Sis Wenger: Four Suggestions for Caregivers of Children in a Home Affected by Alcohol Misuse/Addiction

“We may not want to think that our children know what is going on, but they often do know something is terribly wrong. Children have an amazing capacity for dealing with the truth. Shrouding the illness in mystery and lies is far more frightening than having a down to earth talk about the disease of alcoholism.

“In explaining the disease to young children, it is helpful to compare it to a chronic illness that they know. We can point out that the alcoholic is sick and doesn’t mean all the things said while drinking. We should be careful to explain to our children that they are in no way responsible for the drinking and remind them that they are loved.”

How Can I Help My Children? (P-9)

According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA, 08/2017), one in 10 children live in a home where at least one parent abuses alcohol. This leaves parents, grandparents, and other guardians worried about how to help the children understand what is going on with their alcoholic parent(s).

Sis Wenger, President/CEO of the National Association for Children of Addiction, shares four suggestions for caregivers.


Al‑Anon cooperates with therapists, counselors, and other professionals, but does not endorse, oppose, or affiliate with any professional, organization, or entity. The opinions expressed in the video were strictly those of the individual who expressed them. Their comments reflect their professional expertise and use of Al‑Anon as a resource for their clients and patients who are or have been affected by an individual’s addiction to alcohol.

Video Transcript

Sis Wenger: Four Suggestions for Caregivers of Children in a Home Affected by Alcohol Misuse/Addiction

Interviewer: Sis, what suggestions do you have for parents, grandparents and adult caregiver who are raising or are concerned about children who are being affected by a relative or friend’s addiction to alcohol?

Sis Wenger, President/CEO of NACoA: My first recommendation would be for them to consistently and as much as possible reach out to these children and do something I said earlier, make sure you tell them how important they are. Try to seek out their company, if you as an adult, grew up in an alcoholic family, be careful that while you are trying to be supportive of the child that you don’t tell them your story. Your story could become an oppressive piece of information that they do not need to hear. What they might benefit from is if you say, “I grew up with a mom or dad who drank too much and I know it really feels awful, but there are things that you can do, there are things that we know now that we didn’t know when I was a little girl.” So, and under no circumstances do you answer “what happened to you?” You just say “well, the important thing is what’s going on with you right now and help that’s available to you.” So that’s the first thing. The second thing is, to do everything possible to include the child or to be available to the child. If you don’t live nearby or you don’t live even in the same city, you could, depending on how old the child is – if the child’s old enough to call up somebody, you can give them your telephone number and say “you know, I love talking to you, and I would be so pleased if you would call me once in a while.” And if they act positive to that, ask them for their phone number “would you want me to give you a call? And see how you’re doing?” And you can give them that wonderful encouragement. I have a good friend who’s an attorney, who told me one time that her grandmother saved her, and she told me in several ways how her grandmother saved her and then she said her grandmother lived 500 miles away. And I said, “how did she save you?” She said, “I knew in my heart every day of the day that if I called my grandmother, whatever was going on with me that was a problem, she would help me walk through it, and she did. And I called her a lot, and she’s the one that saved me.” So being far away doesn’t mean you have to be far away, especially in this modern world. If you have a phone that you can FaceTime them with, go ahead and FaceTime them – blow them kisses. Anything to make them feel like you believe they’re special that you love them and that you want to see them be successful.

Interviewer: That’s some great information Sis. Is there anything else you want to add?

Sis Wenger, President/CEO of NACoA: You know, I think there are a couple of other things. One is that, you want to remember that you are in the parental role. So, attend any activities that the children are doing and cheer them on. Go to the PTA meetings, to meet with their teachers, don’t hide the fact that they’re staying with you; you can just say, “Mom’s having a problem and for a while. My niece, my nephew, my grandchild’s staying with me.” But be sure, while they’re staying with you, that you talk to them about why they are there, that you make sure you help them understand, that alcoholism or any drug dependency is a known brain disease. And what happens is, that “the drugs take over the brain and make parents make decisions they would never make otherwise. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you, I’m sure they do love you, but they don’t know how to show it until they can get help for their brain disease. So maybe, what we should do is pray for mom and dad and let’s tell some good stories about, you know, when times were good. What are the favorite things you used to do with your mom? Maybe we can do them, maybe there are the favorite things you used to do with your dad, maybe my husband can do them.” I think they need to know that the children don’t understand that their parents have a disease that has trapped their brain. And use the words like, “trapped,” or “taken over,” or “hacked” the brain and they – “this isn’t your loving mother or dad, this is a person who may have been actually – whose brain has been taken over. And so, let’s pray that that can help. And in the meantime, we know that your mom and dad want you to be as good as you can be at everything you do. And that’s what we’re here for, to help you do that.”