How To Parent An Adult Child With An Addiction

Many parents never imagined that their child, who may have experimented with drugs in adolescence, would grow up to become addicted. The truth is that they are still your child, but their brain is “hijacked” by the drugs.

Parents of a child with an addiction, no matter the age, brings fear and sadness. At some point in your child’s life, you imagined stepping away and enjoying the benefits of your hard work as a parent. You provided for them, kept them safe, and made sure they knew you cared. Maybe you expected to see them raise their own family, and land their dream job.  While parenting a child or adolescent that uses drugs can be difficult, being a parent of an adult child that is addicted can be just as challenging.

We have some tips to cope with, and address, your adult child’s addiction. Below are 5 tips to help guide you through this tough process.

  1.  Allow your adult child to experience the “natural” consequences of their drug use. 

Natural consequences are circumstances that develop as a result of decisions we make as humans. As children, we often say to our parents “No, I won’t put on my boots when it’s raining.”  A natural consequence of this choice is wet feet. As a result, we often learn to make a different choice next time.

This may feel like an impossible task with an adult using drugs because you’re worried you will push them over the edge, or they will never speak to you again.  However, often “support” gets in the way of the consequences of their use. If you rescue them from consequences, how will they know they need to ask for help? 

A good question to ask yourself is: “Am I helping or hindering my child?”  If you’re helping, you’re not rescuing them from consequences.  If you’re hindering, you’re doing things for them that they can, and should, do for themselves.

  1. Don’t nag or berate your adult child.

Many well-intentioned parents believe that “tough love” is the cure for addiction or “bad” behavior.  Science proves otherwise.  Kindness, open communication, and transparency matter more.

Nagging or berating is often a symptom of our anxieties as parents, more so than a helpful way to curb your loved one’s addiction.  If you feel out of control, it’s easier to nag or say hurtful things to your adult child. The reality is, experimenting with drugs in adolescence is a common experience, and does not always lead to addiction. For those that become addicted, this is never a choice.  

  1. Set and maintain boundaries.

Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries can be difficult, especially if they haven’t been set before.  It’s not uncommon to set boundaries and feel like you’ve done something wrong, especially if your boundary is met with anger. You have not done anything wrong–you’re trying to take care of yourself.

Boundaries are what allow you and your loved one to be responsible for their actions and decisions.  Boundaries may include:

  • No alcohol or drugs in the home
  • No lending money
  • No attending family events under the influence due to the disruption it causes
  1.  Provide emotional support.

In 12-step recovery there is a common saying: “We’ve resigned from teh debating society.”  While our natural instincts as humans are to debate, protect, and argue, these are not helpful with a loved on in active addiction.  As hard as it may be, they need our love and support.  Listening and focusing on responding empathically and validating are very helpful. Of course, this is easier said than done when emotions are high.  Take a deep breath and remember- they are still your child, and their brain has been hijacked.

  1.  Get help and support for yourself.

It’s easy to focus on your loved one and forget all about yourself.  The analogy most recognizable along these lines is to “put your oxygen mask on first, then on your child.”  If you’re not taking care of yourself, it’s very hard to help others.

Seek counseling, attend Al-anon or Nar-Anon meetings, eat well, enjoy your hobbies, and sleep.  Even if your loved one doesn’t accept help now, you will be better prepared when the time comes.

Finally, when the time is right, get them the help they need. If your loved one is struggling and you don’t know where to turn, let us help you through this process. Our admissions counselors have years of experience guiding families through addiction and starting the journey of rebuilding lives. For more information, call us today. 

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