Helping Your Parent with Drug or Alcohol Abuse

It is a complicated situation when you have a parent who is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse. Helping a parent with addiction can be difficult, but there are several ways that you can be effective in your efforts.

Helping Your Parent with Alcoholism or Drug Addiction

Helping a parent with alcoholism or drug addiction can present you with several challenges. The entire situation may feel unnatural, or at least somewhat atypical, for the child to be the caretaker of the parent. However, when your parent is experiencing addiction, it is important to be aware of what positive role you can play in helping them get the care they need.

You can help your parent through this trying time by doing several things, such as educating yourself about addiction and practicing good self-care. One of the first and foremost things that you can do in your effort to help your parent, however, is familiarize yourself with the signs of alcoholism or drug addiction.

Signs Your Parent is Struggling with Alcoholism or Drug Addiction

The signs and symptoms of alcoholism or drug addiction can be more obvious than you may realize. However, they can also be challenging to identify regardless of how close you are to your parent. Though a doctor or other healthcare professional may be in the best position to be making a diagnosis of a drug or alcohol addiction—or what is known as a substance use disorder—knowing some of the potential signs of such a condition might help you spot them more easily so you can begin to help guide your parent towards considering treatment.

There are several potential changes in a person that could indicate that they have developed an addiction to alcohol and/or drugs. These conditions are diagnosed as either an alcohol use disorder or substance use disorder, respectively. Some of the characteristic signs, symptoms, and behavioral changes used to make such diagnoses include:1

  • Making unsuccessful efforts to quit or cut back, even if they really want to stop or reduce use.
  • Spending a lot of time in activities related to substance use, such as getting, using, or recovering from the substance.
  • Experiencing strong cravings for the substance.
  • Neglecting responsibilities at home, school, or work because of substance use.
  • Quitting or cutting back on activities that are important because of substance use.
  • Inability to stop using even after it has caused or worsened a physical or mental health problem.
  • Developing tolerance, meaning they must continue to increase the amount of drugs or alcohol they are using in order to feel their effects.
  • Developing withdrawal symptoms when substance use is decreased or fully stopped.

What to Do If Your Parent is Abusing Drugs or Alcohol

It may be hard to realize just how deeply you are affected by a parent’s substance use while it is occurring, but it is important to understand that addiction often affects everyone in the family. For example, children of parents who use substances are more likely to experience abuse, neglect, and financial issues, as well as be at greater risk for substance use themselves.2 Before you can help anyone else, it is essential to ensure that you are safe and properly caring for your own physical and psychological health. Following good self-care practices can allow you to better help your parent and their substance use.

Once you have ensured that your own needs are being met, you can begin taking some steps towards helping your parent. These steps can include:  

  • Encouraging them to seek counseling.3
  • Offering to attend group meetings with them.3
  • Suggesting they see their doctor (and offer to go along for the visit).3
  • Speaking to them when they are sober.
  • Reaching out to other members of the family/friends for support.

It is important to understand that your efforts to help your parent may not be successful right away.4 Persistence, while displaying compassion and patience, can result in positive effects, so continue to encourage your parent to get the help they need in this specific manner.

How to Talk to Your Parent About Their Substance Use

Addiction is a chronic and often progressive disease, and understanding that your parent is experiencing a serious medical condition rather than choosing to continue using can be especially helpful for both of you. While it is easy to get frustrated and become resentful of their behavior, it is also important to understand that addiction can change the way the brain works, making it very difficult for a person to stop using even if they want to.2

Talking with your parent may feel intimidating, especially if you are unsure of how to share your concerns and encourage treatment in a constructive way. Here are some tips for having an effective conversation with your parent about their substance use:4

  • Share your concerns openly and honestly
  • Research treatment options so you can be prepared if they ask for help
  • Maintain a non-judgmental tone when speaking to your parent and allow them to speak while you actively listen
  • Acknowledge your parent’s feelings
  • Determine a specific time and place to have this conversation, preferably in a quiet setting where you cannot be interrupted

Watch our full series on “How to Talk to a Family Member with an Addiction.”

Helping vs Enabling Your Parent’s Addiction

Enabling your parent means that you engage in specific behaviors that help ensure that your parent does not have to face the consequences of their addiction.5 While it is common for many people to feel like they are helping a loved one with an addiction, sometimes they are enabling them instead. Some examples of enabling include:

  • Avoiding any kind of discussion about your parent’s substance use. Ignoring it won’t make it go away and allows your parent to avoid consequences.
  • Cleaning up after your parent, such as by cleaning up tangible and intangible issues that have resulted from their addiction. This can include paying off debts or speaking to others to apologize for your parent’s actions.
  • Covering for your parent’s substance-related absences from work, such as by saying they are not feeling well.
  • Finding a way to explain away strange or inappropriate behavior to others.
  • Handling their responsibilities, such as paying bills for them or completing their tasks around the house.
  • Drinking or using drugs with them. You may tell yourself that at least you can watch them and monitor their intake, but this is harmful behavior, not helpful behavior.

Now that you know what enabling behaviors are, there are some changes that you can make to support your parent without enabling them. Helping your parent get into rehab often requires a lot of support, rather than enabling behaviors. Thankfully, you can implement a number of actions that can continually encourage your parent to seek the treatment that they need. This type of support can include:

  • Creating healthy boundaries with your parent.
  • Discussing the prospect of treatment and actively encourage them to seek care.
  • Making your own needs a priority rather than focusing exclusively on what your parent needs.
  • Offering your support when they do enter recovery.

How to Get My Parent into Rehab for Alcoholism or Drug Addiction

You cannot force your parent into going to rehab for alcoholism or drug addiction. You can, however, continue to encourage them to seek professional help by speaking honestly and respectfully with them, as well as continually offering your support if they do accept help. If your parent decides to attend treatment, they can expect a few things to occur right at the start.

Admission to rehab starts with an intake. This can involve speaking to rehab staff and answering a range of questions, as well as having an exam. Your parent will be asked about their current and past substance use, physical and mental health, home environment, past experiences with recovery, family history of substance use, employment, legal issues, and social concerns.6 This information will help staff to identify specific needs and determine the appropriate level of care your parent will need.

Even if your parent refuses professional treatment, it can be useful to understand their reasons, since you may still be able to offer your help and support. If health insurance coverage or paying for treatment is a problem, you may choose to offer financial assistance to pay for it if you are able or explore the facility’s payment options. Touring a facility with your parent can also help them become more willing to attend treatment. Even if they refuse your first attempt, do not give up, since there is always hope.

Help your parent begin the process of getting the treatment they deserve by having their right now.

Are you ready to reach out for help and start the addiction treatment process? If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and are ready to take the first steps towards recovery, call us today at . Greenhouse Treatment Center, American Addiction Centers’ Texas addiction rehab center, is ready to help you get the treatment you need today.

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