You are not alone. That might be one of the most important truths you need to hear as you deal with the child or family member who has a substance use disorder. As a parent, your priority is always the health and wellness of your child. But the reality is, it is also crucial for you to find and pursue your own path of education, support, and freedom from the shame and/or guilt associated with your child’s substance use disorder in order to be there for them. It is through emotional and relational growth and support that parents are then equipped to love their child in a way that encourages them to seek recovery, while also relinquishing control of their child’s choices. Al-Anon encourages all who have addicted loved ones to remember: You didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it. But… you can contribute, and we invite you to learn more about how you can contribute positively.
You didn’t cause it.
“Addiction is not a moral deficiency or failure of willpower.”
“When we focus on changing the way we help our loved one, rather than trying to change them, it gives us realistic hope.”
You can’t control it.
You can’t cure it.
“I will always love you but how I help you has to change.”
“It’s often a family disease where everybody has a role, and if everyone is in recovery together then the family can get healthy quicker.” —Kristen Smith, Counselor
But you can contribute.
Addiction, the severe form of a Substance Use Disorder (SUD), is a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive substance-seeking and use despite harmful consequences. This can ultimately lead to a change in how the brain functions and is diagnosed by assessing cognitive, behavioral, and psychological symptoms.
It is common for parents to feel responsible for their child’s substance use disorder. No parents are perfect and we have all made mistakes along the way. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking those parenting mistakes caused the problem. Believing this can lead a parent to over-helping, repeated attempts of manipulation and control and emotional withdrawal. The truth is, the parents did not cause the substance use disorder. Learning to let go of the guilt and shame as a parent is critical to learning how to act in healthy ways with your child.
This disease is a deadly cycle that claims the minds and lives of individuals all around us. It is important to know that individuals struggling are not capable of setting down the substance regardless of how much they want to. This is due to the power that substance use disorder has on the mind as well as the body. Addiction is not a moral deficiency or failure of willpower. It is crucial for those who have loved ones struggling with substance use to understand the facts about substance use disorder as well as how they can play the most positive role possible.
“Why Won’t They Stop?” is a common question that loved ones ask. It is important as a parent or other family member to understand that if your child has a substance use disorder, they will most likely not be able to stop on their own without outside help.
Addiction is not a moral deficiency or a failure of willpower or a marker of laziness. It is also untrue that people who abuse substances just don’t want sobriety badly enough.
For people without a substance use disorder, a healthy capacity for judging choices and consequences is present because the parts of the brain responsible for discernment are not impaired. For people with drug and/or alcohol problems, impairment in those parts of the brain means that despite their vivid memories of consequences, they still often perpetuate the same behaviors in active addiction.
Watching your loved one continue in this cycle is painful and can be a long process. When you are in this position, it is easy to feel helpless and hopeless. However, healing for your loved one many times begins with your personal healing. Art Wimberly speaks on attending Parents of Addicted Loved Ones meetings, “I began to realize that recovery was just as much about me as it was about the children.” As a parent, your priority is the health and wellness of your child. But the reality is, it is also crucial for you to find and pursue your own path of education, support, and freedom from the shame and/or guilt associated with your child’s substance use disorder in order to be there for them. It is through emotional and relational growth and support that parents are equipped to love their child in a way that encourages them to seek recovery, while also relinquishing control of their child’s choices.
If we think we caused it, this will impact what we do now including:
- Over helping
- Hard hearted
When approaching the difficult topic of Substance Use Disorder, parents must unlearn some of the natural tendencies and rules as parents in order to prevent their children from being equipped for greater substance use. Parents are most likely not the primary change agent in their loved ones’ recovery process. It is usually through a combination of the child’s journey, outside resources, their sponsor, friends, and legal issues that ultimately will catalyze change. Although this loved one may be acting like a child, they must be treated like their age, as an adult who must make decisions on their own and carry the responsibilities those bring. This reality is a difficult truth to recognize and live out of and it can often feel like letting your child make these decisions on their own is not loving them. However, no one has access to the mind of a person struggling with SUD, except for that person and they are the only ones who can make the decision to choose health. Parents can assume the role of cheerleader, encouraging them to seek help and do what is best, however making the decision for them statistically is not effective.
Additionally, it is important to know that additional boundaries may need to be set in place to ensure that you and your loved one have a healthy relationship so that you are able to do what is best for them. It is important to remember that your loved one who is struggling with substance abuse is not healthy or themselves and they will be selfish with the ways they interact in all their relationships because everything stems back to the substance and the dependence on it. As a result they will continue to take from you unless you establish boundaries.
- Supporting financially. Even though struggling adult children may have realistic financial needs, providing the funds will most likely still be used to purchase drugs and alcohol. Although they may see their need to pay for other necessities, the substance will always come first. You providing them money is only equipping them in their self-destructive behavior.
- Using substances with adult children. Studies have shown that social support is a large component to recovery for those struggling with substance use. When households or gatherings contain many substances or individuals using, it can encourage negative behavior in the individual who is struggling. It can be tempting to use drugs or alcohol with your adult child in attempts to bond and relate to them or win them over. However, this only depletes your influence in their life, coming to alter your moral standing and encourage the behavior in your child even more.
- Allowing them to live in your home. There may come a time when having your child live under your roof is no longer beneficial for them and only equipping them and their destructive behavior. Although it is difficult to see your Child make difficult life choices, continuing to allow them to live at home when they are active in substance abuse and refuse to seek treatment is not a healthy way to love them.
- Tolerating Disrespect. SUD has dramatic effects on the body and mind. People who struggle with addiction may become abusive and have hurtful behavior toward their loved ones, regardless of their relationship to that person. Although it can be easy to understand the source of their hurtful behavior and know that they are capable of good, it is never excusable for you to be walked over.
As Parents come to a place of acceptance of believing they did not cause it, they can’t control it and they can’t cure it… that then leads them to contemplating their contribution into this situation.
Parents can choose the path of continuing in a cycle of insanity trying to manipulate and control our loved one, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result or, they can set our sights on contributing positively.
In order to shift focus, one can benefit from doing more self-care and focusing on our own mental and emotional health. This includes individual counseling, joining a parent support group, joining Al-Anon and doing our own recovery work and shifting our focus to all of the other relationships we want to invest in.
At first, this feels strange or even ‘wrong’ not to be focused on the person struggling with SUD all of the time because many times they are still in crisis. But over time, we see that it is important for parents to get grounded and become more healthy so that they can love them from a healthy place. The goal can be to become more realistic about one’s loved one, but also more optimistic because they know that there is hope and recovery is possible.
We encourage you to look for and take advantage of the resources available to families during this time, as this is such an important part of the overall health of your entire family.
- Drug Free Help Line, Peer Line, and Text Support
- Recovery Resource Center: (205) 458-3377
- Suicide Prevention Helpline: 1(800) 273-8255
- Recovery Organization of Support Specialists: (205) 848-2112
- SAMHSA Treatment Referral Hotline: 1(800) 662-4357
Open to the public (In Person)
Mondays 6:30-8 pm
Double Oak Community Building
112 Olmsted Street, Room C-11
Birmingham, AL 35242
717-314-1918 (Dave Urech, Facilitator)
Thursdays 6:30-8 pm
The Moore Institute (In- Person)
4126 Autumn Lane
Birmingham, AL 35243
205-616-8867 (Art Wimberly, Facilitator)
UAB Medicine Addiction Recovery Program Family Support Group
Thursday evenings 5-6:30 (Virtual)
Open to the public
1713 6th Avenue South
2nd Floor, Room C288
205-975-8402 (Mike Martin, Facilitator)
UAB Beacon Recovery
1st 4 meetings Tuesdays 6-7:30pm (Family members only).
Last 4 meetings Thursdays 6-7:30pm (Family members and client).
Open to the public (Virtual)
205-624-8164 (Stephanie Galbreath)
Birmingham Recovery Center Family Support Group
Open to the public (In Person)
Tuesdays 6-7 pm
2501 International Park Drive
Birmingham, AL 35243
205-813-7400 (Ian Henyon, LPC)
Dealing with a Spouse in Addiction:
PAL Books and Resources:
Six steps to help you addicted child:
Cathy T Online Program for Parents:
For more help visit our resource page.