Advice for Parents of Addicted Adults
Like most parents, you’ve probably spent the good part of your adult life giving everything you can to your children. You cheered them on when they succeeded and wiped their tears when they were hurt. You probably spent late nights comforting a sick toddler, only to also lose sleep over them when they were teenagers. But you would do anything for your babies. Now that your babies are grown, you don’t stop worrying about them.
If you found out that your adult child has a substance use disorder, your heart likely feels shattered. Many parents of addicted adults begin questioning what went wrong or what they could have done to prevent this. Above all, your parental instinct to protect your baby from harm has probably once again kicked in.
While you never asked to walk this path, know that you aren’t alone. There are other parents who have been on this journey before. The following is some advice that can help lift you up and support you as you adjust to being parents of addicted adults.
Your Adult Child Still Needs You
While your son or daughter is an adult, he or she still needs your love and support. You might feel disappointed in your child, and you might even be angry at him or her. However, this is still the same child that you loved, supported, and nurtured for at least 18 years. He or she still needs that love, support, and nurturing now.
Remind your adult child that you still love him or her and want the best possible life for your child. While your adult child’s behavior might concern you and might even be nasty towards you, remember that it’s the addiction controlling your son or daughter. Once the addiction is treated, the negative behaviors will likely also improve.
Remember that Your Child is an Adult
While your adult child still does need you, it’s also equally important to remember that your son or daughter is an adult now. You might know that your child is on a self-destructive path but he or she does have the right to make choices. This includes the choice to undergo or refuse treatment. While your adult child’s choices might be hard to understand or accept, your child does have the autonomy to make them.
Also keep in mind that while your child may have chosen to take the first drink or hit, he or she did not choose to become addicted. Continuing to drink or use is not a choice, so casting judgment or using phrases like “this isn’t how I raised you to behave” could make your child defensive or refuse to listen to what you have to say.
Avoid Enabling Your Child
Most parents of addicted adults want to do what is best for their children and don’t want to see their children hurt. However, removing the natural consequences for their behavior can make the problem worse. Avoid loaning your child money or bailing him or her out of the legal, career, or social consequences for their behavior. While it is understandable that you want to protect your child from harm, removing the consequences removes his or her motivation to get sober, enabling their substance abuse.
While you deeply love your child, you are, unfortunately, powerless over their addiction. Your child needs to be motivated to be changed, and oftentimes, that motivation comes as the result of a legal, financial, social, health, or career consequence related to their substance abuse.
Codependency is Harmful to You and Your Child
While you likely spent at least 18 years of your life fully immersed in your child’s care and well-being, this time, you have to be willing to step back. Your mental and physical health, finances, career, and family will suffer if you throw all of your time, energy, focus, and money into helping your child.
Remember that your child’s addiction isn’t a reflection on you or your parenting and your child’s life is his or her own. While it might be tempting to drop everything and take care of your adult child’s every need, the best thing for both of you is to prioritize your own needs and health. After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup – if you are overwhelmed and are struggling to cope, your child will too. Remember to invest some time each day for your own self-care.
Set and Enforce Boundaries
Boundaries are an essential part of being parents of addicted adults. Part of prioritizing your own needs is to set boundaries. These can include prohibiting substance use in your house, not giving money to your son or daughter, and not permitting abusive language towards you. Be ready to enforce those boundaries, even if it means that your son or daughter cannot live under your roof or that you have to walk away from a conversation.
Seek Support for Yourself
Parents of addicted adults often report feelings of isolation. However, there are many parents who have walked this path before you. Lean on them for support, advice, and comfort. Some parents find that support groups for parents of addicted adults are helpful. Others utilize individual counseling to help them cope with the situation. Monarch Shores also offers family treatment to help you learn how to best support your adult child through his or her recovery which can lead well into and through your own retirement. This is likely an incredibly painful time for you and your family and it is ok to find help for yourself as well.
Addiction is Treatable
Learning that your son or daughter has a substance addiction can be terrifying. Certainly, you’ve heard horror stories of overdoses or other tragic outcomes. While addiction is a serious disease, the good news is that it’s treatable and recovery is possible.
The most important step as parents of addicted adults is to encourage your child to reach out for help. With your support and the help of our treatment team, your child can get clean and live a healthy life without drugs and alcohol. While your adult child might be reluctant to start, when he or she is ready, we are here to help.