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How you or other family members might feel


About the person drinking, other family members or financial and practical problems.

Overwhelmed or stressed

Feeling overwhelmed by the strain of coping and not knowing what will happen from day to day.

Guilty or ashamed

Family members may feel they are somehow to blame for their family situation or feel guilty because they believe they are not coping as well as they should.

They may also feel that they are not ‘normal’ or that there is something wrong with them.

A person drinking can sometimes make other family members feel responsible for what is happening.

Sad or upset

Feeling that you have ‘lost’ the person who is drinking or feel sad about what your life is like.


Feeling threatened by the person drinking or experiencing violence or abuse.

Angry or resentful

At the person drinking, about the effects their choices are having on the family, or because they feel the drinker doesn’t love them enough to stop.

Powerless or frustrated

At being unable to control or change the situation.

All these feelings are normal when people are dealing with the problems that harmful drinking can bring.

There are things you can try to help you to manage these feelings and cope better.

How can I cope?

Ways to care for yourself

Asking for help

Support services for families

Building resilience

If you are finding it hard to manage, don’t be afraid to get professional help – from your GP or alcohol support service


For many people, their family home is a safe place, where they can be themselves and leave behind the outside world. When someone is drinking, the home can be a place of conflict, uncertainty and chaos. 

Relationships between family members

    • A partner can feel alone and unsupported, if their partner chooses drink over them.
    • Family members may be short-tempered, withdrawn or aggressive, because of the stress and difficult emotions they are feeling.
    • Relationships and marriages may break down because of drinking.
    • Family members may feel confused between loving the person drinking and hating their drinking behaviour or the damage they are doing.

Family routines

    • Comforting family routines and rituals can be disrupted – for example, family mealtimes, regular bedtimes, birthdays, holidays and family celebrations.

Social life

    • Family members may become isolated from their friends and wider family.
    • They may be embarrassed to bring friends home or accept invitations to social events.

Rules and boundaries

    • ‘Normal’ rules about what is acceptable can be ignored or become twisted.
    • Family members may accept violence, lying and neglect as ‘normal’.
    • Rules may not be enforced and children may be allowed to behave badly, if all the attention is focused on coping with the effects of drinking.


    • There may be financial difficulties due to unemployment or the money spent on alcohol


    • A parent who is dependent on alcohol may be inconsistent, unpredictable, detached or abusive.
    • Children may not have the practical care they need, like clean clothes, regular meals or healthcare.
    • Children’s feelings and emotional needs may be ignored if a parent is focused on drinking or on coping with the effects of someone else’s drinking.
    • A parent struggling with dependence may rely on a child for emotional and practical support.

When all a family’s attention and energy is direct towards the drinker and coping with the effects of the harmful drinking, the practical and emotional needs of other family members can be ignored.

Read more:

How you or family members might feel

How children might feel

Signs your child may not be coping

What role do you play? Family coping styles

Support services for families

Helpful resources

Family Support Handbook: Helpful information for families affected by someone's alcohol or drug use, including understanding dependence, ways to cope and practical advice.

Parenting positively. Helping teenagers to cope with a parent’s problem drug or alcohol use: Guide for parents of teenagers who are affected by a parent's drug or alcohol abuse, from Tusla / Barnardos

Taking the Lid Off: Resource for families living with addiction and problematic substance use, including understanding of addiction and its effects on others and advice on what helps, based on the evidence.

Bottling it up: The next generation. The effects of parental alcohol misuse on children and families.
Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) (2010). “If they’re getting loaded, why can’t I?” A large-scale exploratory survey examining the behaviour and attitudes of young people in Ireland towards teen and parental alcohol use, and the effects of parental alcohol use on young people’s lives. Ireland: ISPCC.
Taking the lid off. A resource for families living with addiction and problematic substance abuse. ASCERT.
Tusla / Barnados: Parenting Positively. Helping teenagers to cope with A Parent’s Problem Drug  or Alcohol Use.
Velleman, R. & Templeton, L. (2007). Understanding and modifying the impact of parents’ substance misuse on children. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 13, 79-89.
Mary Murray (Ed) (2016) Western Region Drugs & Alcohol Task Force Family Support Handbook. Western Region Drugs & Alcohol Task Force, Galway.

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