Should I tell my kids about dad’s alcoholism?

By Elisabeth K. Corcoran
Author of He Is Just That Into You
Question: “My husband is an alcoholic. Should I tell my children about their father’s drinking?”

This is such a sensitive subject, and there is no easy answer or once-size-fits-all solution for everyone, and this of course depends on how old your children are. But if your kids are in their pre-teens or teens, here are three good reasons to consider talking to them about this topic.

1. Your children need to know that they are genetically predisposed to alcoholism and that even one sip could change their lives forever. We must not be naïve. Our children will more than likely find themselves in positions where they are tempted to try alcohol, whether it be at a party, school function, or even a family event sadly. We cannot assume that our kids will skate through their adolescence without trying alcohol or at least being offered a drink. So if their father drinks or uses drugs, they need to know that they are more at risk to have an addiction. They need to be armed with this information so they can make intelligent choices.

2. They need to be given the permission to tell their father that they won’t get into a car with him if he’s been drinking. This can be super hard as we’ve been teaching our kids all their lives to obey us as their parents. But in this instance, they need to be taught that this is an exception for their safety. For some, it will be easy to tell when their father has been drinking, because he’s had a beer in his hand all day. But for others, their fathers hide their drinking and they may never see it. So, you will need to instruct them in their father’s drinking tells. Does he begin to slur his speech, laugh louder, carry around a mug all the time, bump into door jams, etc.? You know what they are as you’ve probably been studying him for ages. Does this change the dynamic between your children and their father? Yes. But you must remember that it’s not you, the truth-revealer, that caused the shift; it was the alcoholic. You are just protecting your children.

3. They may want to attend Alateen ( for children twelve to nineteen where the only requirement for attendance is that you are affected by someone’s drinking. This can be a great support group for teens who feel alone and confused by their circumstances.

I would do this only after much prayer. You’ll want to run your decision by a few people you trust to make sure your motives are pure (the protection of the children should be your main motive). You may want to write out what you’re going to say. You may even want to set up an appointment with a counselor, and have you and the counselor tell them together. Then afterwards, make sure they know about Alateen, and that you are open to any follow-up questions they may have. Finally, make sure that they know that they can and should still love and respect their father; that other than getting in a car with him (or any other activity that seems dangerous, of course), they are still to obey him; and that though he is going through this, he still loves them very much and it is not something that they caused or can stop.
This will be one of the most difficult conversations you will ever have with your children, but also one of the most important and one of the bravest.

But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand.
The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.
Break the arm of the wicked and evil man; call him to account for his wickedness that would not be found out.

The LORD is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land.
You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.
-Psalms 10:14-18-

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