This section is for young people who have a parent or carer with a drug or alcohol problem. It may be something that is happening to you or to someone close to you, or it could be a subject that you just want to find out more about.
The information here will explore how this can affect young people and gives support around finding help and keeping safe.
Problem drug and alcohol use is a very difficult situation to live with in any family. It affects children, young people and their parents, and can make life at home really challenging.
In families, drug and alcohol problems tend not to be discussed, as though they were not happening. This only adds to the problem by creating secrecy and makes it very difficult for those living in the situation to seek help and support.
You may not live in the same house as the parent who is misusing drugs or alcohol but you may still be affected by it and the information here will also be of use to you.
This webpage will help you to learn more about your parent's drug or alcohol problem. It will give you information about the different ways this could be affecting your or other people in your family. The information provided will help you to understand:
If you need more information check out the Finding Help section.
Parents are responsible for making sure that their children’s needs are met. It is a parent's role to keep their child safe from harm and to support their child so they can reach their full potential.
When parents are involved in harmful drug or alcohol use, it means that they can become distracted from the job of parenting and the needs of their children. This has the potential to negatively affect or harm those living in the family.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (which Ireland signed up to in 1992) provides many rights to all children and young people. You have the right:
You are not responsible for your parents’ drinking or drug use.
It is not your fault.
A: Drug or alcohol problems (sometimes also called substance abuse or misuse) is a pattern of harmful behaviour involving the misuse or overuse of substances for mood-altering purposes. This means that the drug or alcohol changes how a person behaves or feels.
In order to understand drug and alcohol use, it is important to be clear about what we mean by the terms ‘drugs’ and ‘alcohol‘ and what are the differences and similarities between them.
A: The majority of people who drink alcohol do so in a social way which does not have a negative effect on the person or their family life. People drink to socialise, ‘get in the mood’, have fun and relax. Alcohol acts as a sedative, which means it will make you more chilled out or relaxed.
However, the bad news is that too much of it can take away a person's judgement and affect the decisions they make.
Sometimes people drink alcohol to forget their problems and help them to cope, but this does not work. The problems will still be there when they have stopped drinking and may even be worse.
Alcohol, as well as many other legal and illegal drugs, can be addictive.
Many people who take an alcoholic drink will lead normal, unaffected lives. However, for some, their drinking can get out of control, their use of alcohol increases and they can become binge drinkers or become addicted (sometimes called alcoholism).
A: The effects of drugs and alcohol on a person depend on what type of substance has been taken. Some people drink or take drugs for the ‘feel good’ factor but others might continue to use even though it is not an enjoyable experience. Different people may experience different effects.
When a parent has taken drugs or alcohol they may spend time away from home on ‘benders’. A bender is another word used to describe going drinking or taking drugs for blocks of time, such as days or even weeks.
Alternatively, the parent may be physically present, but absent in every other way such as being emotionally distant or unable to communicate. It can seem like the person is there in body but not in mind.
A: When people drink too much they can have a hangover the next day. A hangover is when a person drinks too much causing dehydration. Dehydration is when the body loses more fluid than it should. This will bring a very bad feeling the next day of nausea, tiredness and headache.
Sometimes people can feel emotional, anxious, depressed or in bad form when they are hungover.
A: There are a number of reasons why people use drugs or alcohol. Alcohol is commonly accepted in our society and adults may choose to have a drink while socialising with friends or as a way or relaxing at the end of their week. Many adults who drink alcohol follow alcohol guidelines and know what amounts are safe and when it is time to stop drinking.
Other reasons why people use drugs include:
Using drugs or alcohol to forget problems, change feelings or escape from reality will not solve anything as the problem will still be there when the drinking or drug use is over and it may even be worse.
A: Alcohol and drug use happen at different levels. Not everyone who uses substances has a problem or is addicted.
Among adults, it is socially acceptable to drink alcohol and some people may enjoy its taste or relaxing effect. Sometimes people also take drugs for a pleasurable effect. However, even small amounts of drugs or alcohol can alter moods, cause drowsiness or inhibit judgement. This means that the drugs or alcohol can change the way a person behaves and they may not be able to think straight.
Even the careful use of medication as prescribed by a doctor can also affect the mind or body, for example there may be a loss in appetite or drowsiness. This is why many medications leaflets advise people not to drive or drink even small amounts of alcohol when taking prescribed medication.
Any of these reactions described above affect how a parent cares for or responds to their child.
When someone is drunk or under the influence of drugs, it can seriously impair their judgement. This poor judgement means the user may continue taking drugs or alcohol regardless of health or other welfare risks.
It can seem like the person is out of control and they cannot read the many warning signals around them. They may begin taking risks which can put their health, their job or their home life in danger. If a parent uses drugs or alcohol in a harmful way, it will cause problems in their day-to-day life.
A person can be very aware that they have a drug or alcohol problem yet they will turn to alcohol or drugs as a way of coping.
In other cases, the person may not be able to face up to the fact that they have a problem. They may think that their level of drug or alcohol use is acceptable when really it's not.
They could deny they have a problem by saying things like 'You're making a big deal out if it, I'm fine,' or 'I'm only having a few, I can handle my drink.' They may also say that it is temporary, 'Work is very stressful these days, I need a few drinks at the end of my day.'
When someone is drunk or under the influence of drugs, it can seriously impair their judgement.
A: Dependence, also known as addiction, refers to more long-term use of alcohol and drugs. The person may use greater amounts of the drug as they can tolerate larger amounts. They can also experience serious withdrawal symptoms if they cannot get the drugs or alcohol their body and mind craves.
When a person is addicted, life becomes more centred on using the drug or drinking. They are no longer in control of their use and can find it difficult to stop despite the fact that it is causing harm.
With addiction, there is a physical or psychological dependence on the substance.
Addiction is considered by some to be a chronic, progressive illness. However, many people working in the field prefer to call it a ‘condition’, which has some similarities to an illness in that the affected person can have some symptoms of an illness such as vomiting, headaches, shakes, appearing very sleepy or slurring of speech. Also, signs such as severe mood swings, staying in bed all day or being unable to carry out normal day-to-day tasks can be signs that the person is not coping mentally.
Unlike an illness, however, it is not possible to recover from addiction by a visit to the GP or by taking an antibiotic or headache tablet. Over time the person may become ill and develop a mental illness, such as paranoia, or a physical illness, such as liver disease.
A lot of the work in getting better has to be done by the person themselves and there is medical and other specialist help available to support them.
Addiction is not easy to recover from and can require medical or specialist help.
A: Addiction means that a person can be in one of these three states.
Constant cravings are a sign that addiction is taking hold. There is an overwhelming urge to use and the person can be preoccupied with this, despite other events or responsibilities in their life. This means spending time and money getting drugs or trying to work out or plan the next time they can drink or take drugs.
Irritability, mood swings, tiredness and depression are a part of this stage. The person can feel like they are 'on edge' and they cannot relax until the next time they can have a drink or use the drug they are addicted to.
The person is not in control of themselves or the situation around them. They are either drunk or high.
As the drug or alcohol is taken frequently, the person may take larger amounts to experience similar or greater effects or highs. This ‘bingeing’ pushes the effects of drug or alcohol use to dangerous levels.
Recovery from episodes can be physically painful and the user may be unable to carry out day-to-day tasks due to symptoms. So, everyday jobs like looking after the family and home can be affected.
This brings serious physical pain and psychological anxiety (mental distress). The person may become upset or agitated and feel panic or anxiety. They may be unable to sleep or show signs of paranoia (distorted thinking). Other effects can be tiredness, muscle pain, seizures, headaches, nausea or sweats.
When a person is feeling withdrawal symtpoms, it is hard to concentrate, make decisions or enjoy day-to-day activities. Avoiding these frightening and painful symptoms becomes the main priority and ‘preoccupation’ sets in again, so the addiction cycle continues.
When someone is addicted to drugs, whether it is alcohol or other substances, looking after children and doing the job of a parent can be a real challenge. This can have an impact on everybody in the family.
A: Being a parent is a really responsible job. A parent needs to be reliable and someone that others in the family can depend on. Parents, as the adults in the home, have the responsibility of making good decisions for all the family.
However, when a parent has problems with drugs or alcohol it can take over their lives and affect their ability to think and make good choices and decisions. This means that family life will be less of a priority and things can become chaotic and stressful.
This will affect the whole family. The family may try to cope with the situation, but everyone can get caught up in the behaviour caused by the harmful drug or alcohol use and take on the role of keeping the ‘show on the road’.
Families will often do this to protect the person with the problem and to ‘hide’ the situation from others.
Often the family will not even discuss the drug or alcohol problem among themselves. When people ignore problems, or don't discuss things, it can result in people feeling lonely or frightened.
Talking about a problem with your family is an important way of coping and getting support. If you cannot talk about it with anyone at home, try to find another family member or adult who will be able to listen to you and give you the support that you need.
It is important to talk about what is happening in your family.
A: Not all families living with drug or alcohol problems experience serious difficulties.
'I want her to do it, stop using drugs... well how much can I say? I can't say how much 'cos it's the most in the world. You can't really say a number can you?' Jane, 14
Despite this appearing to be a safer option, it is still a gamble which has the potential to lead to danger. There is always the risk that while under the influence someone may become urgently ill, their behaviour may become aggressive or accidents could happen.
Also, the other parent who takes on the extra responsibilities may feel extra pressure during times when their partner is using or less able to carry out daily tasks (due to withdrawal symptoms). This can cause a lot of tension in the home.
In some families, there may be only one parent or it may be that both parents are using drugs or alcohol. This can be difficult as you may end up taking on extra responsibilities like looking after your brothers or sisters or making dinner every night. You may also be worried about your parents when they are under the influence.
These are big worries to carry by yourself and may be affecting your school life, your friendships and your personal life. This is unfair and it is important that you get help and support as soon as possible.
While some families are better able to cope with the challenge of harmful drug or alcohol use, it is always a serious issue and it can be a great strain on family life.
A: Yes. Problems with drugs and particularly alcohol are very common. Families everywhere are affected by it. You are not alone.
There are many children and young people living with the same problem, both in your neighbourhood, school and even among your immediate friends.
Because families often feel ashamed and try to cover up what is happening in their home, it is not something that is easy to tell from the outside.
For some families, it may not be easy to talk about what is happening. This can make children and young people feel very alone with the problem. It is important to know that you are not alone and that problems with drugs and alcohol can happen in many families.
A: Every family situation is different. Only you know how you are feeling and what way things are for you living in your family.
‘I’m scared; I’m always scared in case he’s sick in his sleep or something. So I’m always... whenever he falls asleep... I’m always turning him over and all that’ Kate, 16
Children and young people can be affected in a number of different ways and it can be really hard to accept that this is happening in your family.
All of these worries are normal reactions to this situation. It can be even more difficult if no one else at home is talking about it. Try talking with someone else in your home or another adult you can trust.
A: It’s really important to find someone you can trust to talk to and share your feelings with as keeping everything to yourself will only add to the problem. Because drug and alcohol problems affect how a family works, people often like to keep it a secret. It really won’t help you to do this.
You don’t need to talk about it all the time, but not talking at all can lead to feelings of confusion. Sometimes young people living in this situation can start blaming themselves for what is happening. You must remember that none of this is your fault.
When tense feelings or problems are kept inside for too long, sometimes we can snap or explode and then we end up doing things we wouldn’t normally do. Because of too much tension or stress, we can end up acting out of character. This could mean getting into trouble at school or having problems with people in authority.
None of these actions are good choices for you and will only make life harder.
If your home is not safe, it is important for you to be somewhere that is safe, like with other family members or in the home of a family friend. If you are out late at night and not in a safe place, you are putting yourself at risk and you might find yourself getting into trouble.
You may find it hard to manage emotions and become very angry or withdrawn. However, by recognising how you feel and talking to a close friend or family member, you will be able to get help and support for yourself.
It is not your fault when someone has drug or alcohol problems. You are not responsible for ‘fixing’ them.
A: It is normal to wish your dad would stop. When a person becomes dependent on drugs or alcohol they experience a loss of control and need to get help to stop. It is ok that you want him to stop, but he has to want to do this himself. This can be really hard to do. Stopping will mean getting professional help. See Finding Help.
It is also very normal to have strong feelings about what is happening in your family. It is important to recognise these feelings and where they are coming from. There are no right or wrong feelings. You can find ways for dealing with your angry feelings which will help you to cope.
There are so many different feelings to describe all the different situations facing a young person living with parental drug and alcohol problems. Some of these may include being:
However, there can still be feelings of strength, positivity and hope that things will get better.
A: When your parent is taking drugs or under the influence of alcohol it is not a good idea to get angry with them. Your mum or dad won't be thinking straight and won't be able to tune into what you are saying.
Also this could lead to a row and arguments, and the situation may become unsafe. Drugs and alcohol can make people behave in an aggressive way, sometimes leading to domestic violence.
The section on Domestic Abuse on this website may be of help to you.
While it is best to have an adult who can protect you and help you to be safe, it is very important that you do what you can to help keep yourself safe.
If you are angry about something that is happening at home, it may be best to leave the house and go and talk to a family member, neighbour or friend. Even getting out of the house to go for a walk or to kick a ball around may help you to calm down.
You can try to talk to your dad later when he is not under the influence or ask someone else to if you do not feel you are able to.
A: You cannot control or change the person who is using drugs or alcohol but you can make some good decisions for yourself.
As a young person with your own life to lead, you need to make decisions that will help you to be healthy and safe, and allow you to enjoy life as a teenager. In this way you will protect yourself from the harmful effects of living in a home with a parent with drug or alcohol problems.
The National Association for Children of Alcoholics have developed the Seven Cs for children. It is hoped that by using these core beliefs, children and young people will get help to protect themselves from alcohol and drug related harm.
Celebrating yourself means looking after your life. Recognising what you are good at and what is going well in your life.
A: It is always good to have a parent who does not have problems with drugs or alcohol. This parent can be the main carer who can keep a good routine at home, make important decisions and help to keep things going even if there is pressure at home.
Over time, however, living with a partner who is engaging in harmful drug or alcohol use can wear a person down and they can become tired and unable to cope themselves.
They can be under a lot of stress trying to manage life and provide for their children while their partner continues to use drugs or alcohol.
Sometimes they are directly affected and become caught up in the problems caused by the drug and alcohol use, for example money problems.
Harmful drug and alcohol use will involve all of the family and may cause damage to relationships between other family members. But no one can make another person get help or change, except themselves.
It is not possible for your dad to ‘fix’ or control your mum’s drinking. It is only possible for him to control and manage himself and make his own decisions for the family.
There is help available for your dad to support him with living with your mum. He needs to talk to someone who can help. Other family members such as an uncle, aunt or grandparent can encourage him to get help or he can talk to his GP to find out where to get more help.
You can try to tell your dad how you are feeling at a time when things are not too stressful at home. If you cannot do this yourself then maybe someone you trust will do it with you or for you.
A: This is a very difficult situation for you. If both your parents have alcohol or drug problems or you live with just one parent who has these problems, it is important that you find another adult who is not living in the situation who you can trust and talk to about what is happening at home.
Children and young people can also be affected by a parent’s harmful drug and alcohol use even if they do not live with them. The information in this section is to help all young people who have experienced problem parental drinking or drug use.
A: Your time in school is very important for you. If you are unable to get to school because of alcohol or drug use at home, you really need to talk to someone about this. Every child and young person has a right to an education.
If you are not getting to school or are arriving late or tired you could fall behind in your school work. There are staff in school who are there to help you in this area so try to discuss this with a teacher you get on well with or a counsellor in school.
It is very hard to put what is happening at home out of your mind when you are in school. It can feel like there is so much else on your mind. You may be distracted and worried about your family at home with thoughts spinning around your head…
You can’t control what is happening at home and even if you were there you would probably not make any difference to the situation. It is not your job to look after your family. It is your job to care for yourself and make healthy choices.
You need to have time away from the situation and experience ‘normal’ teenage life.
Because alcohol and drug problems are common, there are many different agencies available who give support to the whole family. These professionals know that it is important for children and partners to get help as well as the person who has the problems. Go to the Finding Help section for more information.
A: Some young people find that they are being picked on or bullied by others in school. They feel this is because of their family situation and that others are singling them out for being ‘different’.
If this is happening to you, it is not ok and you need to get help. It is never ok to be bullied.
The section on Bullying on this website may be of help to you.
It can be very hard to tell anyone in school, but the school is there to help. You will not be the only student in the school with this problem.
A: Being in recovery means a person is sober or drug free and will not be drinking or taking drugs. It’s a big step for your dad to have made the choice to get help for his problems with drugs or alcohol and it is the first step in his recovery. Recovery is a journey as beating addiction is a long and difficult challenge.
Because drug and alcohol problems affect the whole family, it is not just the addicted person who needs to recover but the relationships within the family. This will be hard for everyone as so much has happened and things can’t be put right quickly. However, it is possible to recover and for family relationships to change over time.
People have a lot of catching up to do with each other. As part of his recovery, your dad might want to talk about the past while you might want to just forget about it and move on.
It is important to discuss what has happened and how it felt for you but make sure that you do this at your own pace and when you feel comfortable.
It will also be important that you remember that with recovery comes the risk of relapse. Relapse means the person goes back to drinking or using drugs and needs help again to get back on track with their recovery. This is a common occurrence in recovery and can be very disappointing for family members who were really hoping things were changing.
It is not your addiction and you are not responsible for it.
A: Family life can be difficult and challenging at the best of times. All families argue and disagree. In families where there is harmful alcohol and drug use, there is often an increase in arguments.
Alcohol and drug problems will cause a lot of tension and stress in the home as parents can spend a lot of time in a cycle of conflict.
They may fight about how much money is being spent on alcohol or drugs or they may be fighting about who does all the work in the home.
No matter what the fighting is about, it is not a nice place to be and may make home life unhappy for you. Children and young people often find the constant fighting and disputes much more upsetting than the drug and alcohol use. Even when the fighting is not happening, you may find yourself waiting for things to explode.
It is important to realise the fighting is not your fault and not to get involved in it. You could find yourself in a situation where one parent tries to draw you in or ask you to take sides in an argument. It is safest to say you don't want to get involved and then leave the room.
A: Sometimes people blame alcohol and drugs for their behaviour, even when they have physically hurt someone.
It is never ok to hit or harm someone else and alcohol and drugs are not an excuse for this kind of behaviour.
If you or someone else in your family is being hurt in this way it is very important to get help.
Check out the section on Domestic Abuse on this website, it may be of help to you.
If you or someone in your family is being hurt by fighting at home you must get help by talking to someone you can trust.
A: People behave very differently when under the influence of too much alcohol and the same goes for drugs. This can be very confusing for those around them. It is not fair or ok that you have to feel so mixed up and confused.
Often a parent who is drunk will say or do things which they would never do when they are sober. In fact they would be really ashamed of this behaviour and know it is not the right way to behave. But, sadly, problem drug or alcohol use often means that the person does not take responsibility for their actions or behaviour.
Sometimes they really cannot remember what has happened. This is called having a blackout.
It is not easy to trust when people act differently when they are drunk or high than they do when they are sober, but you must remember that when drug and alcohol misuse is involved, it changes everything.
Knowing that drug or alcohol use is causing this behaviour does not make it ok, but it will help you to see that it is not your fault and that your Dad is the one who needs to change things.
A: No. Just because you have lived in a home with harmful parental drug or alcohol use does not mean that you too will go on to have a problem with drugs or alcohol.
Being exposed to drugs and alcohol, particularly in your home, can sometimes make using them seem more ‘normal’. Children look up to their parents and are supposed to get guidance and support from them to help them deal with choices around drugs and alcohol.
When people do not find a way to talk about their feelings sometimes they turn to drugs or alcohol as they think it will help them to cope with how they feel but this is a dangerous choice to make.
Having lived with a parent's drug or alcohol problems though, many young people realise that this is not something they want to get caught up in.
Try to find other adults you know who can give you good advice about making healthy choices, solving problems and managing feelings.
‘It worries me because sometimes I think ‘What if I turn out like my Mum?” But I realise I can do it, I don’t need to go in my mum’s footsteps.’ Rachel, 17
Every person has to make choices in their life and you will have to make yours too.
You need to have clear information about drugs and alcohol and about what has happened in your family.
You need to be able to discuss your feelings with someone you trust like a family friend or a counsellor.
Drug and alcohol use do not make painful feelings go away.
Knowing the dangers of and being aware how you have been affected by drugs and alcohol can help you to make good decisions so that you do not develop drug or alcohol problems of your own.
A: Sometimes teenagers choose to talk to someone in their family like an aunt, uncle or grandparent. If there is a family member who knows about the situation in your home and who you feel you can trust this can be a good place for you to start.
If you feel you would like to talk to someone outside your family, you could discuss the situation with a particular teacher you feel you can trust or an adult leader in a sports club or youth group.
There is help out there for people who want to recover from harmful drug and alcohol use. Usually the first step involves the person going to their GP who will assess their problem and suggest what treatment is available.
See Finding Help for places you can get more information.