Family Wellness

5 Do’s and Don’ts for Parents of Addicted Adults

February 8th, 2019
5 Do’s and Don’ts for Parents of Addicted Adults

Updated January 21, 2020

As a parent, you always have your child’s best interests in mind, whether they are just learning how to walk, renting their first apartment, or raising their own children. Finding out that your child is struggling with addiction is heartbreaking regardless of their age, but confronting an adult son or daughter about their substance use comes with its own set of unique challenges. You may feel powerless to help them because they are old enough to make their own decisions or you may think that disciplining them won’t have the same impact as it might have when they were younger. But these doubts don’t erase your parental instinct to protect them when you sense they are in danger.

While there may be no cure for addiction, recovery is possible, and your son or daughter can go on to live a life free from addiction. Your unwavering love and support could provide the push they need to pursue sobriety. However, knowing how to best help your child is important. Here are five techniques to encourage their recovery, along with five common mistakes to avoid:

How to Help a Loved One Overcome Their Addiction

Don’t ignore the problem or make excuses.

There is a fine line between helping your loved one and enabling them. To shield them from outside judgement, it can be tempting to cover up for them or pretend that drugs and alcohol are not affecting them. However, doing so will only reinforce the idea in their minds that they do not need help and cause them to delay seeking treatment. If left unaddressed, addiction will take a toll on their physical and mental health, their finances, their relationships with others, and their sense of self.

Do set boundaries and invite open communication.

Recovering as a family will require speaking with your son or daughter about how their behavior is impacting everyone. During this conversation, you should express your concerns and clarify your needs and expectations for the future. Talking about these topics can be uncomfortable at first, but this initial discussion will strengthen the relationship between you and your loved one, allowing both of you to start healing.

Don’t berate your loved one for their choices.

While it is true that they made the initial choice to drink or use drugs, no one chooses to become addicted. Drugs and alcohol are powerful substances that hijack the brain and deeply impact personality and behavior. Know that your loved one’s addiction is most likely causing them to feel discouraged or trapped. Showing them “tough love” by using phrases like “I never taught you to behave this way” could only exacerbate their sense of shame, their defensiveness, and their tendency to isolate.

Do address the behavior rather than the person.

Casting judgment on your loved one will not mend your strained family dynamics, but it’s perfectly reasonable to point out how their actions are affecting you. This statement might look like, “When I see you stay out late at night, I’m worried for your safety.” Focusing on how you feel reduces the chances of confrontation because your emotions are not up for debate. When you are finished sharing your thoughts, remember to listen and try to understand your loved one’s perspective as well.

Don’t make a habit of lending them money.

You may be tempted to help your loved one with their living expenses when they are feeling most vulnerable, but it can be difficult to tell what your financial support is funding. Your son or daughter may become dependent on you and feel less of an incentive to overcome their addiction if you continue to offer them money. Without a reliable source of income, they are more likely to reflect on their behavior and work toward their recovery, cultivating core values like honesty, accountability, and hard work along the way.

Do offer to look for support services with them.

Your loved one will need emotional support in recovery, starting with yours. One way you can support them is to sit with them and research different treatment programs to see which options best suit their individual needs. Aside from the encouragement of their family and friends, their recovery network should consist of support groups where they can meet others whose lives have been impacted by addiction.

Don’t smother your loved one.

Completing basic tasks for your son or daughter and doting on them in other ways can hamper their progress, despite your best intentions to make their lives easier. They may begin to believe that they cannot achieve anything on their own and avoid making efforts to better themselves. You might also be smothering your loved one if you repeatedly bring up their addiction, which could create added tension and frustration.

Do ask your loved one how you can best support them.

Remind your adult son or daughter that you have their best interests in mind and want them to live a long, fulfilling life. Then, ask them what they need from you and offer to help them accordingly (as long as their request is reasonable and will not jeopardize their recovery). Inviting them to offer their input conveys that you respect their boundaries and what they have to say, making them more likely to share their feelings with you in the future.

Don’t ignore your own needs.

It’s natural to feel worried about your child when they are struggling with a debilitating disease like addiction. Letting your fears consume you, however, will stand in the way of your own happiness and peace of mind. Over time, continuing to put your loved one’s needs above your own may also lead to feelings of resentment on your part.

Do invest in your own recovery.

Self-care is just as important as supporting a loved one’s recovery. Participate in activities that bring you joy and spend time with positive influences. Participating in family recovery services and workshops will help you experience your own parallel healing process. You can also attend family support groups like Nar-Anon, where you will meet other parents who are coping with their children’s addictions and learn strategies for healing along with your loved one.

Addiction does not discriminate based on age, and many individuals develop substance use disorders later in life. Luckily, even if your son or daughter falls into this category, they still have time to turn their life around. As much as you may want to shield your child from their inner demons, they need to make their own informed decisions. Nevertheless, as someone who has known and cared for them their entire lives, you can play a valuable role in encouraging them to be the best version of themselves.

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29 Comments


Heather Gluckman on November 21, 2020 9:20 AM

I live in Sydney Australia and cant find any nar-anon support groups that will allow the parent and not the user to attend. I have a 38 year old son who is addicted to multiple drugs. Do you know of any such meetings in Sydney or even an online meeting in America that would be open to me joining. I would just like to speak to other people who can relate to my problem and perhaps give me some guidances. Its a living nightmare. Thank you Heather

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    Olivia on November 23, 2020 1:22 PM

    Hi Heather, I'm sorry to hear about your struggles. While Mountainside is based in the US, we have free virtual support groups that anyone can join. I would recommend joining our virtual Friends and Family Support Group. It has been a very helpful resource for friends and family members of loved ones that have struggled with drug and alcohol abuse. If you are interested in learning more, click here. We also have other virtual support groups that your son may find helpful to join. To learn about these groups, click here.

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Penny Hedgecoth on November 18, 2020 7:39 PM

Our son is 42 and due to his problem with alcohol he cant hold down a job. He just recently lost all custody of his son. He has been living with us off and on for several years. We just recently sold our home in California and moved to Arizona and he followed us here. He has been beyond drunk every day. He says disrespectful things to me and his dad but mostly me. I'm too embarrassed to even repeat it. He drinks these little 99 liquor bottles but he can drink 20+ in a day. We don't want him him here, but he says he isn't leaving. I asked him what he needed from us but he won't talk without yelling. This has been going on for years. We are at our wits end. We need some help but dont know where to reach out. We live in Yuma Arizona.

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    Olivia on November 19, 2020 6:08 PM

    Hi Penny, I'm sorry to hear about your son's addiction and how it has affected you and your family. I would recommend attending our free virtual Friends and Family Support Group to figure out what steps to take next. This is a great starting point to get advice from our clinicians and other people that have experienced similar situations. Learn more about the Friends and Family Support Group by clicking here.

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Mandy on November 16, 2020 12:30 PM

I just read your do's and don'ts article, and I'd like to say thank you. I'm new to all this but really needed some advice about drug addiction. Thanks again Mandy

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David Preston on November 12, 2020 7:18 AM

My son is 34. He is currently living with me and my wife. When he moved in, we informed him that he cannot drink. It took about a month before he got drunk. I gave him one more chance, and about a month later he got drunk again, in my house, and we kicked him out. A few days later he asked to come back, and we said yes, if he sought help. He enrolled in outpatient counseling, and did that for about 2 months. He had to re-enroll in counseling because he was out for too long. We told him he must do it within a month. He got drunk again after about a month, and he said he would go into rehab. The rehab he could afford was backed up and it would take a few weeks to get in. After about another month, he told us that he would not go to rehab and said he would move out. He doesn't have a car and we have been driving him to work. Since then he has been drunk nearly every day, and I want to tell him to leave now. Whats your advice?

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    Olivia on November 19, 2020 6:15 PM

    Hi David, I'm sorry to hear that you and your wife are experiencing this. I recommend attending our virtual Friends and Family Support Group it meets on Wednesday nights. Other parents and relatives have found it very helpfl to share their stories with a group that has gone through similar struggles. Mountainside professionals are at every meeting to provide advice and support. If you are interested in attending a meeting or learning more, click here.

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Michelle on October 19, 2020 4:28 PM

My daughter got her son 2 yrs old taken away from her and my mother and I have temporary custody of him . She isnt going to the appointments that she is supposed to go to and I know she is still using. It has been 3 months now and she has gone from 3rd party visits back to supervised visits. She isnt going for her drug tests and I am concerned that she will lose custody of my grandson completely. I am willing to adopt him but in the Meantime how should I be handling my relationship with my daughter?

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    Olivia on November 23, 2020 1:42 PM

    Hi Michelle, I'm sorry to hear about your daughter's struggles with substance abuse. I would suggest joining our Virtual Friends and Family Support Group to share your story. It can be helpful to speak to people who have shared similar experiences. If you are interested in learning more, click here.

    Reply