No one can deny the adverse effects caused by substance abuse problems. Some of the most innocent victims in the case of most substance abuse issues are the children of those facing addiction. In fact, studies conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Admission found that as many as 1 in every 8 children in the United States has a parent facing a substance use disorder. Underaged children with parents facing addiction are the truest victims, as they are unable to do things like stage an alcohol intervention or hire a drug intervention specialist.
Less often considered, but arguably also greatly affected by the substance abuse epidemic are the adult children of parents facing substance use disorders. Drug and alcohol abuse problems are not exclusive to the youth, and these issues may present themselves at any point in a person’s life. Older adults are more likely to have access to prescription medication than any other age group. This exposure inevitably increases the number of older adults addicted to prescription medication. Currently, over 2 million older adults face substance abuse problems daily.
Adult children have a different understanding of their parents and are more accurately able to address the issues their parents are facing. Here are 5 tips on helping parents dealing with substance abuse issues:
1. Learn to identify substance abuse in a parent
When a child – even an adult child – has a parent who faces a substance abuse issue, the child oftentimes feels a false sense of responsibility for the problem. As a result, somewhat of a role reversal between parent and child often takes place. While typically the parent takes the role of caregiver, (even those with adult children are often the go-to advice givers) in these role-reversed situations, the child is the one caring for the parent. Oftentimes, the children do not even realize they have taken on this responsibility, as the change does not happen all at once. One very common event among children who have taken on a caregiving role for their parent facing addiction is having to cancel plans with friends in order to care for or look after a parent. This event and its recurrence act as clear evidence that a parent has a problem with addiction.
Aside from parent-child role reversal affecting the child, there are many other signs that a parent may have an issue with drug or alcohol abuse. These signs can look different from person to person, as addiction is a very personal issue which affects everyone differently. Symptoms of addiction typically present themselves in two different ways: physical symptoms and behavioral symptoms. Physical symptoms of addiction are easier to see with the naked eye, whereas behavioral symptoms can sometimes go unnoticed at first. Physical symptoms of drug abuse include:
- sudden changes in weight; especially weight loss,
- poor physical hygiene,
- poor coordination; even without living with a parent, a child will notice if their mother or father suddenly has more bruises from bumping into things than normal,
- trouble sleeping; either too little or too much.
Behavioral symptoms include the sudden onset of mood swings, changing the types of things they post on social media, dramatic changes in contact with their children or other typical habits, and involvement in any criminal type activity.
2. Speak to a Substance Abuse Specialist
Before speaking to a parent about their possible substance use disorder, it may be a good idea to speak to a professional. Speaking to a parent directly can be frightening and intimidating, as it is hard to know how they will react. It is possible they will become upset, screaming or yelling at their child. Emotions will run high and because of this, it is important to know the correct process of going about things. Because of this, many adult children of parents with substance abuse issues will choose to speak with various professionals before confronting their parent.
There are various different professionals to speak to when it comes to having a parent dealing with substance abuse. Therapists and mental health professionals are always a great place to begin gathering information on addiction. If the child of the parent dealing with addiction is attending therapy, they should begin by speaking to their own therapist about the issue, as they know the situation on a more detailed level. Otherwise, children of those facing problems with addiction can begin attending therapy for that reason. Addiction counselors can also be of assistance, as they have first-hand experience helping people through recovery. They can give another perspective as someone who has seen many different people dealing with recovery. Another professional to consider contacting is a drug intervention specialist or interventionist. Interventionists are able to sit down with the children of the parent facing addiction issues and come up with a plan to sit down and confront the parent. This can be a very scary idea so it is nice to have a professional to help guide children through the process.
3. Determine when/how to speak to your parent about their substance abuse
During or after speaking to various mental health professionals, it is a good idea to come up with a plan on how to bring up the issue with the parent. As adults, parents will not have to listen to the conversation if they do not want to or if they feel attacked. Because of this, it is important to be thoughtful when choosing the location and time for this confrontation to happen. When choosing an area, consider that the parent in the situation will likely feel on the defensive, so have the conversation in a neutral area, where they are more likely to feel comfortable. Try to choose a time that they are less likely to be under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
Make sure when confronting a parent that they know everyone involved only wants what is best for them. It is important they feel supported instead of feeling attacked. Do not accuse them of having a problem, instead let them know that there is concern at the possibility that they could have one.
It is important not to expect one conversation to be the answer to the problem. It is likely numerous conversations will need to take place before a parent may realize they do indeed have a problem. Because of this, it is best to avoid doing anything dramatic during these conversations that could drive a wedge between the adult child and their parent facing addiction. At the end of the day, the parent needs to feel supported by their child and to understand that their child is concerned for their safety. All of the conversations had may not end positively, but it is important not to give up on the parent facing addiction, as they need all the love and support they can get.
4. Consider an intervention
If sitting down and having one on one conversations has not worked in the past or will no longer work, there is a reason for the adult child of a parent facing problems with addiction to stage a drug intervention or alcohol intervention. A drug intervention or alcohol intervention (the two together are known as substance abuse interventions) is designed to help motivate a loved one to seek treatment for their substance abuse issues, most commonly some type of inpatient rehab, like holistic drug treatment. The idea of a substance abuse intervention is to convince the person dealing with the substance abuse problem to confront their issue head-on, instead of allowing them to ignore the signs.
Interventions typically include both family and friends of the person in question, and oftentimes a doctor, mental or medical health professional, or drug intervention specialist will be present during the drug intervention to speak with the person dealing with the substance abuse. During the substance abuse intervention, the group will come together, and each provides their own specific examples of how their loved one’s substance abuse has affected them. After this discussion takes place, emotions are high, the problem has been exposed and the family then offers their loved one help or treatment often at an intervention rehab center or holistic drug treatment center. The plan for treatment should be fairly detailed, complete with rules, steps, and goals. Friends and family then must explain to their loved ones what each one of them will do if treatment is refused, and how their relationships will change. After this, the question is posed whether or not the loved one in question will get the help they need.
Ideally, the help offered at the substance abuse intervention is accepted, and family and friends will then follow up with their loved one to make sure they are indeed getting the help they should be getting at an intervention rehab center. It is important to be careful when planning a substance abuse intervention, like a poorly planned intervention can make things worse rather than better. It is important to prepare oneself for the possibility of a parent or loved one refusing the help offered in the intervention. If this happens, it is vital to follow through on the changes talked about during the intervention. If there are no consequences for not accepting help, the parent or loved one will have no motivation to accept the help. There is always a chance that if an intervention does not work at first, it will make an impression on the person the event was for.
5. Learn what to expect from a newly substance abuse free parent
While many people see the initial act of getting someone into holistic drug treatment as the main battle, they fail to realize the war is long from over. Having a parent who is newly sober can be a difficult thing in its own way. There are some things that can be expected when dealing with new-found sobriety.
First, many people dealing with addiction issues will exchange one addiction for another. As people learn how to handle sobriety, they tend to jump from one addictive substance to another. For example, many people who are recovering from alcohol or drug addiction smoke cigarettes and drink considerable amounts of caffeine. These are alternative addictive substances for their body to consume. While not necessarily something that an intervention rehab center would recommend, this practice is not completely negative either, and there is a chance it is just a phase during the process of becoming completely sober.
Mood swings are particularly common among those navigating their recovery. Drugs and alcohol are commonly used to numb emotional pain and keep from feeling certain things. Without those numbing substances, emotions have the potential to be all over the place.
Parents who are new to their recovery often want to have a close relationship with their child right off the bat, often before the child is ready. It is important for the children of parents facing substance abuse issues to give themselves time to heal as well and to understand that just because their parent is ready to be close again, doesn’t mean they have to be. It is important to set up boundaries and to keep open communication between parent and child.
Last but not least, be ready for the possibility of a relapse. They happen to most people and it is important to not let a parent get discouraged or feel like a failure because of a relapse. Instead, the sentiment should be to learn what happened and improve from it in the future.
All in All
Having a parent who is facing a drug or alcohol abuse issue can be devastating. Many children are left feeling helpless, not knowing what to do or how they could possibly help the parents they love so much. Luckily for adult children, their greater sense of independence and autonomy gives them the opportunity to make efforts to help their parents begin their journey on the road to recovery.