Realizing your child is addicted to drugs or alcohol is a painful moment for anyone. As parents, our children are a source of joy, love, stress, and responsibility. Finding out that your child has developed a substance use disorder can feel like failure, like you didn’t raise them well enough, or like their addiction is your fault. It can also feel like them giving up on you and letting you down. The tangle of emotions of worry, pain, shame, guilt, and even anger can be overwhelming.
The thing is, addiction is not and never will be your fault. Substance use disorders are a complex phenomenon stemming from vulnerabilities like stress, genetics, epigenetics, exposure, and lifestyle choices. And, recovering from that often means getting social support, feeling like there’s a future to work towards, and having space to move into it when ready. Of course, if your child is under 18, you can force them to go into rehab, but without feeling as though there’s a reason to recover, they’ll likely struggle and will be at high risk of relapse when they leave.
As a mother, you have to navigate that complex tangle of emotions to offer support, caring, and an offer of help to your child. That can be exceedingly difficult and it’s important that you take care of yourself and seek out support from groups like Al-Anon while you do.
“I’m Here for You”
It doesn’t matter how addicted your child is, you’re still their parent. We know that “tough love” doesn’t work. Taking time to let your child know that you are there for them is an important part of their recovery process. That means:
- Being nonjudgmental. Addiction is a disorder. It’s no one’s fault. It stemmed from bad decisions, but everyone makes bad decisions. Addiction is not a moral failing. And, while your child may have lost their ability to be rational about quitting drugs or alcohol, they are still humans in need of respect and love.
- Actually Listen – Take time to listen to what your child has to say. Chances are, they are in pain. Offering to talk, sharing your own mistakes, and taking time to just listen or to sit in silence can go a long way towards telling your child that you’re there for them.
Your child may not have admitted they have a substance use disorder. They may be aggressive, angsty, and violent. They may want nothing to do with you. Navigating that can be difficult, no matter what the age of your child. But, it’s important that you let them know you are there for them when they need it.
“We Can Get Help”
Most people will see addiction as the end of the road, everything is hopeless and there’s no going back. That’s never the case. Substance abuse may physically change the brain, but your brain recovers. And, the younger you are, the more important it is that you stop substance abuse quickly, so the brain can continue normal development.
Treatment can be outpatient rehab, inpatient rehab, or a combination of these. Medical detox is often necessary as well. Make sure your child is aware of the options and go over them with them. For example, you might find a teen is a lot more open to getting treatment if you involve them in choosing how and where they go.
And, when you do offer treatment, make sure they know it’s for you as well. Most modern rehab includes family therapy – especially if your child is still under age. That means you’ll attend therapy with them, will learn to communicate better, and will learn the skills to build a new relationship with your child. That commitment on your part can also go a long way towards helping them decide to go as well.
Of course, if your child is over the age of 18, you can’t make them go. But, you can offer support, offer help with insurance and finances, and ensure they know you’re able to help whenever they are ready.
“I Love You”
Most of us grow up with media images of kids being kicked out of their homes when they use drugs. Of addicts being homeless and begging. They likely expect you to react with disappointment, anger, and even by cutting them out. Sharing your love, telling them you support them, and sharing simple concern for their health and future is the most important thing you can do.
In fact, family support is crucial to long-term recovery. If you can show genuine care and concern about your child, they are significantly more likely to be open to getting treatment and to be motivated while in treatment.
“I Have Boundaries”
Offering love and support to an addict can be exhausting for you and enabling for their substance use disorder. You always want to create and maintain boundaries – no matter the age of your child. Setting boundaries means:
- Deciding when to say no and sticking to it
- Refusing to engage in enabling behaviors
- Refusing to lie for your child
- Taking time for yourself
- Refusing to accept certain behaviors in your home
Enforcing boundaries can be difficult, especially if your child lives with you. It can mean establishing bedtime, it can mean asking your child to respect your emotions and weaknesses, and it can mean recognizing that your child is not being rational in regard to substance use. Good boundaries also mean giving them boundaries. You might want to search them every single night to make sure they don’t have drugs or alcohol on them. That level of privacy invasion will likely backfire and push them further away. You might want to invest and jump at everything that could possibly help them – but you can’t. Decide on boundaries, set them, and communicate them as part of a conversation in which your child is a allowed to offer input.
“I am Asking Family for Support”
You should never have to deal with anything on your own. Even if its your child. You should always have the option to talk to friends and family and to talk to support groups like Al-Anon. However, it is important that you communicate this to your child. For example, “I am really struggling with this and I am sharing it with your Aunt”, is a perfectly valid way to communicate that. The important thing is that they do not feel you are talking about them behind their back, because that will diminish trust.
Eventually, your child is your child, and you love them. You want the best for them. You want to be there for them. Balancing that while maintaining your own mental heatlh and avoiding enabling behaviors can be extremely difficult. If you can, it’s important to work towards getting your child into treatment, so they have the opportunity to recover. If you can’t, offering the support they need to come to that themselves is equally as important.