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Tips for Parents: Helping an Addicted Child


Whether you are a biological parent or a guardian of a child, you are most likely willing to go to any lengths to protect that person from danger, illness, and injury. Furthermore, experiencing a child battling the disease of addiction can leave families unprepared for the consequences. According to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 74% of adults participating in a substance abuse treatment program started using drugs or alcohol before the age of 17. 

If your child is at risk for developing an addiction, you may feel sad, confused, ashamed, and unsure where to look for help. Here is a list of the best tips for parents who are trying to help an addicted child. Applying these strategies and tips can provide your child with a foundation that ultimately supports their treatment and lifelong sobriety.

How Can You Help Your Addicted Child?

Anytime a loved one is struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, the effects take a major toll on you and your family. You may find yourself on a constant emotional roller coaster, experiencing the highs but mostly lows of your child’s addiction. Loving an addict may ultimately lead to feelings of blame, hopelessness, and even shame. As parents of addicts, developing healthy boundaries and coping mechanisms are vital to preserving your own wellness, healthy family dynamics, and ultimately help your addicted child. 

Here are some of the tips you can keep in mind if you are the parent of an addict:

Maintain Open Communication

Most individuals who are struggling with addiction are often manipulative and use deceitful tactics to preserve his/her addiction. These particular actions might wreak havoc on your relationship with your child – as well as the dynamics within your family unit. A key way to strengthen and rebuild this relationship is to establish open and assertive communication. Open communication can help you spot the early signs of addiction and respond in appropriate ways. The best questions are open-ended and nonjudgmental. This specific type of communication will allow your child to express his/her concerns, struggles, hopes, and goals. 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse provides additional tips to improve communication with your addicted child. When communicating with your addicted child you should try to:

  • Display a sense of acceptance and understanding
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Remain engaged and focused
  • Be kind and respectful
  • Reduce distractions
  • Focus on the good
  • Diminish negative or overly emotional reactions

Create and Reinforce Consistent Guidelines

Establishing consistent guidelines sets clear expectations for your child regarding acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. It is important that you maintain consistent rules that are correlated with negative consequences for negative behaviors and positive outcomes for positive behaviors to combat their addiction. It is always a great idea to collaborate with your addicted child when setting rules and boundaries. This will ensure that all parties have a say regarding the consequences of behaviors. 

A beneficial suggestion is to read a list of cause and effect statements – if (action) happens, (response) will be the consequence. This will help your addicted child understand the guidelines and boundaries in place. Inconsistency will render these guidelines ineffective. Therefore, it is imperative that you maintain consistency when responding to the behaviors discussed. 

Encourage Positive Behaviors and Treatment

Focusing on mistakes and poor decisions made by your addicted child will diminish confidence, lower self-esteem, eliminate the motivation to seek positive behaviors, and decrease your child’s sense of power. These effects can ultimately fuel continued substance use disorder. It is important that you acknowledge and praise the positives while also encouraging your child’s desirable behaviors.

Encouragement and positive reinforcement build a sense of teamwork and cooperation while reducing conflict and resentment within your family. Praising your child for their positive behaviors enables him/her to:

  • Engage in new, healthy activities
  • Establish more appropriate peer relationships
  • Persevere through challenges
  • Create an open line of communication
  • Adopt positive coping skills
  • Feel empowered to make positive choices

Set Firm Boundaries

Guidelines are a set of rules that are based on behaviors, whereas boundaries are the non-negotiables or the things you will and will not do for your child. This is a great way to teach your child reasonable ways for people to treat them and how they should treat others. Addicts are notorious for testing boundaries, especially the boundaries of their loved ones. It is important for you to establish your boundaries when things are calm so you can think rationally about what is acceptable and what is not. This will ultimately help you avoid inconsistency when you are being tested or manipulated by your addicted child. 

Here are a few questions you should consider when setting firm boundaries with your addicted child:

  • How do you expect to be treated by your child?
  • Are you willing to sacrifice your needs for the wants of your child?
  • What level of substance abuse are you willing to accept, if any?
  • Are you willing to lie or compromise your morals for your child?
  • Are you willing to enable your child to continue his/her addictive behaviors?

Practice Self Care

Most importantly, you must practice self-care when helping an addicted child. Self-care is the act of making yourself and your needs a priority. This is an essential component that parents of addicted children must implement into their daily lives. As you attempt to help your addicted child, your stress, resentments, and exhaustion might turn into burnout. If you are not taking the time to care for yourself, it will be almost impossible for you to properly help your addicted child. 

Increased stress for caretakers of addicts can present itself as a number of physical and mental health conditions such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Obesity
  • Reduced immune system (making you susceptible to illness)
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Heart disease
  • Memory and attention problems

Getting Help for Your Addicted Child

When attempting to get your child to participate in drug and alcohol recovery, it is important that you are educated on addiction, the type of substance abuse, and treatment options. Our compassionate team at Agape Treatment Center offers a family program to educate families about the disease of addiction and to facilitate healing for not only the addict but the entire family unit. Participation in our individualized family program may initially bring up feelings of anxiety and stress, but we assure you that over time, you will have a sense of relief, renewed hope, and realistic expectations about recovery. If you are looking to help an addicted child, give us a call today!

Call the Agape Treatment Center admissions team at 888-614-0077 to learn more about what our addiction and mental health facilities can do for you or your loved one.

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