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Dublin: 3 °C Tuesday 12 November, 2019

'It was always my job to check if Dad was breathing after he passed out'

Living with a parent who is an alcoholic is confusing, isolating and terrifying for young people. Why are we not doing more to help them?


IT WAS ALWAYS my job to check Dad was breathing. In a way it was the easiest job. I’d walk past him every now and then and put my hand up to his mouth. If I felt a breath I’d go on with my day. Thankfully there was never a day when he wasn’t breathing. But you couldn’t tell from looking at him, passed out in his armchair.

I don’t come from a bad family. Dad had a high profile job and was well known in the community. My brothers and I got good grades, did well in sports and played an instrument or two. People would always tell me how lucky I was to have a dad like mine, due mostly to the big job he had. They presumed he drove a BMW and that we lived in a big house with a manicured garden.

How could I explain?

Of course, they never saw my house. They couldn’t. How could I explain why my father sleeps all evening in the living room? Or why my mother is constantly stressed and strongly medicated?

Every now and then she’d come home with a new illness she had heard about on Oprah. All these illnesses caused stumbling, slurry speech, behavioural changes, appetite loss. They all had exactly the same signs and symptoms of alcoholism, and that must be what was wrong with my dad. He couldn’t be drinking, he swore he only drank socially. Anyone who suggested that the drunkard in the corner may be inebriated was made go up and apologise to him.

He never had to apologise for the outbursts. For swearing at us, for driving us to our piano lessons drunk, for falling over and breaking our TV on Christmas Day as I tried to hook up the playstation.

Was drinking at 8am normal?

As the only girl, I slept in the living room of the two bed apartment on holidays. In Gran Canaria I remember Dad coming into the kitchen and cracking open a beer at 8am. Then another by 9am. He was a social drinker, he was on holidays. Back in school I went to ask my best friend if this was normal dad behaviour. I stopped myself. I was 16 and didn’t want to ask stupid questions. He was on holidays, of course he would have a drink at 8am.

It took a letter from his employer saying the game was up to force him into rehab. I was doing my mock exams for my Leaving Cert. Everyone around me was worrying about essays and theorems, my only concern was that he would stay the course and give me a break. I just wished he would stay there forever and let us get on with our lives.

The day I began my exams I walked past my mum trying to pack a suitcase for him in the hallway. He had finally agreed to go into rehab lest he lose his precious job. As I walked out the door he threw his pyjamas at a wall and shouted, “Ok, I’ll go. But I’m not wearing those pyjamas”.

Young people living with an alcoholic parent need more support 

I thought he was just an angry overgrown teenager. I was completely ignorant about addiction and how it completely takes over a person’s personality. I had friends tell me all sorts of secrets during my teenage years; some were gay, transgender, sleeping with married men and yet I didn’t feel I could tell them my secret. It wasn’t my secret, it was my dad’s. I didn’t feel I could tell someone else’s story.

Even now I feel guilty writing this. Rehab worked for him and he hasn’t had a drink in ten years.

I’m still shocked I thought early morning drinking was normal. I’m annoyed there isn’t more help and information for young people. Just last month a court heard how a teenage girl went to a garda station to complain about her difficult home situation with her alcoholic mother. The gardaí sent her away and told her to come back with an adult.

No one needs to be told that alcoholism is extremely common in Ireland. The fact that there is very little help available for young people is a national embarrassment.

This story is shared by ‘Teens Affected by Addiction’, a Young Social Innovators project from Mount Mercy College in Cork. The students have recently received funding from the YSI Den to publish a book with the stories of adults who grew up with an addict in the home. Please see or email if you would like to share your story.

Follow Teens Affected by Addiction on Twitter: @affbyaddiction

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