There was a man, sober for many decades, watching his adult son come to terms with his addiction to alcohol. The man asked a mutual friend in recovery, “How can I help him? I desperately want my son to find sobriety and live a fulfilling life.”
His friend answered, “Then, stay out of his way.”
It’s an unfortunate reality how many of us who have children battling addiction tend to get in the “way” without even knowing it. While this may be the hardest lesson of our lives, we must learn to step aside and allow the consequences of addictive behavior to fall upon the ones we love.
Think of it this way: When our children were small, do you remember watching them learn to walk? Do you remember watching them as they fell countless times and gained confidence? Yes, it wasn’t easy, but this was a vital part of the process.
Finding lasting recovery is similar.
If you carry your toddler everywhere without allowing him to actually set his feet on the ground, he won’t walk for himself, will he?
Still, how can a parent possibly turn away when…
- Your son is fired for the third time because of his drinking?
- Your addicted adult child creates chaos in their home?
- Your daughter is homeless and still refuses treatment for her opioid addiction?
- When you see your grandchildren living in fear because your son (their father) displays frightening signs of addiction?
Here are some trusted tips to handle an adult child addicted to drugs:
Get Help for Yourself
First and foremost, get help for yourself. After all, addiction is a family disease.
As parents, we are role models, and we can pave the way. This pattern doesn’t end when our children reach adulthood. Even then, our actions continue to influence our children.
We can remain the calm amid the storm.
Elaine agreed to share her story here as an example.
Her young adult son struggled with a substance use disorder that wreaked havoc on the family. When he would join Elaine for family gatherings, the evenings would often end in rages, arguments, and slammed doors.
After six months of this insanity, Elaine reached out for help when she found morphine in the car she had purchased for her son. Initially, she reacted with disbelief. Her son had done well in school and had just gotten his first job out of college. Lately, though, his behavior had become disruptive and he had started missing work.
She contacted a treatment center and started attending Al-anon, a 12-step program for family members and loved ones of addicts.
As Elaine educated herself about addiction, she learned how to set boundaries. She stopped yelling at her son. She gathered a team for support.
Elaine learned no amount of yelling or lectures would stop her son’s drug use if he had a substance use disorder.
When her son refused to go for an addiction assessment, Elaine’s therapist, sponsor, and friends in Al-anon supported some strong actions. She stopped payment on her son’s car and car insurance. When two assessments showed her son needed treatment, Elaine pushed her son to seek help.
Her son was eventually pulled over for a DUI in the vehicle he had been forbidden from driving. Finally, he agreed to treatment.
Throughout this ordeal, Elaine worked diligently on herself. She started exercising and meditating. She never missed a meeting with her therapist or Al-anon sponsor.
Watching your child fight addiction is like watching a train about to head off a cliff. However, because Elaine righted the tracks of her own train, she was better able to be a loving, calm, stable center for her family.
The moral of the story? As the parent of someone struggling with addiction, get help. Reach out to a treatment center, therapist, and Al-anon.
Recovery doesn’t happen on our own schedule; it’s not something you can plan. Despite the lives at stake, forcing a person struggling with addiction to get help isn’t in the cards for most families.
How does a parent survive such uncertainty?
The answer is one of life’s hardest lessons: you learn to love someone without any expectations. In some ways, addiction teaches us unconditional love like nothing else. This is especially true for parents.
- If you learn your child has relapsed after months of sobriety and treatment, you can still show you love them. Maybe you don’t invite them into your home when you know they are using, but you never stop the love. It may mean sending an occasional text message of, “I love you and hope you get some help,” followed by a block of the number so you don’t open yourself up to abuse.
- If you learn your child still refuses help and has lost another job, you can still feel love. Maybe you’re angry, maybe you want to shake them sober. Instead, you own the new development for what it is: another symptom of this terrible disease. Despite all these setbacks, you never stop the love.
- Maybe your child is homeless after showing a brief moment of clarity. Maybe she called and sounded grounded and said she was heading to a 12-step meeting. Then, you find out she’s still using and living on the streets. If you feel driven to drop off a sleeping bag along with a phone number to a treatment center, do so. Make sure, though, you don’t set yourself up for a fall into their co-dependent behavior. Your child needs you, more than ever, to stay sane for the time she actually embraces recovery. Feel angry, seek support from people who understand, visit your therapist, pray, but don’t stop loving or hoping.
- Maybe your child’s rage is causing his own children to feel scared in their home. Maybe you have to call the police because you fear for your grandchildren’s safety. Go ahead and take the necessary actions to keep your loved ones safe. Reach out to your support system for the encouragement you need in such a difficult time. Continue to make your home a safe, calm, loving oasis for these children living with active addiction. Let them know their parent’s anger isn’t anything they cause or can control. Never stop loving or hoping.
Get Out of the Way
Loving someone struggling with addiction isn’t for the faint-hearted. Without the proper support team from addiction recovery professionals, individual therapists, and folks in similar situations, the journey is even rougher than it needs to be.
Take care of yourself and get the help you need. Steady your own life in order to create safety in the storm for those impacted.
When you feel tempted to step in and carry your child through the fire, stop. Set them back down with love and hope and give them the chance to find their own way.
In other words, get out of their way.