Having a parent or carer with a drug or alcohol problem can be scary, stressful and isolating. It also isn’t something you have to deal with alone. This guide provides some tips and resources for finding support.
Living with a parent or carer who has an addiction
If you live with a parent or carer who is addicted to alcohol or drugs, you already know how difficult it can be. You may not always feel sure that they will be able to look after you properly, and you might find yourself responsible for taking care of things around the house, or dealing with your parent or carer when they’re under the influence.
Sometimes, drugs and alcohol make people’s moods unstable. You may feel like you’re the one triggering your guardian’s anger or sadness if you say the wrong thing - but it’s so important to remember that you’re not. You haven’t caused their moods, and you haven’t caused their addiction. Addiction is a mental health condition that even your parent or carer can’t fully control without serious effort and medical help.
It’s easy to feel isolated in this situation. You may be ashamed of your parent or carer’s struggles, and not want anyone to know what’s going on - or they might pressure you to keep it all secret. You might feel anger and resentment at them - or guilt for these feelings, or for not being able to help them more. All of these feelings are valid, and they can also make it really difficult to ask for help.
Addiction isn’t anyone’s fault - not your parent or carer’s, but definitely not yours. You can’t control your parent or carer’s behaviour, but you also deserve help and support in dealing with an incredibly difficult situation.
Accessing help for the addiction of a parent or carer
The feelings of secrecy and shame that come with addiction can make it really hard to ask for help, even when you're not the one who’s addicted. Never forget that you deserve support, too.
You might think that small changes are pointless in the face of something as massive as addiction, but it’s important to find day-to-day strategies for making your life a little easier. Make sure to find time and space for yourself, maybe by sharing your feelings in a journal or even a sketchbook. Acknowledging your feelings, even if they’re contradictory or changing all the time, is really important and can help you feel better.
Get outside if you can, both for fresh air and exercise. Establishing a daily routine can help you feel more secure and in control of what’s going on in your life.
It can be scary to tell someone what’s going on in a situation like this, but it can also be really helpful. If you’re being neglected or you’re afraid your parent can’t look after you, it’s really important to let someone, like a trusted family friend or a teacher, know about it. They will have access to resources that can help you.
Your GP or family doctor can help by referring you to a therapist or counselor, who will be trained to help you work through the complicated emotions that come with living with your guardian’s addiction. They can also help you find peer groups or group therapy, where you can talk to other young people who are going through similar things. You can’t control your parent or carer’s life, but you can make sure you have a space where your own feelings are heard and addressed.
You might not feel like you’re able to talk about these things in person. Fortunately, there are plenty of hotlines and message boards where you can share your experiences and seek advice, sometimes anonymously.
The NACOA forum is designed specifically for people dealing with addicted parents and carers. Their website also offers advice for finding in-person help.
Childline offers 24-hour services either over the phone or on their chat service. Reach out and get advice on pretty much any topic, or someone who can listen if you just need to talk. Even though it has ‘child’ in the name, any young person is welcome to call.
If you don’t feel safe
Sometimes, addiction drugs or alcohol can make adults think irrationally, behave unusually and hurt both themselves and those around them. If you ever feel like you’re in danger, leave the house and find somewhere else to go if at all possible. Otherwise, your local emergency services (999 in the UK and 911 in the US, for example) will be able to offer immediate assistance.
Good stuff from elsewhere
Alateen, a support group specifically for teens affected by a family member's addiction (UK branch)
Alateen in the US
Alateen around the world