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  • Writer's pictureJesse Thornton

Parenting Children with Drug Addiction

Updated: Sep 16, 2021

Watching your child struggle with drug addiction can make any parent feel scared and helpless.  Our sense of responsibility and love for our children drives us to be involved and take control.  However, when it comes to addiction, parents often find themselves without answers.  It is important to remember your entire family when dealing with a drug addicted child.  Take time and make decisions carefully.  Here are important considerations:

Dealing with your child

Confront him/her directly: When talking to your child, whether a minor or adult, remember to be direct with them about your concerns.  Ambivalence and suggestions are easily overlooked by people with drug addiction.  It is important to be clear that you find their behavior unhealthy and unacceptable.  Be direct but not aggressive because this will not be productive.

Get support: Find others who are willing to make a stand with you when you confront your child.  Spouses, siblings, and friends can all provide much needed support when dealing with your child.

Set clear boundaries: It is especially important with drug addicted children to set clear boundaries with them.  Equally important is to enforce consequences when they cross lines.  This often falls into the “tough love” category.  If you do not set clear limits and enforce them, drug addicted children notoriously escalate their behavior over time.

Typical boundaries include: 1) Verbal/physical abuse: do not allow your children to talk or behave in aggressive ways towards you or others in your family.  2) Drug use: draw a clear and hard line about substance use, basically none whatsoever.  3) Friends and locations: while it is difficult to tell your child who to choose as friends, you can certainly tell them that you will not tolerate or support them if they spend time with known drug users or at known drug locations.  4) Active treatment: if your child has agreed to get treatment, you may insist they remain active in their recovery, going to regular AA meetings and remaining active with a therapist.

Limit financial assistance: Parents feel obligated to provide for their children.  However, they do not want to pay for their children’s drug habit.  Instead of giving them money, consider buying them groceries or helping them with a down payment on an apartment.  Be cautious, because they may use their hard earned money for drugs since they no longer have to pay for groceries or rent!  Know your limits and stick to them.  Make financial assistance tied to treatment and urine screens.

Avoid enabling behaviors: People with drug addiction master the skill of manipulation.  They will promise to get help if you give in.  They will plead, cry, and bully.  They will steal and lie.  Drug addiction brings out bad things in a person.  Well-intentioned parents become easy targets for their manipulation and games.  Do your best not to get sucked in.  Parent from your own principles and avoid letting your child direct the conditions of the relationship.

Dealing with yourself and your family

Limit your responsibility: You may feel guilty for your shortcomings as a parent, but your child is either an adult or almost one.  They are old enough to make their own decisions and must take responsibility for their decisions.  If they choose not to get help, then accept their choice and know the limits of your role.

Live your own life: Before you give your entire life over to your child’s drug addiction, make the decision to live your life.  I have seen too many parents lose themselves to their children’s addictions.  It does not help to sacrifice your life and well-being because your child has made poor choices.  I encourage you to separate yourself and enjoy your life.  You do not have to punish yourself because of another person’s choices.

Protect your family: Remember there are others in your family.  Spending too much time caring for an addicted child often neglects other children and marital relationships.  Make sure to give time and attention to your other children.  This is good because it creates a positive atmosphere and rewards healthy living.  A child with drug addiction will see that healthy decisions get rewarded rather than engaging in drug addiction.  Make sure to keep your relationship with your spouse healthy as well.  This is your critical relationship in life.

Find a support group: Talk with other parents who have children with addictions.  You will be surprised to hear many similar stories as your own as well as some that may be different.  They can help you with ideas or support you through hard times.

Get Help

Managing life with a drug addicted child can be overwhelming.  If you and/or family members struggle to handle your child’s addiction, develop a plan with a therapist.  There are no guarantees that you will stop your child from using, but you will know you are doing the best you can for them and for your family.

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