An Open Letter to the Parents of Adult Child Alcoholics and Addicts

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Raising a child is one of the toughest things you can do in life, and it’s also the most rewarding. We like to imagine that when childhood ends and our adult children step into the world, they’ll be prepared for all of the challenges that life throws at them. We hope that they’ll prosper, feel happy, and develop relationships and families of their own. 

Even if we have nothing much to complain about in our own lives, we like to imagine that our children will grow up to lead even better lives than we did. And of course, we want to stay in touch with them, stay actively involved in their lives, and enjoy the autonomous individuals they’ve become.

It is an incredibly hurtful blow to find out that your adult child suffers from drug or alcohol addiction. It can feel like all of your hopes have been dashed. We respond to this situation in various ways. It might feel tempting to lash out and get angry at our children for disappointing us. More often, though, our desire to help them wins out.

Parents — listen here. There is a difference between loving your child and giving them everything they want. It is incredibly painful to know that your adult children suffer from addiction, and it is understandable you’d want to help them. But sometimes setting boundaries with adult children is the most effective way of helping them.

Many of us allow our adult children with addictions to stay in our homes. We do this because we don’t want them on the streets or couch surfing among seedy people. Many adult children with addictions are, to our chagrin, unable to hold down jobs or successfully pay rent. So we invite them into our homes. This is only natural, if we have an extra bed. We do this to show we care.

But having adult children living at home who suffer from addiction can be painful for the whole family and the effects of alcoholic adult child can be severe. Our narcissistic adult children can be prone to taking advantage of the situation. Our sons and daughters may use our homes as a drug den, repeatedly getting high or drunk and walking around in a blackout.

No matter how wonderful we know our children to be deep down inside, drug addiction changes people. Substance abuse makes people unpredictable, moody, even at times violent. The kind and gentle people we lent a bed to might turn out to be abusive adult children — at least while they’re on drugs.

Setting Boundaries with Adult Children with Addictions

While we may have invited our sons and daughters into our home to lend them support while they get on their feet, unless they are taking steps to recovering from their substance use disorder, our support is likely to merely enable their behavior. It is thus crucial to set boundaries with adult children living at home. 

It may feel cruel, but when it is clear that they are going to use any extra money to buy drugs and alcohol, sometimes it is better to deny them the loan they’re asking for. 

If they are repeatedly drunk-driving, it might not be the best idea to let them use your car. If they show up to a family event drunk, there’s no need for you to make excuses for them. Don’t waste your energy cleaning up the messes of your disrespectful adult children unless they really are trying to make a change.

If you have addicted adult children living at home, let them know what the rules are. If they break them, send them on their way. The only way they’ll ever recognize they have a problem is if they actually experience the consequences. Protecting them can, in a sense, end up harming them in the long run.

If you have estranged adult children who live away from you, your situation is of course different. Let them know you love them. Let them know you’re there for them.

But how can you show your love for your addicted adult children in a healthy way?

The fact is, you can’t cure their addiction. No amount of support, yelling, or affection is going to change the mind of a person who is set on abusing drugs and alcohol. You need to understand that your children are grown up. They might not be making the right decisions, but these are their decisions.

It’s Okay to Ask for Help

It’s often a good idea to ask for help. Support groups for parents of addicts can help you understand you’re not alone. Programs like Al-Anon can help you deal with the negative consequences of raising an adult child with addiction. Al-Anon and other similar programs will also help you understand that you can’t “fix” your child.

What you can do, however, is come to a better understanding of their addiction. Let them know you understand what they’re going through. You can also research treatment options for them. They may not be amenable to enrolling in a treatment program, at least right away. But if they understand that getting your support depends upon them entering treatment, they might eventually get the message.

Design for Recovery, a structured sober living home in West Los Angeles, can help young men achieve sobriety and rebuild their lives. They might be begging to come live with you. Much as you’d like to, however, you can’t help them. 

A safe living environment is essential to addiction recovery. But unlike their parents’ house, a structured sober living home like Design for Recovery can offer them the support they need, as well as a strong program for addiction recovery. At our sober living home, they’ll connect with other young men who are equally committed to getting sober.

Addiction can make your adult children feel lonely and estranged. Being part of our community is healing in and of itself. In our comfortable, safe, and supportive environment, residents work every day to understand and recover from their addictions, whatever their substance of choice was. It won’t take long for the son you remember to re-emerge — happy, prosperous, and free.

It’s not wrong to have hope. Reach out to Design for Recovery today.

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