Recover From   »   Freeing the Parents of Adult Alcoholics and Addicts

Freeing the Parents of Adult Alcoholics and Addicts

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

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People who suffer from addiction or alcoholism experience relentless suffering. While this fact is known to most people, the suffering of their loved ones 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. 

Many parents, in an effort to express their love and provide help, 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. 

They may be unwilling to listen to parental advice, unable to hold down a job, and they may push people away. Addiction also affects moods, behavior, and cognitive abilities. Parents may be shocked to interact with their uncannily disrespectful or abusive adult children. It is important to understand that your child is acting this way not because they are “bad” or because you did a poor job parenting them. Try to understand that 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 also be tempted to lend their children a place to live. There is nothing wrong with adult children living at home, but individuals who are addicted to drugs may end up using their parents’ home as a safe space for substance abuse. It is understandable that parents want to provide their adult children with resources, but the best course of action is setting limits. Some boundaries that can be helpful include:

  • Letting adult children living at home know that they can’t remain there if they abuse drugs inside the home
  • Not cleaning up after adult children
  • Not making excuses on their behalf
  • Not lending them money if they are using drugs, or only lending them gift cards to grocery stores that can’t be as easily abused
  • Being clear about how their drug use affects family members

The most essential point for parents to remember is that ultimately, their adult children’s substance use disorder is out of their control. It is useless for parents to blame themselves. It is equally useless to try to cure or manage their disorder. It may be tempting for parents to berate or yell at their adult children. Others work hard to “win over” their addicted children through financial support and protection, with the aim of eventually convincing them to stop abusing drugs and alcohol. 

Both approaches are generally fruitless. In the end, any effort parents make to try to “fix” their addicted adult children is only likely to alienate them or enable them — and in the process parents only end up harming themselves. Nonetheless, it is crucial for parents to continue expressing their love, as the strength of a person’s social support system is the most important factor determining whether or not they will pursue addiction treatment.

Dealing With Adult Alcoholics: When Parents Need Help

Parents face a number of challenges when dealing with their addicted adult children. While finding the best way to provide support without enabling or estranging their children is often a parent’s top concern, it is also essential that parents practice self-care. Part of dealing with a loved one’s addiction means recognizing that it is their battle, and theirs alone. Letting go and setting boundaries is necessary for this. 

However, it is also important that parents work to treat any of the negative mental health consequences they face themselves as a result of their children’s addictions. Outpatient psychotherapy and support groups like Al-Anon can provide invaluable assistance, allowing parents to receive emotional support and work together with communities of individuals facing similar challenges. Ultimately, the best way to help addicted adult children is for parents to help themselves.

How To Help Without Getting Drawn In

While it may not be possible for parents to fix their adult children’s addictions, they can help by offering to enroll them in a quality sober living home. Design for Recovery is a structured sober living in West LA. While it is not always the best idea for parents to offer their own homes, they can instead offer to enroll their adult children in a sober living home that provides addiction treatment. 

However, it is important for young men to enroll willingingly. Sobriety has to be something a person wants for them to achieve it. At Design for Recovery, residents pursue sobriety every day, taking steps to understand themselves better while working to develop recovery tools. While living in a safe supportive environment with other young men who are equally committed to sobriety, residents take the initial first steps to building new lives for themselves. 

By the time residents of Design for Recovery graduate, they have begun to implement the lifeskills adult children are expected to have: accountability, responsibility, honesty, and integrity. It is a joy for parents to discover that their addicted adult “children” can indeed become sober adult men. It is simply a matter of reaching out for help.

Read Further:

How to Help a Son Who is Addicted to Drugs and Alcoholics

Alcohol Relapse Prevention

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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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