Rehab For Parents: How To Get Your Life Back Without Leaving Them Alone

Tim Sonnet

Medically reviewed by

Tim Sinnott, MFT

January 26, 2019

Article Contents

Parents With Child Addicts

Article Contents

There are few things as heartbreaking to parents than realizing that their beloved son or daughter is addicted to drugs or alcohol and needs to get into inpatient or outpatient treatment. It does not matter if the addicted child is a young adult who has just left home or a middle-aged adult who has been on his or her own for many years. The sadness, frustration, anger, feelings of helplessness, and many other strong emotions are the same. Parents of adult children instinctively wonder what they can do and how far they should go to get their adult child into outpatient alcohol treatment.

Approach the Subject of Getting Help as Calmly as Possible

While parents may have plenty of their own emotions to deal with when trying to get help for an addicted adult child, it will not be helpful to the process to lash out in frustration or anger. Research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse has shown that parents and other family members who take a compassionate approach to getting a loved one into an intensive outpatient programhave greater success in getting the person to accept his or her need for immediate help. It is helpful for parents to remember that an adult son or daughter’s addiction is not a reflection on them but a legitimate illness that requires proper outpatient treatment.

Parents Must Care for Themselves While Supporting Their Child

Whether a child goes into an outpatient alcohol treatment program or not, parents need to care for their own needs in order to offer the greatest support possible. This includes looking after their own health by eating a healthy diet and getting an adequate amount of exercise. Parents should not give up their own hobbies or interests or stop going out simply because their adult child is struggling with addiction.

Even though some parents may feel guilty for attending to their own needs, they deserve to have a life outside of their son or daughter’s addiction issues. The least helpful thing parents can do is isolate themselves out of shame due to their adult child’s struggle with drugs or alcohol. That will only send them in a downward spiral to the point of becoming co-dependent on their own child.

Adult Child

 How Parents Can Change Communication Styles with an Addicted Adult Child

Someone who turns to intoxicants to the point of needing outpatient rehab may have suffered a traumatic experience that his or her parents do not know about yet. It is important to gain their trust to where they feel comfortable sharing this information. It won’t make the addiction go away, but it can be a starting point for some honest conversations about getting help.

While past trauma is common among people who struggle with addiction, it can also come about due to other causes. Young adults on their own for the first time may simply have trouble coping with the pressures of adulthood, which is something that parents can relate to having experienced it themselves. Without giving approval of drugs or alcohol as an escape, parents can certainly empathize with their adult child’s struggles.

If a son or daughter opens up about traumas or struggles, parents can use these conversations to steer them towards healthier coping mechanisms. However, parents need not despair if their adult child will not confide in them, as it is more likely they will discuss these things with a counselor at an outpatient alcohol treatment program.

When speaking to adult children about their addiction issues, it is also important to avoid blame, shame, and lecturing and to speak to the addicted person only when he or she is sober. Taking this approach will make the exchange about addiction and the need for outpatient alcohol rehab seem more like a two-way conversation and less like a lecture. Keep in mind that most people yearn for the approval of their parents no matter what their age and can feel humiliated when lectured.

The relationship between parents and an adult child is likely quite negative by the time it gets to the point of considering outpatient treatment for addiction. This is when it becomes important to look for the smallest indication of positive choices and complement the choice. While still struggling with addiction, the adult child may become more motivated by a desire to please the parents and enter outpatient rehab.

Setting Limits and Taking Responsibility

Although positive communication and avoiding blame can make a huge difference in the life of an addicted adult child, the parents should not misunderstand this advice. It does not mean taking responsibility for choices and actions that belong to the addicted person. Parents must still allow their son or daughter to accept responsibility for missing work, failing classes, damaging friendships, getting into a car accident, or one of the many other common consequences of addiction prior to outpatient alcohol rehab.

Just as parents should not accuse and blame when trying to get their child to accept the need for outpatient alcohol rehab, it is equally important that they not accept blame themselves for the addiction issues of their grown child. The reality is that addiction is a complex brain disease caused by numerous physical, emotional, and social factors. While no one sets out to become an addict, they must accept responsibility for getting help for the illness just as someone with diabetes would do.

Often the best thing that parents of an addicted adult child can do is simply ask how they can help. This sends the message that the parents want to see them get better through outpatient alcohol treatmentand will act as an important source of support both during and after treatment.

However, parents need to be careful to maintain strong boundaries at this time as well. They should make it clear to their child of any age what they are and are not willing to do as he or she pursues recovery with the help of a drug rehab center. Above all, parents need to hold onto hope that their adult child will find recovery. It can be difficult to accept that only the addicted person can choose recovery, but it can also be very freeing for parents to let go in this manner.

addicted person

Take Care Not to Enable Adult Children Struggling with Addiction

Allowing an adult child to face the consequences of active addiction can be especially challenging for parents because they do not see what goes on every day. The parents may want desperately for their adult son or daughter to recognize the addiction and agree to outpatient treatment. Whether that happens or not, parents need to set especially strong boundaries with adult children to avoid falling into the trap of enabling their addiction. This could include one or more of the issues outlined below.

Parents should not step in to make rent or car payments if the adult child falls behind due to spending too much money on alcohol or drugs. This goes for other financial crises as well, such as the need to get groceries from a food shelf due to having spent the grocery money on drugs or alcohol. It is a form of tough love that can be heartbreaking to practice, but it is necessary to allow the addicted loved one the opportunity to face consequences. In a best-case scenario, he or she will recognize that the addiction is causing some poor choices that will likely only get worse without help.

As many addicted people who have found recovery can attest, having their parents refuse to accept their consequences or help get their adult child out of a jam can be a blessing in disguise. It is helpful for parents to think of their actions as something that may eventually help the addicted person to understand the seriousness of addiction and the need to commit to an outpatient alcohol rehab program.

Even when an addicted son or daughter completes an intensive outpatient program, parents need to make it clear that sobriety is always the expectation in their own home. Naturally, they do not have any say in what a grown child does in his or her own home. The best they can do is recommend an outpatient alcohol treatment program if the adult child appears to continue to struggle with sobriety after completing a program.

Parents Need to Find Support for Themselves

There is no one who understands the pain that the parent of an addict goes through better than someone who has been in the same position. In fact, parents of addicted children may not feel comfortable sharing their struggles with anyone else for fear of judgment. Unfortunately, it is common for society to blame parents when addiction happens regardless of how unfair that is. After all, no one would blame parents if their child had a different type of chronic health condition like diabetes.

Some parents and other family members receive the help they need through 12-step programs similar to those designed for addicts and alcoholics themselves. The problem is that the heavy spiritual component simply does not work for everyone. Parents may try but just not get anything out of a program like Alanon.

Other options might include finding a few close friends who have faced a similar struggle or seeing a therapist regularly who can help the parents love their addicted adult child while still setting strong boundaries and not enabling their addiction. It may be a detached type of love while the son or daughter continues using, but he or she should understand at a deep level that the parents’ love is unconditional. At a time when addicts or alcoholics may struggle to love themselves, knowing that their parents have their backs can make all the difference in the world.

If the addicted loved one does agree to check out drug rehab centers, parents can assist in this process. A program with a strong family therapy component is especially helpful in starting the process of healing from the disease of addiction for the entire family. Parents struggling with setting boundaries can learn new ways to support their adult children while still expecting them to maintain the responsibilities of adulthood.

Going through family therapy will not make the relationship that parents have with their adult child perfect and conflict-free moving forward. However, each party will have the tools they need to handle issues as they arise rather than not talk about them and have an angry explosion later. It could be just the beginning of a healthy new change that every member of the family desperately needs.

This page does not provide medical advice.
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Tim Sonnet

Medically reviewed by

Tim Sinnott, MFT

January 26, 2019

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