Today, June 1st, is Global Day of Parents, a holiday created by the UN to recognize and appreciate the parents in our lives and society. To all parents of addicted children: we see you, we appreciate you, and we support you.
We know that holidays can be particularly painful for parents of addicted children, we’ve listed some coping strategies for dealing with this crisis.
Learn all you can about Addiction
Addiction is a chronic disease that takes over the lives of those it affects and their loved ones. There are many misconceptions around addiction and substance abuse. Learning about how addiction happens, how it affects your child and how it affects you and your family are all important steps to understanding and healing. Educating yourself on the subject can also help you spot signs and symptoms as well as help manage expectations before and during the recovery process.
Understand the Difference Between Helping and Enabling
As parents, we love our children. We have spent our lives as parents keeping them safe from harm, teaching them, helping them grow. To watch them in crisis is unnerving. Our protection instincts kick in and all we want to do is help. Unfortunately this helping instinct can lead to enabling. Addicted children will take advantage of this to keep the flow of their addiction running.
It’s important to ask yourself, “Will this action enable my child’s addiction?” To get your child through addiction means you must ask yourself this at every turn. Every action you take, every boundary you establish needs to be working towards getting them into sobriety.
Enabling comes in when the actions you take make it easier for your child to continue using drugs. Sometimes it’s pretty clear: Giving food or gas money that may be used to buy drugs, paying their rent so they still have a place to live, or bailing them out of trouble their drug use has caused are all overt acts of enabling.
But enabling can also be more subtle. Do you minimize their drug use to family members? Have you ever lied for them to cover their addiction? Do you avoid it altogether, so that when your child comes home for dinner one week things can just “be normal for once”? Staying quiet to keep the peace or minimizing the scope of the situation are both dangerous acts of enabling. Addiction thrives in the dark.
Understand that their choices are not reflections of your parenting
Addicts lie, cheat, and steal. They are consumed by finding their next fix. It is not because you did not teach them right from wrong, it is not because you failed them as a parent. There is a phrase in addiction circles called the “3 C’s”: You did not cause their addiction, you cannot control their addiction. All you can do is change yourself and your reaction. Do not blame yourself. Find support groups, seek therapy, and find ways to care for yourself. In truth, all we can ever truly have control over in life is ourselves and our emotional response. Learning to change the natural, impulsive reactions we have to situations like this can go a long way in weathering the storm.
Create boundaries to protect yourself and your family
Boundaries are the anti-enabling. It is important to set clear rules and boundaries with addicted children to protect yourself, your loved ones, and ultimately your addicted child. Not letting them come to the house while high, if they’re still living at home not allowing them to have drug-using friends over, not allowing them to abuse, insult, or manipulate you. These are all healthy boundaries that can protect your family physically and emotionally from addictive behaviors.
This journey you are on is a painful, stressful, exhausting one. Living in crisis can cause serious mental and physical health issues which is why it is so important to take time to prioritize your wellbeing. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating right, and taking time for yourself.
Establish an Open Dialogue
Learn to communicate with honesty, vulnerability, and acceptance. Anger, yelling, and/or blaming do not create safe spaces in which to discuss problems and can push the addict further away. Once you have stopped enabling and have firm boundaries set, having this open channel of communication will be helpful when your addicted child does decide to discuss their situation. A safe space is one in which help can be asked for, and treatment can be suggested.
Treatment is the answer, but they need to want it for themselves
Getting your addicted child into treatment is the best possible option for getting them into a life of sobriety and health. However, it is important to know that treatment works best when the addict truly wants to change. Sometimes an addict needs to hit rock bottom to make this change but not always. Learn all you can about treatment options and continue encouraging it until they decide they want to get help. When the time comes, professional treatment can change their life.
Being the parent of an addicted child is one of the biggest and most painful challenges a parent can face, we hope this article was able to offer some support and coping strategies. If you are struggling with an addicted child and don’t know what to do, please reach out.