Glad you asked. I’m going through this right now, and so are my cousins.
Gonna be long…I’ve got 39 years of experience here and recent events to get off my chest.
My dad’s a very functional alcoholic. Six to twelve beers a day since he was probably 17 or so (he’s 67…happy anniversary?) Worked his ass off at a factory, as far as I know never missed a day. Never ever shitty to us kids. A fun guy (for others) to be around all the time. Super nice fellow.
While my mom doesn’t drink, family gatherings with her side of the family were drunk fests. But never mean, always a good time. The previous generation, I’m told, were angry drunks but always drunk-on-drunk arguments never with the kids. How nice.
My dad’s a guy who should have been in therapy his whole life for anxiety, depression and PTSD (he had a hard childhood and then went to Vietnam and is a combat vet) but never did. Alcohol is his anxiety meds.
The worst thing that ever happened to us with his drinking is when he got in to a crash while DUI when I was in my teens. Until then I was sort of blissfully unaware of the negative effects of alcohol. That event changed me remarkably but…still, life went on. Daddy drank. He was better about not drinking and driving.
I became a designated driver at the age of 16. I drove everyone to family events like weddings. My dad needed to drink to be around his (teatotaling) family so I drive us to see them while dad sips a travel mug of beer. That’s just life.
When I got to college, and through my 20s, I had anxiety issues related to alcohol. I had gotten weary of being around happy, annoying drunks. I didn’t want to be around drunks. But parties in your 20s are all about being drunk, and annoying. I noticed my dad’s own drunken annoyingness more. Some times I was a strict non-drinker and judgemental about it, then sometimes I was a casual party drinker (I’ve never developed a taste for beer). I got over my judgemental-ness about it. I never learned to enjoy alcohol or really being drunk. I did learn to just relax and act drunk and people assume you’re drunk and we all have a good time and I drive home sober.
So now I’m 39 and dad’s 67. A year or so ago my uncle, dad’s brother-in-law, was diagnosed with Korsakoff syndrome, brought on by drinking and not eating. When you’re a younger strong dude who works and eats three meals a day and have some muscle mass, your body can keep itself going despite the alcohol consumption. When you stop working and sit and drink all day, and you’re full of alcohol so you’re not hungry, you’re depleting your body and not replenishing it. You get dementia, you go to a home, you spend the rest of your life and the rest of your pension managing your dementia and sitting in a dark room not knowing what year it is. My cousins are having a tremendously hard time dealing with this - as you know, dementia is tough to deal with on its own. It’s harder to cope with when you know the person you’re trying to care for brought it on himself. With plenty of warning. Without care.
My dad hasn’t gotten to the point of dementia yet but he has taken to passing out due to extreme dehydration from doing nothing but drinking all day and not eating. He’s lost a lot of weight. His muscles are basically gone. The first few times he passed out in his small bathroom, to little fanfare. The next time he passed out was while we were on a family trip to a cabin. He fell like a stiff board right on to the floor. I had to call 911, and then drive him to the country ER to have his head looked at.
This last time, 2 weeks ago, he fell like a board on to the slab kitchen floor. Tons of blood. Ambulance ride to the ER. Ten stitches. My whole family was there, and we started the long process of making sure doctors knew how much he drank (he never, ever admits the true number), him getting lectures from doctors, and me having to explain to him how the fucking human body and nutrition work because he just doesn’t get it and just doesn’t care.
So now I’ve got a dad that’s physically wasting away, who’s putting himself at GREAT risk for dementia, nursing a concussion, learning how to eat (yep, he has no fucking clue how to actually eat - he’s been naturally skinny his whole life, never a need to think of it), who’s afraid to be alone for too long (due to passing out and general lightheadedness).
This dire medical stuff is new to the story…but also note that leading up to this, older drunk dad has not been pleasant to be around for the past 10 years or so. My brother and I have learned to take him in small doses. He has a nice afternoon window of pleasantness and productiveness but by evening he is angry and aloof. There’s a lot of nuance to this but it comes down to the alcohol wasn’t just affecting his body, it started with his mood and his demeanor.
Since he’s already on opioids (different story altogether) he’s been able to quit drinking cold turkey since the last incident. So far. My mom had a fit and tossed all the beer in the house, of course. I’ve already noticed he’s waaay more pleasant to be around in the evening. He’s “afternoon dad” all day long.
There’s still a lot of work to do. He wasn’t willing to do the work for his wife, or his kids. He’s on his last chance with his grandkids, here. Hoping he likes them more than he liked us, and can clean himself up for them and they can have good memories of him.
I guess, in summary, living as a child and then an adult child of a nice and functional alcoholic is like living on a creek bank. It’s fine every day even though it’s slowly chipping away. Then eventually the whole fucking thing erodes and you’re left with the medical ramifications of the poor choices your parent has made for 60 years. And you got to come to terms with your love for them and your disdain for their predicament.