Help and advice

Help for professionals or concerned others

Help and advice

Help for professionals or concerned others

Help for professionals or concerned others supporting people affected by their parent’s drinking

Having as many sources of support as possible can help children and adults cope when a parent drinks too much.

Everyone can make a difference including parents/carers, step-parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts/uncles, friends and parents of friends, neighbours, teachers, counsellors, and professional or voluntary organisations.

Consistent relationships can help people challenge negative beliefs about themselves, e.g. I’m useless, I’m rubbish at everything, everything’s my fault, and formulate new positive beliefs, e.g. I’m capable, someone cares, someone understands. 

In these relationships, people can substitute defensive behaviours and damaging coping mechanisms with more effective ways to cope. They learn that the world can be different from the one they have always known; there is help and there is hope.

Child holding soft toy bunny for comfort as parents drink alcohol in background

What you can do to help children, young people and adults affected by their parent’s drinking

Find out more about alcohol and the effects on the family

When someone has an alcohol problem, drinking becomes their priority. The need to drink becomes so important that they may hurt and upset people they love. Promises are often broken, and family members may feel let down or forgotten.

When a parent has a drink problem or other addiction, children often take on responsibilities beyond their age and may have a greater awareness of the situation than you might expect.

Finding out more can help you to be in the best position to support someone affected by their parent’s drinking. See Information for professionals and concerned others, Books and videos, or Frequently asked questions.

Remember that people can continue to be affected even after their parent has died or stopped drinking.

“They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”

3 pairs of hands around purple heart stone representing professionals or concerned others supporting people affected by their parent's drinking

Just be there

Simply being there and understanding can make a difference. Don’t underestimate how important it is for people to know that a reliable and caring adult or friend is there for them.

When alcohol is the family secret, the family rules don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel keep problems hidden from the outside world, in an effort to keep the family together and ‘safe’.

Speaking out can sometimes feel like family betrayal or lead to isolation within the family. They may not want to talk about the problem right now, but knowing there is a safe place to talk can help.

Child jumping in puddles wearing wellies and coat with umbrella as a reminder for professionals and concerned others to help children affected by their parent's drinking have some time for fun

Encourage them to spend time doing things they enjoy

When families are affected by addiction, it can be very worrying. Children, including adult children, can feel as if they are not important or cared for. Remind them that they are important.

Sometimes worries can take over, and taking a break can help. Encourage them to find time for things that interest them, whether it’s sports or hobbies, playing in their room or garden, walking the dog, meeting friends, taking a bath, reading a book, or watching TV.

If appropriate, you could invite children to spend time with you or help them find a youth or sports club or an activity for the holidays.

Professional such as doctor listening to an adult child talking about their concerns regarding a parent's drinking

Listen non-judgementally

Reassure them that it is OK to talk about their feelings. Talking is not being disloyal to their family. It is an important part of looking after themselves and can help them feel less alone.

Allow them to talk at their own pace without interrupting. Try not to make negative comments about their parents. Alcohol problems are not about a lack of love and children do not want their parents to be judged.

Many children fear not being believed. By giving them space to be heard, you can validate their feelings. This can help them make some sense of the chaos that often exists when a parent has an alcohol problem, enabling them to understand that it is not their fault.

“Building trust is a process, not an event”

Question marks in blue hearts on orange background to represent information about alcohol and the effects on the family

Help them understand more about alcohol and the effects on the family

Helping people understand what alcohol problems are and how they affect everyone in the family can help them to feel better.

Try having a conversation with them about alcohol problems. It can be helpful to relate to real-life events or things in Books, TV or films to get the conversation started.

This is a complex issue so people can easily feel overwhelmed. Try to keep it simple and talk in manageable chunks.

Key messages:
  • Their parent’s drinking is not, and never was, their fault.
  • Alcohol problems are like an illness where people have lost control over their drinking and usually need help to stop. As hard as it is for those around them, only the person drinking can make the decision to accept help.
  • They can feel better whether their parent continues to drink or not.
  • Many families keep alcohol problems a secret, so sometimes it can feel like they are the only one going through this. 1 in 5 children in the UK live with a parent who drinks too much.
  • It is OK to talk about what’s going on and how they are feeling.
  • They are not alone, and there is help.
Encourage them to remember the six Cs:

I didn’t cause it

I can’t cure it

I can’t control it

I can take care of myself

I can communicate my feelings

I can make healthy choices

Nacoa's publications about coping with a parent's drinking for children, adults, concerned others and professionals

Let them know about Nacoa

The Nacoa helpline is here for everyone affected by a parent’s drinking, including children, adults, concerned others and professionals.

Our trained volunteer helpline counsellors understand what it can be like when a parent drinks too much. Our helpline is free and confidential. We won’t judge and we are here to help. For information, see the Nacoa Promise.

We have a range of publications you can pass on, including leaflets, posters and small helpline contact cards. If you would like to receive an information pack in the post, please email us.

Publications are provided free of charge. However, as a charity relying entirely on voluntary donations, contributions are always welcome.

We can happily research sources of support in their area. There are also details of some places that can help below. Sharing information can help people feel less alone.

Young person using their mobile phone lying down in the dark to represent young person affected by a parent's drinking receiving support from a professional or concerned other such as a family member or friend

Help children stay safe

When a parent has a drink problem, alcohol becomes the priority and can lead them to being less emotionally and physically available for their children.

As the person drinking organises their life around alcohol, the family adapts to cope with the drinking and associated behaviour. The family rules don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel develop to protect the illusion of a ‘normal’ family. This can make it difficult to talk about problems.

Children may witness violence and aggression. Family roles can change, resulting in children taking on additional responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning and caring for their parents or siblings. This altered family system can contribute to an increased risk of abuse.

By speaking out, children are being very brave and risk being isolated by their family. Reassure them that it is OK to talk and allow them to do this in their own time. Giving them the chance to be heard can help them realise it is not their fault.

It can help children to have somewhere to go when things are bad. Perhaps having a quiet place to do homework or somewhere to have some time away from home may help.

If you are worried about a child’s safety or wellbeing, talk it through with Nacoa. You can also phone the NSPCC (0808 800 5000) or your local duty social worker in Children’s Social Care (you can remain anonymous if you prefer).

Be aware of your professional obligations regarding child protection. Children are often wary about the situation being taken out of their control. Try to keep them informed about what you can do and who else you need to talk to.

Remind children that if they are frightened, they can contact Nacoa or ChildLine for help.

Person holding mug of tea to represent taking time to look after yourself when helping people affected by a parent's drinking

Look after yourself

Hearing about someone living in a difficult situation is not easy. If people talk about upsetting or abusive situations, it is natural to feel shocked or angry.

Make use of appropriate support networks to take care of yourself. You are playing a critical role in the person’s life. Just as you value them, you need to value yourself and be aware of your own needs. Nacoa is here for children, adults, concerned others and professionals alike.

Additional information

Helping people coping with the death of a parent

Sadly, sometimes when people have alcohol problems, it can lead to them dying. This is scary for everyone and can bring up lots of difficult feelings. Having a caring adult around is really important; just being there and listening can help. See our Helping Children Cope with the Death of a Parent booklet. This includes other organisations that can help with bereavement.


If you are a parent concerned about how your child is being, or has been, affected by your or another person’s drinking, see our Information for Parents leaflet.


See our Information for Professionals or our Information for CAMHS Professionals leaflet.


See our Information for Teachers leaflet. If you are interested in planning an event or assembly to raise awareness of the problems faced by children whose parents drink too much, you may like to tie it in with our annual awareness campaign COA Week.

Other sources of support

Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA)

Tel: 01590 610 936

Support for people who have grown up in alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional families, through local meetings and literature.

Alcohol Change UK

Alcohol Change UK is a national charity working to create a world free from the harm caused by alcohol. They do this through expanding knowledge, campaigning for better policy and regulation, shifting cultural norms, improving drinking behaviours and working for more and better support and treatment.

Al-Anon Family Groups

Helpline: 0800 0086 811

Support for anyone whose life is, or has been, affected by someone else’s drinking, through local meetings and literature. There are a few Alateen meetings around the UK for young people aged 12-17. Over 12s can go to an Al-Anon meeting but the group will predominantly be adults.


Helpline: 0800 1111

24-hour helpline and website providing support for young people around a range of issues.

Children’s Society

Support groups and activities for children who help look after other members of their family, because of alcohol or drug use or other health problems.

You are not alone

Remember the Six "C"s

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

Resources you may like

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