When your son or daughter starts using drugs or alcohol and requires your help, it is normal to be flooded with emotions; anger and shame can coincide with sadness and confusion. However, in order to help your child deal with his or her addiction, you must deal constructively with your own emotions. Moreover, you have to deal with both things at the same time as getting your child the help that he or she needs cannot wait. An addict is ill and every moment not in treatment is a moment that has been lost to addiction.
Understand Where Control Lies
Many parents of addicts feel like they have failed their child. After all, weren’t they always vigilant in teaching their children to avoid alcohol and drugs? When anyone falls victim to the illness of addiction, everyone who cares about them questions themselves and wonder what they could have done to prevent it.
In most cases, the answer is nothing. First, it does no good to question yourself and obsess over what you could have done better or differently. Secondly, you need to understand that your child is sick. Addiction is a disease and your child doesn’t need to be “fixed”; he or she needs to be treated.
What you can do is know yourself and control your own actions during this process. You can only guide your child to get help. It is hard to do, but we cannot control other people; only ourselves. Even though you may feel you can, or should control the situation because the person who needs help is your child, you cannot.
Setting Healthy Boundaries
Parents teach their children to obey rules, so it’s natural to think strict rules are the key to sobriety. Some parents believe if they force their children to quit using or punish addictive behavior, their children will suddenly stop. Unfortunately, if someone has fallen pretty to addiction, ultimatums and threats will not work. Because addicts need to take the drug or drink alcohol to feel normal, they will do anything it takes to get those substances.
If you set boundaries, however, it will make it clear to both you and your child that change is happening. Boundaries are healthier than rules because they do not revolve around changing another person’s behavior. They are simply direct statements and clear directions of what you are willing to – and won’t – tolerate. Boundaries are important because it means knowing and understanding your limits in order to establish guidelines for suitable behaviors. Moreover, once your boundaries are communicated and understood and your addict child breaks that boundary, that behavior is clearly on them.
Effective boundaries focus on what you can do to improve your situation, not what you can do to get your child sober. You do not want to become an enabler for your son or daughter. With boundaries, you are less likely to get involved in chaos that addiction brings and will keep your focus on your life and remaining healthy.
Every home and relationship is different, so there is no “one-size-fits all” template for creating boundaries. You need to think about what your limits are, understand your emotions and determine what you want and need. In addition to knowing boundaries, you need to realize that if a boundary is broken you will follow through. A boundary does not allow for idle threats.
Some Example of Boundaries
If you do not want drugs or alcohol in your home, and if your son or daughter partakes in using in your home, you do not have to put up with this behavior. This is your home and you have the ability to draw a boundary. However, you must realize that when you create a boundary, it is never easy. The example here of not putting up with using or drinking in the house is probably the toughest issue. Because you need to be able to follow through if the boundary is broken.
So, think through your boundaries carefully and make plans by playing out scenarios before you communicate them. If you say, “Drugs or alcohol are not allowed around me or in my home,” for example, and that boundary is broken, you need to be prepared to follow through by either confiscating the substances or asking your child to leave when they are using.
Tell Yourself the Truth
An addict’s behavior is dangerous. Sometimes parents cannot face the truth that their child has fallen prey to addiction and can only see their child as someone who is going through a phase. If someone is an addict, they only way to get them the help they need is get them into a recovery facility and/or counseling.
To help your addict child, you must tell yourself the truth about his or her lifestyle. Don’t say, “The system failed my child” or “The police/the judge/our lawyer let our child go to jail.” The truth is your child has become an addict, is sick and needs to recovery. You must not allow yourself to make excuses for any illegal behavior, including illicit drug use.
Rock Bottom is a Path to Recovery
Every day, parents and families of addicts seek help from professionals. They see their child heading for prison, life on the streets, or death, and they want an alternative. No parent wants to see their children in pain and unhealthy. However, this may be path your child chooses, and you must accept that. Many times, the path to recovery happens only after the addict hits rock bottom.
Loving an addict comes with its own set of challenges. You cannot try to save your son or daughter from dangers such as potential homelessness if they cross your boundary to not use in your home. This only enables addiction and endangers you. If your child is a minor, seek help from residential treatment facilities. If he or she is an adult, you must let allow them to make their own choices.
However, you can make it clear your child isn’t allowed in your home unless he or she is sober. Remind yourself that you have a right to protect yourself and your home. One thing you can do right away in order to get support from a community of people who are experiencing the same things is find a local Al-Anon or Nar-Anon meeting. Al-Anon is for friends and families of alcoholics while Nar-Anon is for drug addiction.
Accept That Life Has Changed
Most parents think once their children get sober, life will go back to the way it was. The truth is, your child will always be an addict. Even if he or she never uses drugs or alcohol again, your child will remain predisposed to addictive behaviors. Your life must change to accommodate that.
See the Signs
You do not have to lose your son or daughter to addiction. The earlier you recognize the signs of substance abuse, the faster you can get your child into recovery. Watch for declines in school or work performance and a loss of interest in favorite activities. He or she may withdraw or become hostile toward you and other family members. Watch for severe mood swings or drastic changes in personality.
If you suspect your child is using drugs or alcohol, ask. Do not threaten or punish. Convey that you are concerned and want to help. When your child admits to an addiction seek counseling and/or a residential treatment facility for your child.
Participate in Your Child’s Recovery
Sometimes, participating in recovery means not allowing your child to be part of your life. However, in most cases it means being part of his or her support system. Do not expect your child to quit alone; addicts physically and mentally can’t do that. Work with the professionals to provide what your child needs. Give your child and your family plenty of time and patience. Addiction recovery will be a lifelong process for everyone involved.