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Guide for Parents of Adult Alcoholics and Addicts (Do’s & Don’ts)

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

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People who suffer from addiction or alcoholism experience relentless suffering. This fact is known to most people, but the suffering of their loved ones, especially the parents of drug addicts, often goes unacknowledged. The truth is that friends, significant others, and family members are often deeply affected by the behavior of their addicted loved one.

The behavior of a person in the throes of addiction can be unpredictable, violent, and even at times traumatizing. For parents, this is particularly true. Parents, who know their kids during the entirety of their lives, feel the acute pain of seeing their once-carefree sons and daughters oppressed by the pains of a substance use disorder. They may feel uniquely responsible for the fate of their children, especially when their adult child is an alcoholic or addict.

As a parent of an addict, in an effort to express their love and provide help, they often offer unconditional support to their addicted adult children. The result, unfortunately, is rarely what they intend. More often than not, parents who fail to set boundaries only end up enabling their children’s substance abuse — and, moreover, hurting themselves in the process.

Dealing with the Behavior of Adult Children with Addiction

Addiction changes people’s personalities in negative ways. Most parents see the best in their children, so it can be tough to witness the moody, self-destructive, and sometimes cruel behavior that addicted adult children engage in. 

Children can be selfish, and it is common to expect that adults will behave responsibly. People with addiction, however, act like children. Dealing with narcissistic adult children can be difficult.

If you’re thinking, “My son is on drugs, how can I help him?” or “When do I give up on my drug addict son?” it’s important to understand that your child is acting this way not because they are “bad” or because you did a poor job parenting them. 

They are behaving erratically because it is one of the side effects of a substance use disorder.

Setting Boundaries with Adult Children with Addiction

Just because parents understand that their son or daughter is behaving irresponsibly as a consequence of their addiction, however, doesn’t mean that parents need to tolerate this behavior. Seeing that their children are in dire circumstances, it may be tempting for parents to offer help unconditionally. 

This help can come in the form of financial support. However, parents should be aware that when their adult children suffer from a substance use disorder, even when they might have bills to pay, such as college tuition or rent, most funds are devoted to paying for illicit substances.

For this reason, lending financial support to children may end up supporting their drug habit. 

Parents may often feel compelled to provide their children with a place to live. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with adult children living at home, those who are addicted to drugs might misuse this privilege, turning their parents’ home into a safe haven for substance abuse.

It’s understandable that parents wish to support their adult children by providing resources. However, the most effective approach involves setting boundaries. Some useful guidelines could include:

  • Informing adult children living at home that they cannot stay if they abuse drugs within the house.
  • Refraining from cleaning up after adult children.
  • Avoiding making excuses on their behalf.
  • Refusing to lend them money if they are using drugs, or alternatively, only lending them gift cards for grocery stores to prevent misuse.
  • Clearly communicating the impact of their drug use on family members.

Remember, parents, you can’t control your adult child’s substance abuse. It’s not your fault, and you can’t cure it. Yelling or trying to buy their recovery with money and protection usually doesn’t work. 

These attempts might just push them away or enable their habits, hurting you in the process. But don’t forget to keep showing your love. Strong social support can make a big difference in whether they seek help for their addiction.

Dealing With Adult Alcoholics: When Parents Need Help

Parents navigating the challenges of an adult child’s addiction often grapple with how to offer support without enabling harmful behaviors or creating distance. However, it’s equally crucial for parents to prioritize their own well-being.

Remember, your child’s addiction is their own battle. Establishing boundaries and letting go is a necessary part of this journey.

At the same time, it’s essential to address any mental health impacts you may be experiencing due to your child’s addiction. Outpatient therapy and support groups like Al-Anon can be incredibly beneficial. They offer emotional support and a sense of community with others facing similar struggles.

In the end, the most effective way to assist your adult child with their addiction is to ensure you’re taking care of your own health and well-being.

How to Help Your Child Overcome Their Addiction

Navigating the journey of helping a child overcome addiction can be a complex and emotional process. Here are some strategies for parents:

  • Strengthen the Relationship: Maintain a supportive relationship with your child. Encourage positive behaviors and treatment, and establish and reinforce consistent guidelines.
  • Effective Communication: Engage in focused, accepting, and understanding conversations with your child. Be kind, respectful, and focus on the positives while minimizing negative reactions. Refrain from judgmental comments or lectures.
  • Set Boundaries and Follow Through: Establish clear boundaries and consequences for your child’s behavior. Express how their addiction is affecting you in a non-accusatory manner. Offer to explore support services together, and remind your child that they are loved and that you’re ready to help them with their addiction when they are.
  • Practice Self-Care: Prioritize your own well-being. Seek therapy or join support groups if needed. Remember, you can’t control everything, so it’s important to focus on your own health and wellness.
  • Educate Yourself About Addiction: Learn about the disease of addiction to better understand what your child is experiencing. Be available to listen and offer support.
  • Set Clear Limits: Define the behaviors you want to encourage and those you want to discourage. A mix of appropriate consequences and positive reinforcement can help stimulate the desired behavioral change.

How To Help Without Getting Drawn In

Helping your child overcome addiction requires a delicate balance between providing support and avoiding enabling behaviors. Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Educate Yourself: Gain knowledge about addiction and its impacts to better understand your child’s experiences. This understanding will allow you to approach the situation with empathy and compassion.
  • Set Boundaries: Define clear boundaries and consequences related to your child’s behavior. Make it clear what actions are acceptable and which ones will not be tolerated. Consistently uphold these boundaries and follow through with the established consequences.
  • Effective Communication: Keep lines of communication open and honest with your child. Listen to their concerns and feelings, expressing your own in a non-judgmental manner. Avoid engaging in arguments or attempting to control their behavior.
  • Seek Support: It’s crucial to find support for both yourself and your child. Consider joining a support group or seeking therapy to help manage the stress and emotions associated with the situation. This can also help prevent you from falling into enabling behaviors.
  • Encourage Treatment: Motivate your child to seek treatment for their addiction. Offer to assist them in finding resources and assure them of your support throughout the process. However, remember that the decision to seek treatment ultimately lies with them.
  • Practice Self-Care: Prioritize your own health and well-being. This will help you remain resilient and avoid enabling behaviors. Make time for activities you enjoy and seek support from friends and family.

Parenting Skills for Recovering Addicts

Parenting a recovering addict requires a delicate balance of support, understanding, and firm boundaries. It’s important to educate yourself about addiction and its treatments, maintain open and non-judgmental communication, and encourage your child to seek professional help. Remember to also take care of your own mental health during this challenging time.

Parents in Recovery

Parents in recovery face unique challenges, including managing their own recovery while also supporting their child’s. It’s crucial to maintain a strong support network, engage in self-care activities, and seek professional help if needed. Remember, your recovery is just as important as your child’s.

Is the Adult Recovery Position Suitable to Use with Children?

The recovery position is a first aid technique used to keep an unconscious person’s airway clear and open. While it is generally safe for adults, it should be modified for children, especially for infants. Always consult with a healthcare professional or a certified first aid training provider for the correct techniques to use with children.

Therapy for Families of Addicts

Therapy can be incredibly beneficial for families dealing with addiction. Family therapy sessions can help each family member understand the nature of addiction, improve communication within the family, and provide strategies to cope with the challenges of addiction. It can also provide a safe space for family members to express their feelings and concerns.


It’s crucial to approach this situation with understanding and compassion. Start by educating yourself about addiction and its treatments. Open a line of communication with your son, expressing your concerns without judgment. Encourage him to seek professional help, such as therapy or a rehabilitation program. Remember, you cannot force him to get help; he must make that decision himself.

If your son is battling drug addiction, professional help like detox, rehab, therapy, and counseling is available. The best choice depends on the addiction’s severity and the substance. As a sober living facility, we’re here to guide you. If you need more information or guidance, feel free to contact us.

Support can come in many forms, including emotional support, attending therapy sessions with him, and encouraging a healthy lifestyle. It’s also important to set boundaries and avoid enabling behaviors. Celebrate his milestones in recovery, and be patient and understanding during setbacks.

Yes, there are many resources available for parents of addicts. Support groups, such as Al-Anon, offer a community of individuals who are experiencing similar challenges. These groups can provide emotional support, advice, and strategies for coping. Therapy or counseling can also be beneficial for parents dealing with the stress and emotional toll of having a child with an addiction.

It’s important to remember that you also need care and support during this time. Maintain a healthy lifestyle, seek support from friends, family, or a support group, and consider seeking therapy or counseling for yourself. Setting boundaries is also crucial to prevent burnout and emotional exhaustion.

Open communication is key. Discuss the situation with other family members in an age-appropriate manner and encourage them to express their feelings and concerns. It may also be beneficial for the entire family to attend family therapy sessions. Establish boundaries to protect other family members from potential harm related to your son’s addiction.

Rebuilding trust takes time and patience. Consistent, supportive behavior from you can help. Encourage honesty by creating a non-judgmental environment where your son feels comfortable sharing his experiences. Celebrate his achievements in recovery, no matter how small they may seem. Over time, trust can be rebuilt through these positive interactions.

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Edited by: David Beasley

David Beasley - Design for Recovery

David Beasley is a certified RADT (Registered Alcohol/Drug Technician). David, moved to California from North Carolina after many failed attempts to get sober.

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Charley earned his Masters of Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).He teaches mindfulness to both adults and children in group setting such as schools, corporate workplaces, and medical treatment facilities.

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