Do you remember the first time you held your son or daughter? Becoming a parent is a great joy, but it’s also a great responsibility. You probably felt a weight of responsibility in that moment, not only to provide for your child, but also to guide him to make choices for himself.
Guiding a young child to do the right thing is certainly difficult, but it can be much harder to parent an adult or older teenager, especially when that adult is addicted to drugs or alcohol. As the mom or dad of someone who abuses substances, you may feel many emotions at once: fear, resentment, sympathy, and a feeling of complete loss as to how you might convince an adult to change his or her behavior.
First of all, remember that you are not alone. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, as much as 6 percent of Americans have an alcohol dependency problem. For every person who abuses drugs and alcohol, there is a network of loved ones and friends who are just as affected by that addiction. Feeling isolated and powerless will not help you assist your son or daughter, and it will not help you find peace in your own life.
Instead, here are some ways that you can take a proactive approach when interacting with a loved one who abuses drugs and alcohol.
For you and your family members:
- Don’t blame yourself: Many parents of addicts feel a profound sense of guilt, going over every second of the past to find the one moment they could have done something differently. The truth is that every parent makes mistakes. Whatever your faults, you must accept that your son or daughter has free will. Working through difficulties in family relationships can be an important part of rehabilitation, but don’t allow your son or daughter to use your mistakes to avoid taking responsibility for her behavior.
- Learn as much as you can about addiction: Every year, researchers conduct scientific studies about the causes and effects of addiction. We’re learning more about how drugs and alcohol interact with the body and how addiction is caused by chemical changes in the brain. Knowing that addiction is a physical problem can help you better understand your son or daughter’s actions, and give you hope that recovery is possible. The National Institute on Drug Abuse and National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence are useful resources for learning more about the way addiction affects the body.
- Seek support: You do not have to go through this alone. There are many other parents and families who are experiencing or have experienced the same struggle. Joining a support group can help you meet friends who can relate to your experiences and offer advice about how to support your child. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous family groups are a great option. You can also use Mental Health America’s online tools to find groups in your area.
For your son or daughter:
- Love your son or daughter without enabling: No parent wants to see their son or daughter suffer. You may prefer giving her money, regardless of what it might be used for, instead of worrying if she has enough food or a safe place to sleep. But helping without caution only contributes to the problem. Hold yourself accountable to loving your child without enabling: buy groceries instead of offering money, tell her that you love her without letting her make excuses.
- Find your son or daughter professional rehabilitation services: Addiction is a disease. You wouldn’t try to cure yourself or your loved one from cancer, and you can’t fight the physical and emotional causes of addiction without the expertise of professionals either. St. Joseph Institute offers residential services for people ages 18 and up, which includes a family program that helps family members work through the emotional issues surrounding addiction together.
Dealing with a son or daughter who is addicted to drugs or alcohol is extremely difficult, but it does not have to be impossible. Make use of existing networks and resources to help you support your son or daughter through a successful recovery.