When you are a parent, you want what is best for your child. When they are young and living in your home, you have the opportunity to keep them safe, remind them they are loved, encourage their passions, and warn them away from things that might do them harm.
Parenting an Adult Child
That’s not to say there won’t be setbacks. There may be moments when it seems like your child will never speak to you again, let alone do anything you suggest. And in some cases, things could take a bad turn if your child starts drinking or experimenting with drugs. If that happens, however, your role as the parent means you can step in and make sure your child gets the help they need. Odds are, they won’t be terribly happy about this at the time, but having them resent you for a short period of time sure beats letting them fall victim to the long-term impacts of a substance use disorder.
Of course, the parenting challenges change once your child is an adult. You will never stop thinking of them as your child—whether they are in their 20s, 30s, 40s, or beyond, but you won’t always be able to step in and help like you could when they were younger.
Learning that your adult child has a substance use disorder can be truly troubling. You will naturally want to help. You may even feel the urge to wield some of your parental authority to insist that your child gets treatment right away. But your parental authority is more like parental influence these days. You can nudge them toward treatment, but you probably can’t demand it.
Here, then, are some tips for helping your adult child who is struggling with drugs or alcohol.
Remind Yourself Your Child Is an Adult
This first bit of advice might seem both obvious and impossible. But if you are going to be a positive influence on your adult child, you must remember that they are making their own choices now.
Sometimes an adult child will blame their parents for their substance use problems as an adult. While it is certainly the case that adverse childhood experiences (or ACEs) have been linked to the development of substance use disorders later in life, in most cases it is unfair for an adult child to lay their problems at their parents’ feet. If they have the ability to make their own choices, they cannot say that those choices were somehow predetermined by something you did years ago. Don’t let your adult child shift the responsibility for their problem from themselves to you.
Don’t Let Your Desire to Help Morph Into Enabling Behavior
It is only natural to want to help your child as they struggle with a substance use disorder. But it’s all too easy to let helping slide into enabling. What’s the difference?
Helping someone means doing or assisting with things the person cannot do on their own. Enabling, on the other hand, means taking on activities or allowing behaviors for which the person should be taking personal responsibility.
Helping might mean, for example, researching a variety of treatment options with your child. Perhaps they need help figuring out how they are going to pay for treatment or arrange childcare or tell their boss they need some time off. If their addiction has begun to affect their thought processes, your help sorting out the details may be truly necessary.
But helping becomes enabling if, for example, you are propping your child up financially after they have lost their job as a result of their substance use disorder. Enabling might also take the form of looking the other way when your child pours themselves a drink at your home because you think it is better for them to be drinking in your presence than in a bar or at home alone.
Setting boundaries is part of helping and a critical part of avoiding the temptation to enable your child to continue using drugs or alcohol.
Know the Facts About Substance Use Disorders
A substance use disorder is a brain disease that can be treated but not cured. As a parent of an adult child with an addiction, it’s important to keep this fact in mind.
Why? Because many times people assume that drug or alcohol use is a failure of willpower or a lack of sufficient faith or a character flaw. If you believe these myths, you are far more likely to be judgmental and to try to coerce your adult child into showing more backbone, into praying more fervently, or to stop embarrassing the family. This approach to trying to help your adult child is built on a foundation of judgment. As a result, it is unlikely to provide the support your child needs to build a lasting recovery.
Nudge Your Adult Child Our Way
We know you probably wish you could solve your child’s substance use disorder issues on your own. That’s what parents do—they help their kids. But recovery from a substance use disorder requires professional care grounded in both evidence-based approaches and compassion. At French Creek Recovery Center, we can help your adult child put substance use in their past as they work toward a better present and future. Use your parental influence to nudge your child our way, and we will get to work.