Anytime a loved one is struggling with drug addiction it can take a tremendous toll on you. You may feel like you’re on a constant emotional roller coaster, full of mostly downs but some ups as well. When you love an addict, you will likely start to feel hopeless, or even blame yourself and the family and friends of drug addicts tend to experience personal negative consequences, such as depression.
It’s easy to feel like you have completely lost a loved one to drugs when they’re an addict, and they’re no longer the person you once know. As hard as all that is, it can be even more difficult when it’s your child. As parents we want to protect our children, help them make the right choices and keep them safe, but how do you do that when they’re an addict?[i]
Parents naturally focus on their children, especially when they are suffering. And they often do this at the expense of their own well being. While this might be sustainable for a brief period, when it becomes a lifestyle as you constantly react to your child’s addiction, it could wear you down and, eventually, take a toll on everyone. Learning how to take care of yourself through this difficult time, then, is essential. Much like the airplane instruction of putting on your own oxygen mask before helping another, you must ensure you shore up your own mental, emotional, and physical health if you’re going to effectively help your child.[ii]
It is only natural to experience a sense of extreme guilt and feeling as if you have failed your child in some way. Seeing your child suffer can also cause you a tremendous amount of anguish and emotional pain. If you have done your utmost to help your child get into recovery, if you have expended your resources, you have done what you can. Remember that your child is capable of making decisions and his poor choices are not your fault. It is normal to still feel guilt and pain, but there are ways to cope.
Realize that extreme feelings of guilt and pain are signs of a negative attachment to your child. Recognize this attachment and how it is harming you. Accept that your child makes his own choices and that you cannot force him to stop using drugs or alcohol. Focus your energy on yourself and on the positive relationships in your life. If your spousal relationship has been damaged because of your child’s addiction, work on it. Redirecting your focus will help you detach from negative and unhelpful emotions.[iii]
Setting boundaries helps you regain control of yourself by creating limits for your family. Boundaries are limits that you set for yourself that determine what you participate in and when to remove yourself. They are not about getting the other person to change.
Consider what your limits are around your child’s addiction. These are only examples. Choose what works best for your family.
Setting Boundaries with an Addict:
1. Having a no drugs policy in your home
2. Not giving them money or paying their bills
3. Refusing to lie or cover up for them
4. If they get arrested repeatedly, not bailing them out
5. Letting them know they are welcome to go to family events when sober
Boundaries should not be used as an attempt to control your child or their using. Setting healthy boundaries is something you do for yourself, to maintain a clear sense of what you’ll participate in and what you won’t. Keep your boundaries simple and straightforward. Ask for what you need and if they don’t respect it, decide your next course of action. Too many boundaries to start with can become controlling.[iv]
It is important to continue to love and support your child without enabling them. You may be thinking, “Okay, but how do I stop enabling my drug addict child but still help them get the help they need?” There is often a fine line between the two that can be difficult to distinguish. Setting boundaries can help you prioritize yourself, but still support your child without supporting abusive behaviors.
1. Limit financial assistance: Money can be a sensitive subject when it comes to addiction. Parents often feel obligated to continue supporting their child financially, but fear how the money is being spent. Rather than giving them money, you can supply what they need instead. For instance, instead of providing money for food, you can opt to provide groceries. This allows you to support your child without further enabling certain behaviors.
2. Help them find support: You can aid your child in finding help, but you cannot force them to take it. Providing them with information about treatment options is a step in the right direction, but if they choose not to use it, do not blame yourself.
3. The idea of “hitting rock bottom”: Often when addiction is discussed, the idea of “hitting rock bottom” is mentioned, implying that a person will not often seek help until they have reached that point. Not everyone needs to be at their lowest low to realize they need help, and your family certainly does not need to go down that path with them. Those with addiction do not need to hit rock bottom to seek help, and families do not need to either.[v]
[i] The Recovery Village, How to Handle Your Child’s Addiction, Renee Deveney, accessed 10 February 2020, < https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/family-friend-portal/parents-drug-addicts-coping-handle-childs-addiction/> [ii]Project Know, How to Cope as a Parent Watching Your Child Struggle with Addiction, Emmalynn Pepper Clemmensen, accessed 10 February 2020, < https://www.projectknow.com/parents-guide/coping-with-your-child/> [iii]Drug Rebab, How to Cope When Your Child is an Addict, Drug Rehab Editorial Staff, accessed 10 February 2020, < https://www.drugrehab.us/news/how-to-cope-when-your-child-addict/> [iv] Psych Central, Hot to Cope When Your Child is Addicted, Sharon Martin, accessed 10 February 2020, < https://blogs.psychcentral.com/imperfect/2018/02/how-to-cope-when-your-child-is-addicted/> [v] Sober College, Dealing with a Son or Daughter Addicted to Drugs: How to Sleep Again, Bob, accessed 10 February 2020, < https://sobercollege.com/addiction-blog/dealing-with-drug-addict-child/>