Written about the child who is an addict but the advice here also applies to the Spouse, Brother, Sister, Mother or Father who needs help.
- Their addiction is NOT your fault
- It is their choice to keep using or to stop
- Do not enable their addiction
- Only enable their recovery
- Do not force them, it will backfire
Only the addict can truly help themselves but here are a few things you can do:
It is every parent’s fear that their son or daughter will fall into an addiction. It is their worst nightmare that their loved one might die. Every parent desires for their children to be happy and successful, to grow and one day raise a healthy family of their own. We all have high hopes but they can get crushed by addiction.
This love for one’s child can complicate their chances of recovery. The desire for them to get better is so strong that a parent will do anything to help them. They are not to blame. The parents will provide a home for them, feed them and even give them spending money. Unfortunately this is a recipe for enabling the addiction.
The problem with the addict is this: The longer they can comfortably continue their addiction, the longer they will do exactly that. The temporary pleasure they get from their drug completely overshadows any incentive to get sober. The drug overrides their logical thinking. With time they may experience some hardship but they get progressively numb to it. They have worsening problems yet they continue to use. It’s as if they don’t live in reality and cannot see what their addiction is doing to them. Their goals diminish, they accept mediocrity or even less. When a young adult engages in substance abuse, they inevitably lose all sense of purpose.
You wish you can snap your fingers and they’ll snap out of it, but it’s not that easy. So here is some advice:
First off, do they have an addiction? The definition of a substance use disorder is the following:
- Does the substance use cause any problems (even small ones)?
- Despite these problems, do they continue to use?
If the answer is yes consider sending them to rehab. I know it’s expensive although some insurance may cover the cost.
Next, implement some rules (see below). If the answer is no you can skip rehab and consider the rules below.
Start a discussion with your child or teenager about drug use and what could potentially happen. Remind them you love them but don’t want to see them hurt themselves. Tell them that because of their drug use a few things will change. If they are living under your roof you are allowed to enforce certain rules. You are their parent, not their friend. In this situation they need a parent. (Someone who leads by example, by serving those with them and enforcing rules for their benefit).
Consistency is vital. Parents should agree on certain principles for their kids and stick to them no matter what. If parents are divorced and share custody, try to come to an agreement.
Here are some rules for your addicted child that I would suggest:
- If you use again, you lose your phone privilege for 1 month. If you use again, for 2 months. Then 3 and so on.
- If you use again, change the internet password for a month.
- If you use again, lose car privilege for a week.
- You will go to NA or AA meetings daily for the first month, then a few times a week after that.
- You will get a sponsor to talk to daily.
- You will get drug tested every few weeks, randomly.
These rules are tough to implement but necessary to give your child an idea of what happens in the real world. They will lose their job, their family, home and everything else. An addict will lose a sense of accountability and responsibility. Strict rules will help them regain this.
If they do not live with you, again, only enable their recovery. Do NOT send them money, only pay for them to go to rehab. Allow them in your home only if they are sober.
If you can, help build up their self esteem. Get involved in activities, raising money for charity, helping out at soup kitchens etc. Encourage them to pursue a career, job or skill.
An addict will stagnate in their progress, ultimately they will regress. In recovery, encourage them to work towards new goals. The more they progress, the more they will fear to lose if they relapse.
Do not enable them. Do not give them spending money. Protect your possessions and money. The younger child’s piggy bank will get emptied. Your signature may be faked on your check book. Keep valuables locked up. This is the reality.
“An alcoholic will steal your wallet and lie about it, a drug addict will steal your wallet and help you look for it” – not sure who said this but very true.
Often times the lack of love and friendship is what worsens addiction, the addiction in turn continues to isolate the person. Family has a natural response to try and offer more love for the addict which in turn teaches the addict that the more they use the more love they get from their family. It could become a form of getting attention. Express your love by fighting their addiction, not with force but with consistent rules. Give them love and respect. Do not shame them or blame them.
Instead of holding them tighter you need to push them away. Look at it as pushing their addiction away and not them. It’s counter intuitive but provide love to the sober child and push the addicted child away.
Some children (maybe not yours) grew up in a household devoid of love. Their parents were divorcing or using drugs themselves. Those kids grow up with something missing that they themselves cannot fully identify. Ultimately they find that drugs fill this emptiness. Addicts also tend to isolate the farther they get in their addiction. The fix is the exact opposite: Love and human connection is vital to their recovery.
Do not shame, judge, express anger or belittle them. Ever. These actions will cause an addict to feel shame, guilt, self loathing, anger and pain. These feelings are fuel to the fire of addiction. Their response will most likely be to use their drug again.
Do everything you can to enable their recovery.
Remind them they are not alone.
Drive them to AA or NA meetings (that’s Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous). Take them to an addiction doctor. Sign them up for SMART recovery online. Get them books on recovery, self help and improving their life. Pay for them to go to rehab (I don’t have the answer as to how many times, but at least once).
You suffer just as much as the addict in your life, maybe even more as they get temporary relief from their suffering. You can become addicted to your loved one’s addiction. The obsession can be consuming. Something you can do is to visit Al Anon meetings, they are 12 step based meetings for the family of addicts. There you will find support and guidance from other parents going through the same thing.
I’m so sorry if some of this advice sounds harsh but again let me remind you, you are fighting your child’s addiction and not your child. Be tough on their addiction and not them.
I hope this helps.
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