Tips for Parents of Addicted Adult Children

Don't let the bad win out over the good.

Posted Oct 04, 2018

The strength of an addiction's hold on your child is a predictor of the magnitude of the fight you will face.

When you first realize that your adult child is an addict, it may be the night that you get your first collect call from jail. Or it may be the night that your child passes out at the dinner table. Or it may be the night that you call 911 because your adult child refuses to come to dinner and you break his lock and find him unresponsive on the floor. Many people might think that they would “know” well before things got to this level of concern, but the truth is that there are many good and responsible parents who are fooled by addiction when it is taking root in their own child.

In an earlier blog, I described the variety of emotions that normal parents might experience as they try to come to terms with the fact that their adult children are addicts. It’s not an easy path for any parent, and the “shame factor” that addiction still carries for some makes a parent’s emotional struggles that much more difficult.

Cycling through the Emotions is Normal

Heartbreaking grief hardens into anger before numbing into disengagement, and this disengagement may be transformed back into grief as a child’s presence in the parent’s life becomes a “now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t” unpredictable happening.

Addiction is known to isolate the user from his support network and his roles in life, from friend to family to employee. Another sad truth is that shame about a family member’s addiction can isolate parents from their own support system and extended family. This is a victory that addiction does not deserve to claim – it is of paramount importance that you accept that your child’s addiction is not to be blamed on you. Owning responsibility for something you did not do is tantamount to giving in to addiction yourself.

Letting Go to Let Your Child Choose

As much as you may want to force your child into treatment, recovery only happens when your child is ready to commit to the hard work of sober living. The news overflows with stories of repeated trips to rehab centers for the rich and powerful and for the poor and destitute. The path to long-term sobriety is often fraught with multiple relapses, additional involvements of the justice system, broken promises, and frustrated hopes. These are normal aspects, sadly, of many addicts’ efforts towards recovery.

You may have to let go of expectations regarding what your adult child “should” be doing at 21, 25, 30, 45, or even 50. Addictions take hold of “normal” individuals and shape their lives into abnormally structured journeys. The addiction is the real enemy, not your child. You may find yourself applauding achievements that your child reaches at 27 that he should have reached at 17. You may have to revise your expectations about what a “good life” is going to mean for your adult child, when a “good life” means no more nights spent in prison and no more need for Narcan or 911 calls.

Relapse will Happen

Once a person’s brain has been rewired and reconfigured to rely on artificial means to feel pleasure, it is likely that relapse is going to occur. That’s why treatment programs focus on relapse prevention and ways to minimize its consequences. New habits are hard to start, and when your child’s emotional crutch, their substance of choice, has been taken away, it can be a rough road for everyone. Addiction not only damages the addict, it also leaves destruction in its wake in almost every realm of the addict’s life. Financial ruin. Careers ended. Legal problems that cannot be easily solved. Families in tatters. Loss of home, independence, and freedom. Supporting a child through recovery means being prepared to face her relapse. Relapses are normal and if a child is truly ready to get back on the path to recovery, offer support, but don’t buy into any blame for a child’s mistake.

Recovery is Not a Straight Path

There are some people who can move right into a new sense of identity and a lasting sobriety. They should be acknowledged and their accomplishments should be appreciated. Unfortunately, your child who continues to struggle may not reach Day 100 without hitting Day 10 or Day 92 more than once. Every person’s path will be different even if the addictive substance is the same.


Invitation to Share Your Experiences of Parenting an Adult Addict

Please click on the link below to participate in a new survey that is seeking to understand the experiences of parents of adult addicts. Share your thoughts here.


Get Help for Yourself as Soon as you realize your Child is an Addict


SAMSHA National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)