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From The Right Step Blog

how to deal with a drug addict son

How to Deal With a Drug Addicted Son or Daughter

Having a child with an addiction is one of the most painful situations any parent can face. Most mothers and fathers are at a loss for how to deal with a drug addicted son or how to deal with a drug addicted daughter. Whether your child is a teen, young adult or a grown-up, addiction is devastating for the whole family.

Helping your addicted child may require you to act in ways that may not come naturally to you. “One of the hardest things for parents is they are worried that their kids are going to end up hating them,” says Jennifer Hearn, M.Ed., LPC, admissions director at The Right Step. “This results in parents continuing to engage in enabling behavior out fear of losing their child’s love. Or we see parents act out of fear because they are not in control of what is going. They are terrified about what might happen to their child if left to their own devices.”

So what can parents do? “Don’t be worried about hurting their feelings. Be worried about saving their life,” she says. “People with addiction need consequences, boundaries and limits. That’s why it important for parents to get involved. Parents can be a catalyst to make someone really look at themselves and consider making a change.”

Hearn and other experts recommend certain steps to get your loved one closer to addiction recovery:

1. Be willing to acknowledge the problem. At first, you can’t imagine that your child is abusing drugs. “Parents are always in denial in the beginning,” says addiction counselor Mark Levine, LICDC-CS, MAC. “It’s the emotionally safe thing to do. To acknowledge a problem would cause most parents to blame themselves – something they would rather avoid.” It is human nature to avoid it, but the key to learning how to deal with a drug addicted daughter or son is opening your eyes to the problem.

2. Learn the healthiest way to approach your child. Your first impulse may be to confront your child when they are on drugs, scream and yell out of frustration, or pile on guilt. It won’t work. “Parents should express their feelings without judging,” says Levine. “This is a slow process and patience is required.” He also recommends reaching out to other parents and experts. “Addiction is an illness and it’s vital to learn how to communicate with someone with a brain disease,” he says. “Normal avenues of evoking guilt will not work when speaking to an addictive brain.  And neither will outbursts of anger or shame. “

3. Make sure to practice self-care. As difficult as it may be, put the oxygen mask on you first. “Addiction dramatically affects a family system,” says Levine. “Family members go through their own phases of addiction recovery, so self-care is critical.” Parents need to develop long-term coping skills. This may include individual therapy, support groups and 12-step groups like Alanon. It will also help to have a friend who can listen and a therapist to guide you. Parents may benefit from couple’s counseling while learning how to deal with a drug addicted daughter or son.

4. Set healthy boundaries to avoid enabling. Part of self-care is protecting yourself from harm and finding the strength to withstand emotional manipulation. But you also have to set boundaries for your child’s sake. “Boundaries could be a myriad of things parents are in control of,” says Hearn. “Don’t be afraid of boundaries. Kids thrive with structure and accountability, and that starts with the parents. For example, don’t give them money,” she says. “And trust your gut.” Also consider these boundaries:

  • Go to the store with them if they need you to buy them something.
  • Buy gift cards rather than offering cash.
  • Don’t allow them to hang out with drug-abusing friends.
  • Take away the car.
  • Download apps that allow you to track their location.
  • Don’t let them drink or use drugs in your house “because it’s safer.”

“There are many great resources out there, including family contracts,” adds Hearn. “These specifically outline actions or tasks the child must complete or must avoid, and what the consequences of not following through will be. They outline specific actions the parents agree to take or avoid and how they will be responsible for their actions. It makes both parties accountable.”

5. Protect material assets. Parents may enable addiction by unwittingly allowing access to valuable items. “Your loved one may be stealing things from you,” warns Katie Ziskind, a holistic family therapist. “You may find jewelry, a musical instrument or other expensive items missing from your home.” This is especially common with young adults, who may take items and pawn them for drug money. “Make sure you have a lockbox for valuables you do not want stolen.”

6. Remove them from the situation. Many people develop drug addictions in their teens and continue with a drug habit that impacts their ability to live a normal life. Others start using drugs in college or as young adults. As soon as you recognize the problem, try to remove your loved one from the situation, even if it means losing money on tuition or dorms.

7. Get an accurate diagnosis. Many parents discover there is an underlying mental health issue fueling their child’s drug use. A benefit of getting your child into therapy or residential drug rehab is that you can get a complete picture of co-occurring mental health conditions. In dual diagnosis treatment, your child can receive help for all conditions at the same time.

8. Professional intervention. You may feel you’ve reached the end of your rope as you try to figure out how to deal with an addicted son or daughter. A crisis, such as getting kicked out of school, losing a job, or getting into an accident or legal trouble, may illuminate the need for change. Some parents decide to stage an addiction intervention to help get their addicted child into treatment before things get worse. Professional interventionists help create a psychologically and physically safe environment to convince a son or daughter to accept drug or alcohol treatment.

Look for the Light at the End of the Tunnel

“The journey for parents can be long and hard. It can feel never-ending at times, but there is light at the end of the tunnel,” says Hearn. “I have worked with many young people who got sober and now work in the field giving back. The earlier the intervention, the better. Youth are resilient and don’t have to let the rest of their lives be defined by what they are going through right now.”

“Parents should know and remind themselves often that it is not their fault,” Hearn continues. “Addiction does not happen because of poor parenting efforts. It is a biological brain disease and there is treatment – not just for the addicted son or daughter, but for the whole family.”

how to deal with a loved one’s addiction

How to Deal With a Loved One’s Addiction

Watching a loved one struggle with addiction can be heartbreaking, terrifying and infuriating. I’ve been there. It’s one of the reasons I chose to work in addiction and mental health treatment. If you’re not sure how to deal with a loved one’s addiction, here are a few suggestions:

Don’t Enable

Enabling is very common with loved ones of drug addicts. You’re trying your best to help, but may not know how to do so effectively. Enabling is doing for someone what they can do for themselves. Families enable addiction in ways like providing financial support, bailing them out of trouble or making up excuses for them. You think you’re helping your loved one get better or stay safe by providing resources, but you’re really enabling their destructive behaviors.

Addiction is a disease that lives in the survival part of the brain. It hijacks the reward system that is built to reinforce survival behaviors like eating and procreation, making the addicted brain believe it must have the substance to survive. The addict’s main priority is their substance of abuse and they will do whatever it takes to meet this perceived need. This includes lying, stealing and manipulating. They’re some of the smartest and most creative people I know. They work their family members and are very successful at it. That’s why it’s so important to not enable by setting appropriate boundaries.

Not enabling means refusing to participate in your loved one’s addiction, but being open and willing to participate in their recovery. It means you don’t put the addict’s needs above your own. Addicted people can be crafty. They often have a way of making their own wants seem like needs. They can create a crisis or make it appear that you’re being hateful or mean by not providing them what they want. Unfortunately, when active in addiction, what they want is the very thing that is killing them.

Set Boundaries

Boundaries are difficult to enforce with your addicted loved one, but they’re absolutely necessary. One of the best ways to do this is to separate the addict from the addiction. It may make it a little bit easier to set boundaries if you say to yourself, or even out loud to your loved one, “I’m doing this because I love you, and I hate your addiction.” Realize that by enabling your loved one, you’re actually helping to keep them addicted. Setting boundaries is the best way to help them help themselves.

Common boundaries loved ones of drug addicts may set include:

  • Not providing financial support
  • Not providing housing
  • Not lying or covering up for them
  • Not helping them if they get into legal or financial trouble
  • Not allowing them to attend family events

The specifics of boundaries will be different for every family learning how to deal with a loved one’s addiction. For instance, maybe you won’t provide financial support for your loved one if they’re using, but you’ll fund sober living or help pay for residential addiction treatment. Perhaps you’ll help with their phone bill or transportation as long as they’re consistently attending 12-step groups and therapy. Make sure you include all of these details in writing. Have them review it and sign it.

Be Direct and Consistent

It’s important to be direct about boundaries. There can’t be any wiggle room or gray area. Have clear expectations and have it in writing. This way there’s no question about what you discussed or how your loved one interprets it versus how you meant it. Whether or not the addict agrees or remembers the conversation is irrelevant. It’s up to the loved ones of drug addicts to enforce boundaries and be consistent.

Be upfront and honest. Do not minimize or tread lightly. The addict is hijacked by their addiction. They don’t necessarily see what seems so obvious to someone looking in from the outside. You need to spell it out. If you allow them to cross a boundary once it’s sending the message that it’s okay. For example, if you say they can’t come to family events when using and you let them come to family dinner high, you’re telling them that behavior is acceptable. It’s hard to get your footing again once they’ve broken a boundary, even once.

Get Them in Front of a Professional

It’s a misperception that an addict must want to get clean or treatment isn’t going to work. A lot of times that’s even what addicts tell people because they want to get out of going to treatment. Many of our clients entered addiction treatment because of legal problems, orders by Child Protective Services or ultimatums by loved ones. All of those reasons are completely valid motivators to initially get people into treatment. Our job as therapists is to help them find that internal motivation — to have that desire to get better for themselves. Whatever gets them in the door could potentially save their life.

Getting your loved one into an addiction treatment facility for an assessment could be a game changer. The assessor’s primary job is to gather information about their physical and mental health, but more importantly, they can also convince them why drug rehab treatment is necessary. You may say something to your loved one like, “Let’s talk to a professional because I’m really concerned about you. Let’s just go see what they have to say.”

If your loved one has ever been involved in any type of 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), they can help. A sponsor or other group members often conduct interventions for members who’ve relapsed. They’ll work to get them into treatment.

Acknowledge How Difficult This Is

Any kind of change is difficult. A lot of loved ones of drug addicts get to a point where they’re just so angry, resentful and fed up, and they don’t come across in a loving way. You’d be surprised how much it helps to acknowledge that you realize this is tough for your loved one. Show that you genuinely love and care about them. It’s a struggle for the addict. Empathy, care and concern can go a long way. Break down their defenses so that they can get the help they need.

Remember, You Can’t Do the Work for Them

Unfortunately, there are some people who have strong defenses and aren’t yet willing to put the work into recovery. We know as clinicians we can’t work harder than they do. The same goes for loved ones. You can encourage them to get help, you can get them into drug rehab treatment, you can support them in sobriety — but not one of us can do the work for the addict as much as we want to.

Take Care of Yourself

Self-care is critical. Addiction is a family disease. Acknowledge you’re impacted in a lot of ways by your loved one’s substance abuse. Loved ones of drug addicts are often depleted emotionally and physically. Take care of yourself. Participate in individual therapy and support groups like Al-Anon. Take part in activities that nurture you, whether that be fitness, mindfulness, hobbies or other self-care activities. You must be healthy to help yourself and to be there for your loved one.

stages of addiction

The 3 Stages of Addiction

Not everyone who uses drugs or alcohol becomes addicted, but about 164 million people worldwide have. Addiction is a progressive disease. It can hijack your brain, and your life. Genetics and certain challenges make some people more prone to addiction, but anyone can become addicted.

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