Often when we think of helping a loved one with an addiction problem, most people’s minds jump to helping their child or significant other. The idea that it could be a parent that needs help rarely crosses our minds. It is an unnatural thought for us; our parents are supposed to take care of us, not the other way around. When mothers and fathers have an addiction, roles become reversed and the child may become the parent. It is an unsettling and scary situation to be in for many youth and young adults. While there is no playbook for this, there are strategies that might help lessen their feelings of helplessness and fear.
Seek Out a Trusted Adult
There are a lot of emotions and unchartered waters when a parent is struggling with an addiction, so it is important to find another adult that you trust and feel comfortable confiding in. This could be another parent, school counselor, family member, teacher, therapist, or support group. Allowing yourself to open up in a safe environment will help you feel that you are not alone and will ease some of the anxiety. Some recommended support groups are: Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, Adult Children of Alcoholics, and Alateen.
Create Healthy Boundaries
The word “boundaries” gets thrown around a lot, especially with addiction in the family. Addiction is known as a family disease for a reason; the potential for it to impact the entire family system is imminent. Healthy boundaries are different for everyone, but should create a sense of safety and well-being along with a feeling of control over one’s life once implemented. Here are some examples of healthy boundary setting:
- Learn that saying “no” is acceptable. If your parent is asking you to do something that you are uncomfortable with, you can calmly say “No” without providing further explanation.
- Identify your space and protect it. Space can be defined within many mediums such as: physical, emotional, and belongings.
- Appropriate communication with your mother or father. Being able to utilize “I” statements and keeping the focus on your feelings and experiences allows you to just take responsibility for yourself, and not be responsible for your parent’s reaction to the boundary.
Note: Boundaries do not have to be ultimatums. Learning how to develop healthy boundaries takes time and practice. It is important to think of it as a process and continue to evaluate and adjust your boundaries as you feel comfortable.
Find Something That Makes You Happy
As stated earlier, regardless of who has the addiction, when there is an addiction present in the family, it can often overshadow anything else. It is important for you to find or re-engage in an activity that brings you a sense of happiness and purpose, outside of your mother or father’s addiction. Being part of a community that is healthy permits you to have another outlet for a safe space. Examples of this can include joining a local community group, participating in recreational sports, getting together with friends to play music outside of your home, or joining a book club.
Practicing self care is another way to cheer yourself up. Taking time to focus on your own feelings and needs is important to help us self-soothe, regulate our emotions, and process the world around us. Self care is about doing things for you, even small things, to improve your overall mental health.
When roles reverse and children become the parents, life can seem uncontrollable and unmanageable. It is important to remember that you are in control of your life and can start to implement some of the ideas above at your own pace to create a sense of safety and decrease co-dependency. Just because your parents “brought you into this world” does not mean they get to take away your world.