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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Karen Hennessy on September 14, 2020 10:24 AM

Hi I dont know what to do anymore with my sons addiction with heroine and crack cocaine do I stop giving him money or do I carry on because of his kicking off


View 1 Reply

    Anthony on September 15, 2020 9:34 AM

    Hello, Karen. I am so sorry to hear about your son's struggle with drug addiction and your uncertainty on what to do next. Since each situation is different, I do not want to tell you how to take your next steps. But, I will recommend that you attend our Family & Friends support group where you can speak with other people who have a loved one battling addiction. This free virtual support group is a safe space where you can go to get advice from our counselors and others who have a loved one that is struggling. - Anthony


Not gonna take it on September 2, 2020 12:13 PM

I've had it. I don't care what happens anymore. I'm moving, changing my name, and not looking back... It's my world too. I have a life, and I'm gonna live it! I'm not cleaning up anymore messes... Not making anymore excuses. Tired of caring about someone more than they care about themselves. I love me! I choose me! I choose health, and balance... and I won't let anyone even my child take that away from me. Abusive relationships are not always spousal. He needs to mature without me... I reclaim MY life... Good luck so! Love Mom...


View 1 Reply

    heather on September 3, 2020 7:59 PM

    I agree , my son is going to be 40 . I have been worried about him since he was 18. My life has been upside down for most of those years worried about him ....I’m coming to the end of my rope , I have wasted many many years , I want my last few years to be mine I wrong for wanting some enjoyment. I love him so much , but feel I can’t do anymore , now it’s time for him to want a decent life


DeLaRosa on September 1, 2020 4:42 PM

Single parent with 6 children, 4 girls and 2 boys.Their father abandoned us at their very young age and has never really been their for either one of them. We have gone through some very lonely, difficult and strugglesome times. Well my girls grew up and became very independent, married and have moved on. My 2 sons became drug addicts, stay at home and are not able to work because of their addictions, since eventually they end up getting fired from their jobs. I hurt for them, I grieve for them and constantly depressed. I see them going through these addictions, lonely, depressed and hurting themselves in this way, but unwilling to and not strong enough to fight off their demons of drug addictions. They are now 32 and 34 years old. I've tried talking with them, getting upset with them and nothing ever seems to work. I don't know where to start, what to do or where to turn in order to help them get on the right track and get off of these drugs. I God Bless.


Eamon on August 27, 2020 6:52 PM

Thank you. My son is currently in an addiction center for 30 days my concern is how to help him when he gets out. No seems to know.


LK on August 18, 2020 1:55 PM

Help My 23 year old son is relapsing again. He spent a month in rehab and did well. After about 6 weeks he started to relapse. He is living in a sober living home which really is a home to charge a lot of money. There is no accountability or structure. He has come over to visit me a few times this past week and got drunk after he arrived. Last night I begged and pleaded for him not to drive. I was successful this time. He gave me his keys and slept it off and left later that evening.

I know I have to detach with love but it’s so hard. He is my only child. I raised him alone. His dad basically abandoned him. I think that could be the some of his issues. He is so outgoing and handsome and has so much to offer. He is completely different when he is drunk. How is a mom supposed to sit back and watch her child suffer and possibly die?

I can’t stop worrying. It’s taken over my life.


View 1 Reply

    Nk on September 7, 2020 5:25 PM

    Hi LK I feel your pain . I am also a single mum to my son who is an addict , he is 22 lives at home with me . His addiction has taken over his life and mine too . I worry for him . I have tried everything love, encouragement trying to get him to go to support groups , counselling drug therapy which he doesn’t want any of it Also I have enabled and recently he is getting abusive calling me names and blaming me for his addiction Saying I have allowed and enabled him to continue with drugs

    Yes I have let him take drugs And drink alcohol at home because of My own worry , concern and fear for him .

    As mothers lovely it is so hard for us , I have some people saying move him out and let him hit rock bottom though I am struggling to let that happen because I am fearful what he might end up doing whilst not under my roof but at the same time it is taking over my life and making me so ill But my heart breaks seeing my son in the addiction state he has got himself into I wish I could give you some advise as to what to do but am struggling myself

    I pray you do find the strength to look after yourself lovely

    Thanks. NK