I’m worried my parents might have a drink problem

They have what they call ‘cocktail hour’ at 5pm and then it just keeps going

PROBLEM: I am concerned about my parents’ drinking. They are in their late 50s. We have all flown the nest, so there is just the two of them. I have recently returned from Australia and am shocked by their normal drinking routines. They have what they call “cocktail hour” at 5pm and then it just keeps going.

My dad used to go to the pub, but now they both drink at home all the time. I think it has been like this for some time, but I didn’t notice it as much when I lived at home.

No one else sees it as a problem, but Christmas was particularly bad. All they talked about was what drinks we would have and they laughed and joked about hangovers all the time. My dad has a good pension, so there is plenty of money for drink. It is really embarrassing to have your parents slurring and flirting with your friends early in the evening. I’m disgusted. I have been suggesting the cinema or walks, but they just laugh at me and tell me to live a little.

I have been dropping hints but it is falling on deaf ears, particularly with my dad, who just says I need a new boyfriend. This hurt me a lot as I have just come out of a relationship after four years. I wonder if I should get involved at all or leave them to it.

ADVICE: It is often the case that family members who come home from a stint abroad are able to see clearly what is going on at home. The over-50s drinking to excess at home is an emerging pattern of recent times.

There are particular problems associated with this. For example, the quantities can build up as there is no closing time or barperson to call a halt. There are also safety issues: slips, trips and falls as a result of inebriation can lead to hospitalisation. Also, cases involving the interaction of medication and alcohol can lead to complications. All these issues are avoidable if your parents can be made aware of the dangers of their drinking, but it seems they are very happy with how things are at the moment.

Ideally you will find a way of having a conversation with them about your concerns, but often drinkers are in deep denial about what is going on. You might need to talk to professionals yourself in the first instance to get guidance.

Help is available for people with alcohol problems and their families. Alcohol treatment units around the country that are free of charge can be accessed via the HSE website drugs.ie.

Another useful website is alcoholactionireland.ie. These treatment centres can offer a one-off session to a family member to help assess the problem, even if the drinkers do not attend.

This allows you to have a conversation with professionals who can help you to discover the depth of the problem and to look at possible interventions. Al Anon (al-anon-ireland.org) is another organisation that supports relatives and friends of alcohol users, and it is available countrywide.