For Families of Addicts

Advice for parents of addicted children.

Do you remember the first time you held your son or daughter? Becoming a parent is a great joy, but it’s also a great responsibility. You probably felt a weight of responsibility in that moment, not only to provide for your child, but also to guide him to make choices for himself.

Guiding a young child to do the right thing is certainly difficult, but it can be much harder to parent an adult or older teenager, especially when that adult is addicted to drugs or alcohol. As the mom or dad of someone who abuses substances, you may feel many emotions at once: fear, resentment, sympathy, and a feeling of complete loss as to how you might convince an adult to change his or her behavior.

First of all, remember that you are not alone. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, as much as 6 percent of Americans have an alcohol dependency problem. For every person who abuses drugs and alcohol, there is a network of loved ones and friends who are just as affected by that addiction. Feeling isolated and powerless will not help you assist your son or daughter, and it will not help you find peace in your own life.

Instead, here are some ways that you can take a proactive approach when interacting with a loved one who abuses drugs and alcohol.

For you and your family members:

  • Don’t blame yourself: Many parents of addicts feel a profound sense of guilt, going over every second of the past to find the one moment they could have done something differently. The truth is that every parent makes mistakes. Whatever your faults, you must accept that your son or daughter has free will. Working through difficulties in family relationships can be an important part of rehabilitation, but don’t allow your son or daughter to use your mistakes to avoid taking responsibility for her behavior.
  • Learn as much as you can about addiction: Every year, researchers conduct scientific studies about the causes and effects of addiction. We’re learning more about how drugs and alcohol interact with the body and how addiction is caused by chemical changes in the brain. Knowing that addiction is a physical problem can help you better understand your son or daughter’s actions, and give you hope that recovery is possible. The National Institute on Drug Abuse and National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence are useful resources for learning more about the way addiction affects the body.
  • Seek support: You do not have to go through this alone. There are many other parents and families who are experiencing or have experienced the same struggle. Joining a support group can help you meet friends who can relate to your experiences and offer advice about how to support your child. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous family groups are a great option. You can also use Mental Health America’s online tools to find groups in your area.

For your son or daughter:

  • Love your son or daughter without enabling: No parent wants to see their son or daughter suffer. You may prefer giving her money, regardless of what it might be used for, instead of worrying if she has enough food or a safe place to sleep. But helping without caution only contributes to the problem. Hold yourself accountable to loving your child without enabling: buy groceries instead of offering money, tell her that you love her without letting her make excuses.
  • Find your son or daughter professional rehabilitation services: Addiction is a disease. You wouldn’t try to cure yourself or your loved one from cancer, and you can’t fight the physical and emotional causes of addiction without the expertise of professionals either. St. Joseph Institute offers residential services for people ages 18 and up, which includes a family program that helps family members work through the emotional issues surrounding addiction together.

Dealing with a son or daughter who is addicted to drugs or alcohol is extremely difficult, but it does not have to be impossible. Make use of existing networks and resources to help you support your son or daughter through a successful recovery.

To learn more about our programs or for a campus tour  of St. Joseph Institute, please visit our website. You can also call us directly at 877-727-4465. 

Loving someone suffering from drug or alcohol addiction isn’t easy, but as a family member you’ll play a vital role in helping your loved one on the path to recovery. Multiple studies have shown that people with substance problems who have caring and supportive family members are less likely to relapse than those without strong social networks.

Make Time for Yourself
When you’re flying on an airplane, the flight attendant will instruct you to always put your own oxygen mask on before trying to help others in an emergency situation. This advice also applies to helping a loved one recovering from substance abuse. If you’re exhausted and stressed out, you won’t be able to provide the support your loved one needs.

Tending to your own needs isn’t selfish. It’s the best way to make sure you’re ready for the responsibility of being a supportive caregiver. Consider the following suggestions:

  • Find a support group and/or therapist for yourself so you have a safe place to discuss how addiction has impacted your life.
  • Make a conscious effort to eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep to give your body the energy you need to be a source of support for your loved one.
  • Take time to engage in stress relieving hobbies such as painting, writing in a journal, or listening to music.

Focus on the Positive
People suffering from addiction often do terrible things to the ones they love the most. They may steal to support their habit, become physically aggressive, or lash out at those who are urging them to seek help. Forgiving your family member for these bad behaviors will be a challenge, but it’s best to avoid bringing up past mistakes while your loved one is in recovery. He or she probably already feels intense guilt and shame.

It’s much better to focus on the progress your loved one is making towards a clean and sober life. Verbal praise and physical signs of affection can be an invaluable source of support for the addict who is working to master healthy behaviors.

Strive to be respectful and treat your loved one with dignity throughout the recovery process. Remember that addiction isn’t a simple lack of willpower. It’s a complex disease that requires time and comprehensive treatment to overcome.

Create a Supportive Environment
When your family member is ready to come home, try to create an environment that sets the stage for success. Here are some tips:

  • Purchase a large calendar to add reminders for doctors’ appointments and support group meetings. Ask other family members to help make sure your loved one sticks to the schedule and has the necessary transportation.
  • Consider attending worship services as a family. Prayer and an exploration of spirituality often play a key role in helping addicts manage their condition. You may also find that turning to God provides you with a source of strength during this challenging time.
  • Know the HALT symptoms. This acronym stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. These conditions are well known to trigger the urge to use, so you can be supportive by creating a family schedule with regular times for meals, stress-relieving hobbies, socialization, and sleep.
  • Be a good listener. Although you can find lots of information about addiction online, it’s important to keep in mind that no two people in recovery are like. Sit down with your loved one for an open and honest conversation about what you can do to be supportive. Do your best to take this feedback to heart, even if some of the requests weren’t what you were expecting.

Don’t Lose Hope
Change is possible as long as you have hope. No matter what struggles your family has endured in the past, you can move forward on the path to a brighter future. The journey won’t be easy, but there are no limits to what a loving family can accomplish together.

contractsFamilies with an addicted loved one need to create and enforce healthy boundaries. As part of St. Joseph Institute’s Family Program, we encourage families to develop a written contract with their loved one to establish ground rules and facilitate a strong recovery.

A contract is useful for several reasons:

  • It makes both parties aware of how their behavior affects the other
  • It creates the common ground for change
  • It sets the rules for loving confrontation, should it become necessary
  • It helps both parties feel respected, heard, and supported

If you and your addicted loved one agree to write a contract to support recovery, consider including the following clauses (or modifying them to fit your situation):

For Family/Support People:

  1. We agree to practice healthy detachment. We agree to allow you the gift of your mistakes because we know they will help you learn, grow, and develop a healthy self-respect.
  2. We agree to practice healthy validation. We commit to noticing your positive changes and reinforcing them.
  3. We agree to practice healthy confrontation. If we notice you returning to destructive patterns, we will lovingly make you aware of them. We will provide honest feedback if you ask for guidance.
  4. We will not nag, criticize, judge, or condemn, since these behaviors are destructive to you and to your recovery.
  5. We agree to exercise healthy boundaries. We will allow you to think your own thoughts and feel your own feelings. We will give you the freedom to be who you are, even as we bring your attention to destructive behavior.
  6. We will advocate your recovery by removing temptations (making sure our home is free of addictive substances; securing prescription medications) and by accepting the same limitations you have (not drinking or using in front of you or asking you to attend functions where alcohol or drugs are available).
  7. We agree to seek outside help—from a therapist, spiritual advisor, or other source—if we cannot set or manage boundaries on our own.

For the Recovering Addict:

  1. I agree to respect your healthy detachment and to accept the consequences of my behavior.
  2. I agree to acknowledge and express gratitude for your healthy validation. I will also offer validation to you when you respect my needs.
  3. I permit you to give your honest feedback if I begin to fall into destructive patterns.
  4. I agree to listen to and be grateful for your feedback, and I will try to learn from it.
  5. I agree to exercise healthy boundaries. I will allow you to think your own thoughts and feel your own feelings. I will give you the freedom to be who you are, even as I bring your attention to destructive behavior (like nagging, criticizing, condemning).
  6. I agree to commit to my recovery by avoiding circumstances and people who expose me to alcohol or addictive substances.
  7. I agree to commit to my recovery by asking for outside help when necessary—whether from a therapist, a sponsor, a spiritual advisor, or some other source.

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