More Tips for Mothers of Adult Addicts

Even if your child is in recovery, your life will likely never be the same again

Posted Aug 28, 2015

Awhile back, we discussed several tips for dealing with your adult addict child. This is not an easy task due to the overwhelming guilt that many bring to the situation or the enormous amount of resentment of your child’s poor choices or weak will that you feel her addiction represents.

Don't Work Harder than the Recovering Addict

You may be investing a tremendous amount of energy into helping your child overcome his addiction. Oftentimes, parents invest a significantly greater amount of energy than the actual addict might do. That’s part of the need to either care for or fix your child that arise from the guilt or resentment. Unfortunately, as counselors learn early in their own training, until the client is ready to change, there is absolutely nothing that the counselor can do to make that change actually happen. There's no pay-off for working harder than a client -- or for a parent working harder than a child in recovery.

You can cajole your child, guilt your child, threaten your child, cut off your child, cover your child’s treatment center costs, dump their booze/pills/weed/drugs/whatever, take away their vehicle (if they’ve not already lost it), put them in lock down, you name it. Until your child is ready to begin the path to sobriety, nothing you do is going to keep them grounded very long.

Your Child & Sobriety

Flash forward to that point when your child is finally sober, finally trying to get back into the land of the living, and trying to beat the addiction and live up to adult responsibilities and society’s expectations of maturity. This may be a great day – a wonderful day when you are ready to celebrate and embrace the hopes you have for your child and her future. The bubble of hope that you’ve kept down in your belly feels free to rise a little higher and grow a little bigger.

It’s almost like the joy you felt when you saw your child for the very first time – all those months of eagerly awaiting his arrival into your arms and the amazing satisfaction and wonder you felt as you held the tiny body close to your own. That’s almost how good it feels when you feel safe enough to think the thought that “Maybe she’s finally clean for good.”

Unfortunately, whether or not your child is finally clean and sober, your lives are unlikely to ever be the same again. Or at least for a very long time. The fear of recidivism or relapse creeps into your brain remarkable early in your child’s first foray into recovery and sobriety. The egg shells you learned to walk on during active addiction are still carpeting the floor - they just look a little different and feel a little different underneath your feet now.

Champagne is NOT the Drink of Recovering Addicts

Remember, I mentioned that you will be eager to celebrate your child’s seeming success? Well, if you are like a large number of families today, you may be thinking – “I want to celebrate – I’m going to pour myself a cold one!” or “Ah, celebration time! Let’s pop the cork on a bottle of champagne!” Wrong! Potentially addictive substances will no longer be a part of your family celebrations when your child is around. This is extremely difficult for some parents who want to believe that any recovering addict can still have “just one” and be done. Other parents may think that a glass of fizzy ginger ale is fine for their recovering child while the “rest of us” have that sparkly champagne.

The hypervigilance that often develops as you come to terms with the reality that your child is an addict and you begin “hawk-eyeing” her every move may endure even after your child is in recovery. You may always, for the rest of your life, keep a close eye on their mood and behavior looking for signs of relapse. You may wonder about their friends or their partners and if they are part of the solution or the problem as your child tries to stay clean. If you have alcohol or other substances in your own home, you may need to remind yourself to lock them away when your child is coming over. You may always count your pills in the bottle whenever your child has been to visit – or toss the Nyquil before he arrives.

Stewardship has its Limitations

Suspect behavior or unusual new passions or pastimes or companions may always and forever send up warning signs in your head. If she shares confidences about “troubles on the job,” your first thought will be whether she is using again. If she takes up with someone you deem a “loser lover,” you will probably believe that total relapse is coming next. A parent’s bubble of hope is less resilient once you have seen your child hit rock bottom. Especially if this climb out of the pit isn’t the first time the path to sobriety was begun.

Sometimes, our own fears for our children will greatly outweigh their own fears for themselves. We have a perspective of care and concern – the sense of stewardship for their wellbeing, so to speak – that places us in a position to foresee the potential land mines sometimes well before our children have stumbled into them. That’s the tough part of being a parent – knowing the potential consequences for poor choices and insufficient willpower/commitment to sobriety, but being unable to “force” a child to avoid them.

Embracing the New Normal

It is exciting to recognize that your child has made a return to the sober life, but be aware that there is now a “new normal” for your family. Nothing will ever be the same once you have seen your child fall into the addiction abyss. Keeping your spirits up generally involves keeping your child away from spirits and the demons of addiction. Relapse is all too common, so let yourself celebrate the early steps into recovery, but be aware that hypervigilance is normal and the choices you make when in the company of your child can send messages of support or contempt for their efforts. Be wise in what you do.

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Is alcohol a problem for your family-of-origin? How did alcohol or drug addiction affect you and your siblings growing up? How does it affect those relationships today? Share your story with me for an upcoming book project on family relationships:

Are your SIBLINGS causes of happiness or unhappiness for you? Share your story for a research study on adult sibling relationships: