No parent ever dreams that their child will grow up to have an issue with substance abuse.
When a parent is cradling their newborn, thoughts of the family’s new bundle of joy growing up to be anything other than happy and healthy simply don’t register.
As the child grows up, most parents take their responsibilities for instilling good manners and morals seriously. They also try to give their children the skills necessary to make good choices as they become more independent and move toward adulthood.
Along the way, children misbehave and household rules are broken. Parents decide appropriate consequences in these instances. As children grow up, the stakes get higher when they make decisions that may not be good ones. The consequences also become more serious. As children enter adulthood and move out on their own, parents no longer have the ability, or the responsibility, to monitor their child’s behavior.
Coping with an Adult Child who is Addicted
Educate yourself about addiction.
The first step in dealing with an issue is to understand it. Look for resources that present a balanced view on the topic. The internet has a wealth of information from government and educational websites. PBS.org has addressed this topic often, and a search of “PBS addiction” (with quotation marks) in a search engine will return some good resources. They include definitions of what addiction is, information about the opioid crisis and personal stories from people living with addiction.
Recognize that addiction is a disease that requires treatment.
Addiction is not a failing on your part, or on your child’s part. It doesn’t say anything about your parenting skills or your family’s worth. Addiction doesn’t discriminate; it affects people from every type of background and socioeconomic group.
Help financially to the degree that you can afford it, but with conditions.
Don’t let a sense of guilt or shame allow your adult child to manipulate you into giving them money that you know they will use to further their addiction. If you would like to help, buy a bag of groceries. Make a rental payment to the landlord directly. Put a cellphone in your name for your adult child. These efforts should be tied to some type of effort on the part of the adult child to improve their situation, as opposed to a handout.
Offer to help your child find addiction treatment/support services
Tell your adult child that you are concerned about them and that you want them to get well. A person living with an addiction may not be able to seek out treatment or support services on their own. Offer to make an appointment with the family doctor. You can also call your local hospital to speak with a social worker about community resources or look for treatment facilities online.
Allow your adult child to experience consequences for their behavior.
It’s important to hold your child accountable for their behavior. If you discover that your adult child has done something illegal (forged checks in your name, stolen your money or property to buy drugs), you will need to decide for yourself how to handle the situation.
If you don’t take some action to make your adult child feel the consequences of their actions, they are likely to repeat them. You won’t be able to make an insurance claim for stolen property from your home without a police report. Once the items are replaced by your insurer, you run the risk of having them stolen again if you don’t tell the authorities who was responsible for the first theft.
Seek Support for Yourself
There’s a reason why passengers in an aircraft are told to put on their own oxygen mask first if the cabin loses pressure. If they don’t, they will become incapacitated within a short time and will be unable to help anyone else.
The same thing happens to parents of addicted adult children who don’t look after their own needs. They won’t be able to help their child living with substance abuse or have a positive relationship with anyone else in the family if they become burned out. It’s very easy for a parent and other family members to focuse on the person who is living with an addiction and be constantly waiting to see what they will do next. Living a life that consists of reacting to others instead of living for one’s self isn’t living.
If the adult child is in an addiction treatment program, parent/family groups are often offered. These resources can help you learn how to:
- Establish boundaries in your relationship with your child
- Learn healthy ways to communicate
- Provide suggestions for support as the family becomes a healthier unit
Some parents find that going to their own support group (Al-Anon or Narc-Anon) is also helpful. The groups are available in the community and provide ongoing help on an as-needed basis.
7 Tips for Mothers of Adult Addicts. Psychology Today. Retrieved July, 2017.
Tips for Setting Limits and Boundaries. Retrieved July, 2017.
Learning to “Detach” from a Loved One on Drugs. Family Life. Retrieved July, 2017.