A parent and alcohol – am I a high-risk user without being aware of it?

Alcohol is a part of the lives of most adults. However, not all adults can drink alcohol without problems. Alcohol use by parents not only affects their own health and wellbeing, but also impacts on their children. Learn about five aspects of alcohol use by adults.

1. Alcohol is usually enjoyed in moderation

Alcohol is a part of the lives of most adults – only about 15 per cent of Finns are teetotal. For the vast majority of adults, alcohol use means a glass or two with friends, a sauna beer or pleasurable moments with good food and drink. Alcohol is often consumed during festive moments, but also during ordinary daily life, especially on the weekends. Alcohol is usually enjoyed in moderation and its consumption does not have significant adverse effects on the drinker and his/her loved ones. However, not everyone uses alcohol without problems – over half a million Finns exceed the risk limits.

2. Am I a high-risk user of alcohol without being aware of it?

Harmful alcohol use is not always visibly evident – many high-risk consumers go to work normally, engage in hobbies and take care of their loved ones. Some of them consider themselves to be moderate users, even though their drinking is no longer entirely under control.

Long-term and substantial alcohol use puts the drinker at risk of a variety of harmful physical and psychological effects on health. Drinking also causes significant social harm, especially to loved ones. Almost half of Finns have been adversely affected by the alcohol use of those close to them or other people when out and about in public.

3. Alcohol use by parents can be a frightening experience for children

Even if an adult feels that moderate alcohol use is harmless, this is not always true from a child’s point of view. Something that an adult considers harmless fun can be a confusing, embarrassing or even frightening experience for a child.

That’s why it’s a good idea for every adult to stop and think about how drinking at parties or with meals, or having a small daily drink, looks like through the eyes of a child.

When the behaviour of an adult changes, a child experiences this very deeply. Even the slightest change in behaviour, an increase in speaking volume or the smell of alcohol can make a child feel uncertain – from the child’s perspective, it’s as if the familiar parent has turned into someone else.  Parents who occasionally indulge heedlessly can also make a child feel unsafe.

4. Children also interpret the "quiet signals" of drinking

Children are also sensitive to any attempts to hide drinking from them. Even if a parent only drinks alcohol outside of the home or when the children are asleep, his/her alcohol use can affect the child. A parent who looks forward to getting drunk with friends or having a glass of wine late at night – and is tired and hungover in the morning – can be as confusing to children as actually drinking around the children. The parent’s behaviour might signal to the children that there is something shameful about alcohol use or that it must be kept secret. From the child’s perspective, it is important how alcohol is talked about at home and the attitude of the adults towards drinking.

Read more about "a childhood made of glass".

5. What to do if alcohol is turning into a problem

It is often difficult to talk about alcohol when it is turning into a problem. Someone who drinks excessively can easily start to exaggerate the benefits of alcohol and downplay its adverse effects. This is a way of rationalising that there is no need to change his/her alcohol use, both to him-/herself and to others.

If you feel that your own alcohol use, or that of a loved one, is getting out of hand, you should discuss the issue. One way of approaching the issue is by looking at the early warning signs of problem use of alcohol.

Ask yourself or your loved one these questions about the past four-month period:

  • When you wake up in the morning, have you been unable to remember some of the things you did when you were drunk the night before?
  • Have you fought with your loved ones about your drinking?
  • Have you had trembling hands after a night of drinking?
  • Have you felt guilt/shame about your drinking?
  • Have you been late to work or has your work suffered in other ways due to your alcohol use?
  • Are you hung over often?
  • Have you taken a drink first thing in the morning to calm your nerves or cure a hangover?
  • Have you ever felt that you cannot stop drinking?
  • Have you suspected that you are becoming dependent on alcohol?

If the answer to any one of these questions is yes, it is time to consider reducing your alcohol consumption – or quit entirely. The more questions you answered with yes, the more important it is to change your drinking habits. Help is available if you want assistance for this. Read more about how to seek help with reducing or quitting alcohol use.