If you’re the parent of an addicted adult, you probably want to do everything you can to save your child from their addiction. On the other hand, your child is an adult. As much as you want them to get sober, you may believe they have to do it on their own. Addiction is complex. The best solution(s) vary from one adult to another. And family dynamics are unique. Support in one family may look different than support in another. It’s important to strike a balance between loving support and encouragement and letting your addicted adult child take responsibility. Still, you’re now powerless! There are many things you can do to help your child get on the right track.
1. Stop Enabling Your Addicted Adult Child
One common mistake parents of addicted adults make is enabling their children. Enabling is when you try to fix a problem for someone, but in a way that interferes with their ability to take responsibility. Parents enable addicted adult children when they protect them from the consequences of their actions. Enabling parents of addicted children may have good intentions, but their actions only maintain the problem. Examples of enabling behavior include:
- Keeping secrets about your child’s behavior from others
- Making excuses for your child’s behavior (with family members, friends, employers, teachers, and legal authorities)
- Bailing your addicted child out of trouble (paying their rent and debts, hiring lawyers, providing jobs)
- Giving money that is undeserved or unearned
- Blaming others for your addicted child’s behavior (such as employers, friends, partners, teachers, family, and even yourself)
- Avoiding your addicted adult child for peace of mind
- Making threats that are inconsistent or that you don’t follow through on
- Taking care of aspects of your child’s life that he or she should be expected to do
Parents of addicted adults can help their children by allowing them to take full responsibility for their actions. The consequences of addiction may be unpleasant, but experiencing them can give addicts the motivation to kick their habit for good. You should also realize that rescuing your child from their problems doesn’t help them. It may feel like the loving thing to do, but it sends them the message: “You’re not competent to deal with these problems on your own.”
2. Encourage Your Addicted Adult Child to Be Independent
Enabling your addicted adult child keeps them dependent on you. To help them grow, encourage them to be independent! Here are some tips:
- If your addicted adult child is working and living at home, ask them to contribute for room and board.
- Don’t give your child money whenever they ask for it. You should only give them money if they are actively working towards independence.
- Set boundaries. This includes having a response ready should your child ask for money. You might say, “I’ll think it over and let you know tomorrow.” This will give you time to consider the situation. It also shows that you are being steady and in control.
- If your adult child is living at home, set a time limit on how long they can stay. This will provide the motivation they need to move out. When an addicted adult child has this goal in mind, they can learn to be resourceful and responsible.
- If you can afford to, help contribute to their rent for an apartment, but agree on decreasing contributions until they’re fully responsible.
- Set limits on how you help your adult child get through a crisis. Also, allow them to problem-solve by asking, “What do you think you can do to help the situation?”
3. Help Your Addicted Adult Child Get the Right Treatment
Your child may lack the money they need to get better. It can be hard for them to hold down a job or manage their finances. Most of their money may go towards feeding their addiction. Mental health issues often underlie substance abuse, which can make the whole situation more difficult and confusing. You are not expected to withhold money at all costs. Helping an addicted adult can involve contributing to therapy or counseling sessions, as well as rehab. If your child has mental health issues and gets sober without therapy, there’s a risk they might relapse. This is because the issues leading to addiction are still there. Substance abuse is a way of dealing with their pain of:
- Low self-esteem
It’s important for addicted adults to get the right treatment, so they stay sober. If you know your adult child has mental health issues, have a chat with them about therapy or counseling. You don’t want to force them to go. You want to make the suggestion and offer resources, and then let your adult child commit to regular therapy. An addiction treatment program that also addresses their dual mental health diagnosis may also be appropriate. Research support groups in your child’s area, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or another 12-step program. If you feel that rehab (a detox program, inpatient rehab, or intensive outpatient treatment) is needed, then you might want to have a conversation about this with your adult child. If you want to know more about a specific local treatment center, reach out to them! Admissions offices are always willing to help and work with worried loved ones all the time. You can help an addicted adult child by having these conversations in a kind and understanding way. Let them know that you’re there to support them. Allow them to open up to you without fear of judgment, even if it’s hard for you to hear.
4. Take Care of Yourself
From time to time—or almost all the time—you might feel hopeless about your child’s situation—and yours. An addicted adult child can be a major source of stress and frustration. Yet there’s always hope that they’ll recover. If you’re the parent of an addicted child, it’s important to protect your mental health. If this sounds selfish, think about how well you can support someone else—and set boundaries—if you’re burnt out. You can find support at groups like Al-Anon, a group for people with addicted family members or friends. The group works on the principle of detachment with love. This means caring for an adult child by letting them learn from their mistakes. For parents of addicted adults, this is usually the most helpful thing you can do. Learn to Cope is another peer-support group for family members and parents coping with a loved one addicted to substances. You may also want to look into therapy for yourself. Meeting with someone objective can help you get what you need to off your chest. Parenting an addicted adult child can be complicated. Being firm, supportive, loving, and consistent all at once takes practice and patience. But it is possible with the right resources. You can do it!