Fans Think That Helga's Mom Was an Alcoholic in 'Hey Arnold'

Whenever we see Helga’s mom, Miriam, she seems sleepy, bored, and inattentive. She even slurs her speech sometimes.

Jamie Lerner - Author

Mar. 13 2024, Published 10:16 p.m. ET

Helga's mom drinking in 'Hey Arnold'
Source: Nickelodeon

We all love a good rewatch or binge of our favorite childhood television shows, and Hey Arnold definitely makes the list. However, when we watch it again as adults, we realize how dark the Nickelodeon show really was. It may have been a kids' show, but there were stories of addiction, poverty, homelessness, fat-shaming, grief, and more. One story that went potentially unnoticed was Helga’s mom’s alcoholism.

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Fans have theorized that Helga’s mom, Miriam Pataki, was an alcoholic. In fact, it may not just be a fan theory because her struggle with alcoholism was pitched in the Hey Arnold never-seen spin-off, The Patakis. But how do all the pieces add up and how did we miss it as kids?

Helga's mom reaching into her liquor cabinet
Source: Nickelodeon
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The ‘Hey Arnold’ fan theory that Helga’s mom was an alcoholic is backed up by specific moments.

Throughout Hey Arnold, one of the most complex characters is Helga Pataki, who’s deeply obsessed with Arnold, but is also often unkind and a bully. As we learn, however, this is because she comes from a challenging family life. Her father is abusive and misogynistic and her older sister, Olga, is the golden child. But it’s Helga’s mom who may be in the darkest situation.

Whenever we see Helga’s mom, Miriam, she seems sleepy, bored, and inattentive. She even slurs her speech sometimes. Adult viewers have speculated that this means she’s an alcoholic, and to prove it, they refer to her “smoothies” and her blender, which she holds close to her chest.

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Helga's mom asleep drooling on the table in 'Hey Arnold'
Source: Nickelodeon

Also, in “Helga and the Nanny,” we learn that Miriam got a DUI. While it isn't said outright, she has to go to community service at the animal shelter after her license was taken away. We also learn that Miriam was a world-class swimmer, a bull-riding title winner, and a decent karaoke singer, but she had to drop out of college to marry Big Bob.

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There are moments when Miriam seems even to regret the decisions she has made. For example, when Olga gets engaged, Miriam tells her she regrets marrying young. When Big Bob is injured and Miriam fills in for him, she becomes a more effective boss than he ever was. However, she loses herself in the job and shows obsessive and addictive behavior.

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When Miriam quits the job to spend more time with Helga, she goes right back to her depressive behavior, disappointed with the life she continues to choose for the sake of others. Although she isn't the best mother, it’s clear that she cares.

It’s not just a theory that Helga’s mom was an alcoholic — it’s canon.

While it was never said outright in Hey Arnold, the creator, Craig Bartlett, intended for Miriam to be an alcoholic. This wasn’t revealed until he was pitching a spin-off for the series centered on Helga and her family, called The Patakis. Craig revealed to Confirmed Notes About the Patakis that the series would take place six years after the events of Hey Arnold.

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When talking about where the characters would be, Craig explained, “Bob more like Tony Soprano and Miriam in 12 step, working at a TV station.” In fact, in a leaked early show bible for The Patakis, Miriam’s description makes it very clear that she was an alcoholic. “During the six years we were away, Miriam hit rock bottom,” it said.

It continued, “The good news is, she’s on the road to recovery. The bad news is, it’s a long road. One of her ‘sponsors’ from the ‘program’ got her an ‘internship’ at the local TV station. The only problem is she’s a real screw-up. Hopefully, Helga’s newfound success will inspire her to tap into her own potential — that is, if she can survive the world of b--chy on-air talent and a moronic boss who’s constantly firing and re-hiring her.”

Perhaps a fan theory isn’t so left-field for once.

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