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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2 Comments


Scott on June 25, 2020 12:51 PM

I have 2 children both in their 20s. They are both addicts. They cant support themselves and I cant take them in or take care of them financially other than a few bucks here and there. Im worried sick. Their mother died of an intentional over dose when they were 9 and 11. Im at a loss.

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    kelly on June 30, 2020 11:43 PM

    Scott, I am so sorry to hear about your adult children. I am a single mom and still raising two teenage boys and now I am raising my grandson. My daughter and baby daddy are both addicts. It has been since December of last year that I received kinship over my grandson. It has been even longer than that where I continuously felt like I needed to do something...give them a home, pay their way, provide when they didn't have and during the time that I did this...guess what? They were lying to me and violating my home. They were using me for providing their way financially. It took me a long time to realize that I was codependent and enabling them and their only chance of recovery was letting them figure it out on their own. You can't fix your children but you can fix you and let go of their disease. They need to find out how to live life sober and the only way they can do that is by first realizing they have a problem and then go one day at a time. It's not easy and it is a long process but you can support them in other ways...tell them you love them and each baby step they make assure them of how proud they should be of themselves. Do not defy them if they fall backwards, it is part of recovery. Let them acknowledge their fall but continue to engage them in moving on and not giving up. This is the hardest thing, besides losing a child, that I think a parent has to face. What we need to do to keep our own minds and hearts healthy is realize that the decision to begin the journey of becoming a drug addict was theirs and not ours. I always say it begins with a choice and ends up as a disease. We all have made bad choices and we all were not aware of the outcome of those choices as we made them until we finally realized what we had done. They need support more than anything but the right kind of support. The support that makes them know they are worth living and they are worth recovering and they are worth being loved not only by you but they need to love themselves. They need to make the choice to remain a drug addict or become a recovering drug addict. It's the worst thing for us as parents to watch and wait but once you realize that it is out of your control, it gets easier...accept the worse and hope for the best. I hope this inspires you to know that you are not alone on this journey. Best of luck and in God's prayers, Kelly

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    Sandra sattler on July 2, 2020 2:21 AM

    I have a daughter I love very much. She has mental issues. Anxiety, bi polar. I can hardly handle her drug abuse. Iv given her so much money. Now I'm fed up. I just don't no wat to do. Been going thru thus for seven yrs

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      Tabitha on July 2, 2020 7:43 PM

      Thank you for your comment. So sorry to hear about your struggles with your daughter. Would you consider joining us for a free Virtual Support Group, where you can get some advice from other loved ones of people struggling with addiction, as well as some of the caring professionals here at Mountainside? The Friends & Family Virtual Support Group is on Wednesdays at 6:30 PM Eastern Time. Learn more here: https://mountainside.com/offerings/virtual-support-groups/virtual-friends-and-family-support-group

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Roline on June 22, 2020 3:51 PM

My son is a drug addict.,i need help, a rehab may can help him and he denies sometimes he speak the truth that he is using the drugs and I can't afford the rehab pls help

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