Guide for Parents: Helping Your Child With Alcoholism or Drug Abuse
Helping a loved one with addiction is difficult, especially when that loved one is your child. You may feel sad, anxious, and unsure about what to do or how to talk to them.
Having an adult child poses unique challenges, since you cannot force them to get help. However, there are ways you can provide support, and encourage them to recognize their addiction and take steps to recover.
How to Help My Child Struggling With Addiction
As a parent, seeing your adult child struggle with addiction is hard. To increase their chances of recovery, certain approaches may be more effective than others.1 Helping your child with an addiction involves recognizing that they have a problem, learning about substance abuse and the treatment process, and starting a conversation. You will also want to be careful to support them, but not enable their addiction.
Signs Your Child May Have a Substance Use Disorder
People battling a substance use disorder often show signs that are noticeable to family and friends. These signs might be very obvious or quite subtle if your child is secretive.
Signs your child may have a substance use disorder include: 2
- Seeming less interested in activities or hobbies they once enjoyed.
- Spending time with different friends.
- Experiencing more conflict with friends and family.
- Not performing as well in school.
- Changes in their sleep and appetite.
- Legal problems.
- Missing school or work.
- Not taking care of their basic needs or hygiene.
What to Do If You Suspect Your Child Has an Addiction
If you suspect your adult child has an addiction, you are not alone. Many parents struggle with trying to figure out the best way to help.
Because addiction is a chronic disease, your child may need treatment to get better.3 If your child is over 18 years old, you cannot force them to get help. In fact, forcing someone is usually ineffective and may even cause them to be more resistant.4 Instead, experts typically agree it is more effective to show compassion and encouragement, rather than force.
Talking to your child about their addiction is an essential step. But before you approach them, you may want to do some research on addiction and recovery. Educate yourself on the signs of addiction, impact of substance abuse, and treatment process, so you can be prepared to answer their questions and know what to expect.
In addition, it may be beneficial to contact a specialist or other professional healthcare provider, who can look for signs of addiction in your child and talk to them about treatment. Your adult child might be more receptive to advice if it comes from an impartial person.2
How to Talk to Your Child About Their Alcoholism or Drug Abuse
Having a conversation with your child about their substance use can be a first step toward recovery.
When you are ready to talk to them, keep the following suggestions in mind:5
- Find a private place and time to talk. Avoid public settings or moments when your child may already be upset or intoxicated.
- State your concerns directly. For example, “I’ve noticed you’ve been drinking more than you used to and it’s affecting your mood.”
- Listen without judgement. Let your child explain how they are feeling and acknowledge their struggles.
- Ask them how you can help. Allow them to tell you what they need. You can also offer to assist with contacting a treatment center or do more research together.
- Practice patience. Sometimes people with substance use disorders are not ready to change. Even though this can be frustrating, pushing them may cause more opposition. Instead, remind them you are here to help when they are ready.
Watch our full series on “How to Talk to a Family Member with an Addiction.”
Helping vs. Enabling Your Son or Daughter With Addiction
When a child is dealing with addiction, some parents may unintentionally enable their child. Enabling is any behavior that protects a person from facing the negative consequences of their actions.6 This can prevent a person with an addiction from acknowledging their problem and seeking help.7
Examples of enabling a child with an addiction include:
- Taking over chores or other responsibilities for them.
- Using drugs or alcohol with your child.
- Making excuses for your child’s behavior.
- Giving your child money to purchase drugs or alcohol.
Instead of enabling, you want to allow your child to experience the natural consequences of their actions. For example, if your child misses work due to their drinking, you can choose not to call in sick for them. It may be difficult to see your child suffer consequences, but this can actually help motivate them to change over time.
Reflecting on your own behavior and maintaining self-awareness can help you catch yourself if you fall into a pattern of enabling.
How to Get My Adult Child Into Rehab for Addiction
You cannot force your child into rehab, but you can talk to them about the benefits of seeking treatment and offer support throughout the process. Understanding how to get into rehab can help you help your child.
Before starting a conversation with your child, you might want to gather the following details:
- Facility location
- Levels of addiction treatment offered
- Available amenities
- Types of addiction therapies provided
- Cost of treatment
Once you have the information outlined, you can then present it to your child. It is best to approach them in an open way, without pressuring your child. Ideally, you want him or her to come to the decision to get help on their own. This will help them feel more invested in their treatment.
Greenhouse Treatment Center is a drug and alcohol rehab facility in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. Our full spectrum of addiction programs includes our inpatient rehab center in Grand Prairie, TX and our outpatient rehab center in Arlington, TX.
Several levels of outpatient addiction treatment are available, including:
- Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs).
- Intensive outpatient programs (IOP).
- Standard outpatient care.
Outpatient rehab can be a great option for those who may need a more flexible treatment schedule so they can continue to work or attend school.
We also offer Resolutions Arlington—a sober living community. Sober housing can be an ideal living situation for patients stepping down from more intensive treatment, those attending outpatient programming, or anyone in recovery that desires a sober, supportive community.
At Greenhouse, we are in-network with most major insurance companies and offer different ways to pay for rehab to help make treatment affordable.
How to Cope With Having a Child Who Is Addicted
When a child has a substance use disorder, many parents have a tendency to blame themselves, but it is important to remember many factors affect a person’s risk of developing an addiction.8 Rather than blaming yourself, it is more effective to focus on solutions. In addition to supporting your child and encouraging them to get help, you need to take care of yourself. If you are unwell, you will be unable to help your child.
Here are some ways to help yourself cope with your child’s addiction:
- Make sure you are taking care of your physical health by getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising. If you are struggling with any physical concerns, be sure to speak with your doctor.
- Find time for self-care and hobbies, such as meditating, journaling, or art.
- Attend a mutual support meeting for loved ones dealing with addiction, such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon.
- Seek your own treatment or therapy if you are feeling overwhelmed by stress, sadness, or anxiety.
Learn as Much as You Can About Addiction
Many people wonder why a loved one can’t stop using despite the harm it’s causing in their lives. Addiction is not fueled by a lack of willpower; it is a complex and chronic disease that affects the brain.3
Learning more about addiction can help you understand what your child is going through and the best ways to help them. Here are some resources to get you started:
- National Institute on Drug Abuse
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Strengthen Your Relationship With Your Child
Forging a strong bond with your child can help you both as you navigate your child’s addiction and recovery. All families experience conflict from time to time, but continuously working on your relationship can help make it stronger.
Some ways to strengthen your relationship with your child include:
- Spending time alone together doing pleasurable activities and hobbies.
- Listening to their feelings and struggles without passing judgement or giving your opinion (unless they ask for it).
- Focusing on your child’s positive traits, like what you appreciate about them and their strengths.
Talk to Your Child About Addiction Early On
Parents sometimes worry that talking to kids or teens about drugs will cause them to experiment. The truth is, having conversations about drugs, alcohol, and addiction early on can help your child make better decisions when they are faced with peer influences.9
By the time children are seniors in high school, around 70% will have already tried alcohol, 50% will have experimented with drugs, and over 20% will have misused a prescription medication.9 Talking to kids before they reach the point of experimentation is important. You can start as early as elementary school.
Just be sure to use age-appropriate language and focus on facts, rather than scare tactics. As children get older, you can expand on these conversations. The goal is to have an open dialogue where children know they can come to you if they are faced with peer pressure.
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