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Understanding Alcohol Withdrawal in a Parent

Updated: Jun 26

Content warning: Witnessing a parent in distress due to alcohol withdrawal


Watching a parent go through alcohol withdrawal is a frightening and often isolating experience. It's a reality so many of us face, yet it remains a topic we rarely talk about.


Did you know: “conditions entirely caused by alcohol lead to more hospitalizations in Canada than do heart attacks*”, and this includes the potentially fatal effects of alcohol withdrawal, so we know we are not alone. Yet, resources on this topic are rarely proactively available and are hard to access as they are for other conditions such as heart attacks. And then there is the big S word, STIGMA, fearing reaching out for support.

Not only is it stressful to watch a parent go through it, and potentially have to call for emergency services that can be full of shaming and blaming, the withdrawal process can be life-threatening, but not a lot of people talk about it.


The Hidden Struggle


Alcohol withdrawal occurs when someone has used alcohol in large amounts or for many days in a row and suddenly stops or substantially reduces the amount they drink. This can lead to severe symptoms such as hallucinations (seeing, feeling, or hearing things that aren't there), body shakes known as tremors, anxiety, nausea or vomiting, seizures, and even delirium tremens, a condition that can cause confusion, hallucinations, and heart complications. For children and young adults witnessing this, the experience can be deeply traumatic.



What We Wish We Knew As Children and Adults who have Grown Up with the Stress and Stigma of a Parent's Substance Use


Find our free resource, pictured above at https://www.starlings.ca/caregiving-for-a-parent


  1. It’s not your fault and you shouldn’t have to be the one to provide emotional and physical support, but we know you do.

  2. It's Not Just a Hangover Many people mistakenly believe that alcohol withdrawal is just a severe hangover. In reality, it's a complex medical condition that requires attention and care. Understanding this distinction can help in recognizing the severity of the situation.

  3. Medical Help is Crucial Alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening. It's essential to seek medical assistance if a loved one is going through it. Medical professionals can provide medications and support to manage symptoms and prevent complications, so seek out and find the health professionals you trust to learn how they can help you (however, many of us have also feared reaching out to health professionals for fear of being removed from your home. That's why it's important to talk to someone you trust(.

  4. You Are Not Alone Feeling scared, confused, and helpless is normal. Many others have gone through similar experiences (but we know how lonely it feels when you can't reach out). Reaching out to support groups, counselors, or online communities can provide comfort and practical advice (hi, join our peer mentorship program found here and stay tuned for our peer learning groups coming soon) .

  5. Prepare for Emergencies Knowing the signs of severe withdrawal and having a plan can save lives and stress. Symptoms like seizures, hallucinations, or severe agitation may require immediate medical attention. Have emergency numbers ready and don’t hesitate to call for help.

  6. Self-Care is Vital Watching a loved one suffer is incredibly stressful. It's important to take care of your own mental and emotional health. We know this is said over and over again and we also know how hard it is to find people who get it. Talk to someone you trust, engage in activities that you enjoy, and consider seeking professional counseling.


Breaking the silence around alcohol withdrawal can help remove the stigma and encourage more people to seek the help they need. Breaking that silence is hard on our own, but as a community, it can become easier.



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