How to Confront a Parent Who Has a Problem With Alcohol and Other Drugs
Dear Dr. Steve:
Ive reached my breaking point with my mother. Her life-long abuse of alcohol and
prescription pills has gotten totally out of control. This is a heartache that my sister
and brother have lived with for over twenty-five years. I used to rationalize her drug
abuse by convincing myself that she was only a danger to herself. But I can no longer kid
myself. Recently she was watching my five year old and seven year old. When driving the
kids back to my house, she ran her car off the road and hit a telephone pool. Thankfully,
my kids werent hurt. Although the police did not cite her for any driving
violations, I know that she was driving under the influence. I know because Ive been
there done that with her my whole life. Ive promised myselfno more!
Im not going to continue put my children at risk. Weve all given up on the
idea that shell get help for her problem. What can I say to her?
parent who has a problem with drugs and alcohol can be an overwhelming experience for a
child, no matter what the age of the child. Risking the anger and disapproval of your
parent(s) can make confronting your parent a risky proposition. No child, no matter what
their age, willingly and freely risks alienating the affections of their parent(s). Just
the thought of engaging their defensiveness and their denial system can make you feel
defeated before you actually confront them.
need not be paralyzed with fear. With a little information and a lot of support from your
friends and family members, you can hold a constructive conversation with your mother
about her alcohol and drug abuse. Here are things to keep in mind when you talk to your
mother about her drinking.
confront your mother when she is drunk. It is much more likely that she will become
defensive, belligerent, and attacking when she is under the influence of alcohol and
pills. This would only ensure that her defensiveness, anger, and hostility would escalate.
tone of your discussion should be love, concern, and support. No judgments. No
accusations. No blame. No threats. No invalidation.
Communicate your bottom line(s) with your mother. Your bottom line(s) are those aspects of
your mothers behavior that you are no longer willing to tolerate. For instance: 1.)
If you have a concern of leaving your children alone with your mother because shes
under the influence of drugs and alcohol, communicate the fact that if she continues to
drink and drug while she is caring for your children, that you will no longer leave them
alone in her care, 2.) If you have a concern that your mother drives her car with your
children in it while she is under the influence of drugs and alcohol, communicate the fact
that you will no longer permit her to drive her car with your children in it, 3.) If you
have a concern that your mother drinks and drug on holidays and ruins the holidays for
you, communicate the fact that you will no longer spend the holidays with her if she is
under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
mindful that there is a difference between threatening and issuing ultimatums and
articulating what behaviors are acceptable, what behaviors are not, and what the
consequences will be if your mother doesnt honor your bottom line. Be prepared.
Think about this ahead of time. Write it down if you find it helpful. Focus on: 1.)
Identifying to yourself what your bottom line(s) are about your mothers behavior,
2.) Clearly articulating your bottom line(s) to your mother, 3.) Identifying how to
measure whether or not your mother has crossed the bottom line(s), 4.) Clearly
articulating what the consequences will be when your mother crosses your bottom line, and
5.) Consistently apply consequences when your mother crosses your bottom line.
discussion should focus strictly on the facts. Do not judge your mother. Do not condemn
your mother. Do not box your mother in to a corner where she has no way out. Always think:
1.) Facts, 2.) Facts, and 3.) Facts.
Emphasize chemical dependency is a disease. You are there for your mother. You will always
be there for your mother. You would no sooner turn your back on your mother than she would
turn her back on you. But emphasize that she has a disease that needs to be treated for
her well-being, for your well-being, and for your entire familys well-being.
more information about how to best cope with and confront your loved ones use of
alcohol and other drugs you can contact Alateen at Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters,
Family Group Headquarters, Inc.
1600 Corporate Landing Parkway
Virginia Beach, Va. 23454
Tel # 757-563-1600
Fax # 757-563-1655
1-888-425-2666 for meeting information
Monday-Friday, 8am to 6 pm ET except holidays
from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to
choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frischs, Psy.D.
Recovery book seriesFrom Insanity to Serenity.
1.) Dont ignore what you see, feel, and believe about somebodys drug and
2.) Dont minimize what you see, feel, and believe about somebodys drug and
3.) Remember that chemical dependency is a progressive disease. If you have your
suspicions now about somebodys drug and alcohol use, things will only get worse with
time if your friend or loved one does have a problem
4.) Be clear about what you want to say to somebody whom you have concerns about their
drug or alcohol use
5.) Be clear about what actions you will take if your friend or loved one continues to
refuse to address their problem. Communicate that consequences in a calm, non-threatening
6.) Speak only the facts as you know them. Do not inject opinion, judgment, or blame in to