, vulnerable housing or historical abuse. Adfam has a list of helpful organisations that can help.
Recovering from alcoholism is not easy, and the best way for him to do this is by joining a dedicated inpatient treatment programme at an addiction treatment centre, such as Smarmore Castle.
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Frequently Asked Questions
How do I tell my dad to stop drinking?
You can’t, he has to decide this himself. However, you can tell him how much his drinking is worrying you and offer to support him in getting help.
Why does my father drink so much?
There could be many reasons why your dad drinks so much. Alcohol addiction treatment will explore why he drinks and enable him to stop.
What is considered an alcoholic for a man?
For men, it is regularly drinking more than four drinks a day, or more than 14 a week.
How do you know if your parents have a drinking problem?
They can’t stop or cut back, they can’t fulfil their responsibilities, they have accidents and are often unwell – these are all signs they have a problem.
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