our everyday life

Setting Limits With Alcoholic Parents

by Sierra Koester, studioD

Alcoholism is a disease in which a person has difficulty controlling how much he or she drinks. Oftentimes, an alcoholic will experience problems in personal relationships with family and friends. Having an alcoholic parent can be tremendously difficult and emotionally draining. Although setting healthy boundaries with your alcoholic parent may be hard, it is an important thing to do to protect your well-being.

Identify Unacceptable Behavior

In order to set boundaries with an alcoholic parent, you must first identify what behaviors you find unacceptable. Psychologist Dana Gionta recommends examining what behaviors make you feel uncomfortable, upset or stressed. These feelings are good indicators of what behaviors you find unacceptable. Promises Recovery Centers suggests observing your parent's behavior for a week or two. Write down everything that upsets you. Does your mom drink while she's baby-sitting your children, drive under the influence or criticize you? It's important to put a lot of thought into your boundaries before you set them. Realize that your boundaries should not be designed to punish your alcoholic parent. Rather, boundaries are intended to protect your well-being. According to Clearview Treatment Programs, you need to realize you can neither control nor cure an alcoholic by setting boundaries.

Define Consequences

In order for boundaries to be effective, the alcoholic must face the consequences of his behavior. Choose consequences you are able to enforce. If you cannot enforce your boundaries, they become worthless. For example, don't tell your dad you won't bail him out of jail for driving under the influence if you're not prepared to leave him there. While it may be difficult to leave your dad in jail overnight, refusing to bail him out forces him to take responsibility for his behavior.

Prepare for the Discussion

Before you sit down with your alcoholic parent, you need to prepare for her reaction. Prepare yourself for anger, defensiveness and manipulation. You may want to rehearse the conversation with another family member or therapist. You also need to give yourself permission to set boundaries. While you may feel guilty, distressed or afraid to set boundaries with your parent, you have a right to protect yourself from her destructive behavior. Gionta asserts that boundaries are a sign of self-respect. If you don't respect yourself, neither will your parent.

Setting Your Boundaries

It's best to have a conversation about your boundaries with your parent when he is not under the influence of alcohol. When telling your parent about the boundaries you're creating, be direct. Tell him which behaviors are unacceptable to you and the consequences he will suffer if he decides to cross them. Provide your parent with a list of your boundaries and consequences that he can refer to later. Psychotherapist Terri Cole suggests being firm, respectful and calm. Use as few words as possible when setting your boundaries. Do not apologize for or try to justify them. Your parent might try to manipulate you or argue. Do not engage in an argument. Stand firm with your decisions.

About the Author

Sierra Koester has been writing professionally since 2006, contributing to several websites and blogs. She received her B.A. in psychology from DePauw University in 2004.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images