Powerless Over Alcohol -Lessons From Parents

Feeling Powerless Over Alcohol, Powerless Over Parents

Two sons came to Serenity Vista today to discuss the possibility of bringing their dad for treatment. He is suffering from the disease of alcohol addiction. It was very interesting for me to see how complicated the family dynamic can be. 

sunset-powerless-over-alcoholOur parents are the first human representation we have, beginning from our birth. They are our first example of life and how to live it. Whether our relationship with them is strong or not, whether they are still alive or not, this does not seem to change much. Consciously or unconsciously, they are the individuals that affect us the most. I have heard a lot about parents worrying for their children’s happiness. But what about when it’s the other way around? What about the day we come to realize our parents aren’t happy and are in a self-destructive cycle of addiction? When the roles get turned around, how can the kids be the ones to take care of and help their parents? What can a son or daughter do? To what extend can an adult child of an alcoholic help their parent? What is the role of an adult child? How can a person watch their parent’s self-destruction? Click here to learn more about how a parent’s drinking can affect the child.

When a parent is powerless over alcohol in active addiction to alcohol or other drugs, there are different ways an adult child can respond. One possible response is to replicate the behaviour of the parent. This does happen a lot. Whether the behaviour is pleasurable or not, the adult child may believe they have no choice but to mimic addictive behaviours. In doing so, they can become just what they dislike about their parent. If someone asks them why they are hurting themselves so much, they might respond that they didn’t have a choice. They feel like they are victims of having parents that showed them that way.

Another way of responding to an addict parent could be to just do the opposite. The adult child may realize that they are the only one responsible for their life. They may realize they can choose not to replicate that bad habit.  They may use the difficult situation and turn it into powerful energy that uplifts them and makes them stronger. A person can use their parent’s example as an illustration of what not to do.

The reality still remains that no matter which way an adult child of an alcoholic chooses to deal with an addict parent, it won’t be easy. The family is part of the cycle whether they want to be or not. They play a role in it, just by being a member of the family. How an adult child behaves regarding the parent’s issues, will definitely play a part in the healing process.   

Family Dynamic Of Powerless Over Alcohol

As I listened to these two son’s explaining their father’s situation, I could sense their powerlessness. It seemed to me that they had done everything they could to help him, but nothing had changed. A person’s help reaches a limit.  When someone has given so much of his energy, time, and support and yet nothing changes, one can be left with a sense of anger, frustration, and so on. The Time comes when one needs to step back and realize they’ve done their part. The adult child realizes they can’t fix their parent, and they are not asked to do so. The line between “doing our best with the situation” and “trying to take over the whole responsibility and behaving as if it is our duty to save our parent” is very small but I believe is very important to understand.

It comes back to the well- known saying:

Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. 

I feel like it’s so easy to fall into the illusion that I can take responsibility over someone else’s life issues. If I give the person support, love, and encouragement, it will be enough for them to realize they need help and ask for it. Unfortunately, there is a chance that all the amount of energy I give to that person might still not be enough for them to take that step.

Stepping on someone’s path, trying to get them to stop the addiction, trying to control their behaviour might seem to work for some time. But is it really helping the person? Truth is, I can have everything organized for the person to get help, and yet they won’t go. I don’t have any power over that decision and all what I can do is accept the choice. I probably won’t understand it. I may feel angry at first but I can’t do more. It is part of the process of accepting the things I cannot change. I can only support, encourage, and pray that she/he will surrender and accept to get healed. Communicating to that person that is powerless over alcohol that we love them deeply but need to step back because we can’t watch them hurt them selves anymore is our right. Walking away might be the hardest thing to do but maybe the only way not to sink with them.

So, the role of the loved one, to the child, the wife, the parent or the friend who is powerless over alcohol,  is to find a balance between wanting to help and keeping integrity. It is important to be careful not to become co-dependent and lose a sense of the roles in the relationship. Finding a balance between detachment and support to that person can be a constant challenge. Click here to learn more about adult children of alcoholics.

It’s a process, to be taken day by day.


Maya is a Swiss student, interning at Serenity Vista. She is learning about the disease of addiction and how it manifests in the lives of individuals and families.  She is also learning about the process of recovery, which begins by the admission of being powerless over alcohol. Click here to learn more about Serenity Vista’s Unique Program in Panama

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