My mum is a “functional” alcoholic and has been for many years




my mum is a “functional” alcoholic and has been for many years. She and dad argue almost constantly, not just about the drinking but about almost everything, yet refuse to get a divorce. When all this first started, my mum promised that if they didn’t work things out then they would separate. This still hasn’t happened, as they both believe that staying together is for the best for me and my sibling, even though we have both expressed how upsetting we are finding the situation – my sibling who used to be relatively happy now seems angry and empty. Even when they aren’t arguing, they complain to me about each other. mum thinks that dad is mean and tries to treat me like a therapist, and dad is just constantly miserable about mum’s drinking and behaviour. i love them both, but i feel pushed to “pick a side”. I try to balance my time, but one always ends up jealous or upset if i spend time with the other. It feels like i can’t get anything right. my sibling will be moving to university after summer, and has expressed that they want to try and minimise contact with our parents, and will probably not be returning home once they have moved. they have sorted finances too, so that they will not need to borrow money from our parents to pay for their uni expenses. i’m scared about living at home without my sibling. i have two friends who i have tried to talk to about the situation, but both have basically ignored it. one thinks i was exaggerating or lying. the other is from a lower economic background than my family and seems to brush off anything i tell her as she thinks that because my family has more money that everything is perfect. i’ve told my school and they try to support me however they said they can’t do anything about the situation.
my sibling says i may be able to stay with them once they move to uni for the odd weekend, but i need advice about how to cope once i am on my own. any tips from people who are in/have experienced similar situations would be really appreciated. i am exhausted.

  • here2help

    Hi blue,

    I’m so sorry to hear that you feel caught between your mum and dad and that your sibling will be leaving to go to university soon. It sounds very difficult for you. It can be hard for other young people to understand what things are like when your parents have issues with drinking and argue so frequently when that isn’t something they’ve experienced. It’s really good that you came here and that you talked to someone at school about it. While the school can’t do anything about the situation itself, is there any support they could offer at all such as counselling? Or maybe referring you to a charity like Barnardos who might be able to give you some advice? Even just having someone to talk to about how you’re feeling would be helpful. You can also ring the Nacoa helpline at any time.

    You may not be able to change the situation as we can’t control what other people do or how they interact with others. But you can try to look after yourself as best you can.

    Although you do still need to live with your parents, maybe you could speak with them together or on an individual basis to calmly explain that you will not take sides in their arguments and do not want to be involved or hear them complain about each other and try to set some boundaries around that? Or if you feel you can’t do that, maybe write them each a letter to explain this? There’s an acronym called DEAR MAN that you can look up online and it explains how to write an assertive letter / practice an argument to set boundaries with someone, it might be a good model to follow to get ready for a conversation or write a letter.

    When arguments happen, could you maybe go to your room or go to a friend’s house or public place to get away from it and distance yourself? Maybe you could pop on some headphones to listen to music or watch videos in your room so you can tune out what is happening?

    I think it’s a good idea to think about what sorts of healthy coping strategies you could put in place before your sibling leaves home to help you manage stress. Are there any hobbies you enjoy like writing or drawing or playing music? Sometimes journaling can be helpful or going for walks with friends, or exercising. Anything that you feel could help you relieve stress will be useful to think about.

    It’s understandable your sibling might like to distance themself from your parents but maybe have a chat with them about how you’re feeling and ask if you can have a video chat once or twice a week to check in with each other and plan to meet in person on a regular basis. Setting up a sort of schedule for when and how you’ll stay in touch is important so you will know they are still there for you.

    I really hope things improve for you soon. You can keep in touch with us here or by phone. Take good care of yourself <3

  • listener

    Hi blue,

    Thanks for taking the time to share what's on your mind.

    I can relate to so much of what you shared, particularly feeling caught between your parents and feeling the need to 'pick a side'. This is a common struggle for children of alcoholics, and one I'm sure other posters on this board will identify with.

    It's understandable that you're apprehensive about your sibling going away to university. It's been a couple of weeks since you posted your message, so I'm wondering how you're feeling about that prospect now. Would it be useful to make plans of when you might be able to visit in their first term, so you know there's something in the diary?

    I really identified with the reaction you had from friends when you've discussed what's happening at home. Alcoholism is often steeped in secrecy and shame and, in my experience, the family can do a good job of masking the problem in front of friends/visitors/anyone outside of the immediate family unit. This can mean anyone without first-hand experience or witness of the drinking can struggle to grasp the severity of the situation. But talking about it here or through the Nacoa helpline email or telephone is an opportunity to have your voice heard by those who understand.

    You are not alone, and please remember Nacoa's 6 Cs:

    • I didn’t cause it
    • I can’t control it
    • I can’t cure it
    • I can take care of myself
    • I can communicate my feelings
    • I can make healthy choices

    Take care,

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