How Lindsay is trying to break the stigma around her mother's alcohol use disorder.

When Lindsay* was 14 or 15 years old, she discovered her mother had an alcohol use disorder. She knew something was wrong when her parents began fighting a lot, often loudly enough for her and her brother to hear.

“It was actually Christmas Eve when my parents had a really, really loud fight, like, outside my brother and I’s rooms. We could hear everything,” she explained. “So, my dad brought us out and was like, ‘Hey kids, your mom’s an alcoholic.’”

Lindsay, a 19-year-old college student from Fort Washington, had noticed their mother drinking, but never equated it with an alcohol use disorder.

“I’ve just been seeing her drink my entire life,” she said. “She would always have a bottle of wine or liquor in her purse all the time, and I would always smell it.”

It wasn’t until her dad’s comment on Christmas Eve that she learned the extent of her mother’s drinking.

“She later told me that she’s been an alcoholic for, I guess, most of my life,” Lindsay said. “I think I just didn’t even realize it was happening because she was still present. She was high functioning [and] she was there for me we were close.”

Though her mom was transparent with her during their first conversation that Christmas Eve, Lindsay still struggles with the lack of communication around the topic.

“They don’t really tell me that much because they still kind of see me as their little baby and they don’t want to tell me what’s happening,” she said. “It’s very frustrating.”

Lindsay attributes the lack of communication to her mother feeling ashamed about her drinking.

“She’s just very embarrassed,” she said. “Both of my parents are just like, ‘Don’t tell anyone about it don’t talk to your friends about it.’”

Though she occasionally talked to her brother and grandmother about everything, she mainly just tried to deal with it on her own.

“It was very, very isolating because we were told not to speak about it to anyone,” she said. “It just kinda added to the stigma around it.”

“It was very, very isolating because we were told not to speak about it to anyone."

— Lindsay, Adult child of parent with substance use disorder

Lindsay eventually opened up to her best friend at the time, who became a big source of support for her.

“I told her over text and it was really hard because that kind of made it real,” she said. “But the support I got from her was amazing. Her father was also an alcoholic, and she helped me through it.”

While Lindsay struggled with whether or not to talk about it with her friends, she also found herself acting as a go-between for her parents.

“My parents would be fighting … and not talking to each other for days at a time, and I would have to kind of be like their messenger,” she said. “My mom would be like, ‘Go tell your dad that we’re going to the mall,’ or like, ‘Call your dad right now,’ and stuff like that,” she said.

“Eventually I had to just be like, ‘You guys are the people who are married to each other,’” she added.

This new role in her family proved to be a pivotal point in Lindsay’s changing family dynamic.

“That’s when I was forced to take care of myself in a way. I had to grow up faster, essentially,” she said.

Since going off to college, Lindsay said she has found support from some of her other friends, along with a sense of clarity from being away from the fighting.

“I think I left for college at a good time because it was pretty bad at that point,” she said. “I was like, ‘All right, I need to get out of here,’ so it was really good for me to leave and just not be there.”

Unfortunately, going back home is still difficult for her, she said.

“When I’m home for breaks and stuff, I try to be out of the house as much as possible,” she said. “It’s just hard to be around sometimes, because they’re fighting, and I don’t want to be around that.”

“I’m still processing it now. I’m still figuring out how to support my mom and talk to my dad about it.”

— Lindsay, Adult child of parent with substance use disorder

However, Lindsay believes things are getting better, and is hopeful that the positive trend will continue in the future.

“She was actually just in rehab for the first time,” she explained. “She was admitted to rehab mid-March, and she actually came home last Tuesday [April].”

After facing multiple health issues, her mom’s doctor told her mom that treatment was her best option for survival.

“She actually called me the day before and was like, ‘Hey, I’m going to rehab tomorrow,’” she said. “All of us were pretty shocked because we never thought it would be this soon that she would accept help and want to do it, but she did.”

Lindsay also said her dad has become more supportive now, as he’s trying his best to fully understand her mom’s alcohol use disorder.

“He was just really angry that she was drinking all the time, and he didn’t understand that she needed to go to treatment,” she said. “[Once she started treatment], he visited her every weekend and was receptive to doing the couples therapy, and he’s in full support of her doing the AA meetings and everything.”

While her mother is in recovery and her dad is becoming more supportive, Lindsay is also helping herself by seeking treatment for her anxiety and working to open up more about her story.

“Dealing with a parent that is an alcoholic, it’s really hard to process your relationship with them and your relationship with your family,” she said. “I’m still processing it now. I’m still figuring out how to support my mom and talk to my dad about it.”

While Lindsay is expectant for a brighter future for her mom and their family, the process does not come without some lingering doubts.

“There’s still that …  ‘Is she going to relapse? Is she going to drink again?’ because she totally could,” she said.

Lindsay said if she could give her younger-self one piece of advice, it would be to not be afraid to talk about her mother’s struggles with alcohol. Even though she would have liked to have been able to have an open dialogue with her family earlier, she said she does not hold anything against her mother.

“I’ve never really thought of her lowly [and] I’ve never hated her because of it,” Lindsay said. “Yes, there is some resentment there, and frustration with the whole situation. I’ve always just seen it as a mental illness. I’m not mad at her for drinking.”

*Names marked with an asterisk are those of people who requested we use their first name only due to the sensitivity of the subject matter.