20 Tips for Parents of Addicts in Young Adulthood

There’s nothing more heart-wrenching for a parent to watch than the downfall of their own child, especially when it’s due to addiction.

Deception, betrayal, monstrous hospital bills, ruined finances, squandered chances, lost jobs, and a seemingly endless string of excuses, lies, and deceit can make it feel time after time like there’s nothing you can do. That no amount of love and care can pull them from the depths that addiction has driven them to.

But the truth is, you can help. It’ll just take a few difficult changes on your part first.

This guide points out 20 of the best tips for parents of addicts. They cover everything from enabling and addiction education to getting support, setting expectations, and seeking out professional help.

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Tip #1: Stop Enabling Their Addiction

As hard as it might be to hear, you may actually be making your child’s addiction worse. It’s true. The unconditional love of parenting can often lead to certain behaviors that on their surface, just feel like help in a tough situation.

Maybe you pay your son or daughter’s bills when things get out of control. Or perhaps they rely on you to wake them up in order to get to work every morning (despite being in their 20s or even 30s). Or maybe it’s as simple as not addressing the problem directly (this is a big one).

No matter what these behaviors are, they’re all different forms of enabling – patterns of action on the parent’s part that make it easier for a loved one to keep on using.

With no real consequences to actions, an addict will often never learn how to survive on their own or to get clean.

And that means that as a parent of an addict, it falls to you to identify and eliminate your enabling behaviors. The life of your son or daughter may depend on it.

Part of the problem, though, is learning how to recognize your own enabling behaviors. Below are just a few of the most common.

  • Making excuses for them when they are to impaired or hung over to go to work or school
  • Covering for them when they neglect family obligations
  • Putting up with physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Providing financial support – paying their bills, giving them money, etc.
  • Bailing them out of jail or paying their attorney’s fees
  • Turning a “blind eye” to suspicious behaviors
  • Picking up the slack when they don’t fulfill their responsibilities
  • Hiding their behaviors from other family members
  • Being overly forgiving – even when there is no remorse or apology on the substance abuser’s part
  • Dismissing their behavior as “That’s just the way he(she) is”

Tip #2: Take Care of Yourself

Supporting an active addict can take a serious toll on parents. And many tend to suffer right alongside their children.

Bank account balances dwindle, relationships with friends take a backseat, both mental and physical health deteriorate, and even spouses tend to grow apart as a result.

And to piggyback on the last point, letting yourself suffer in order to take care of your addicted child is actually a form of enabling.

Shifting the focus from their wellbeing towards your own is a step in the right direction. And doing so can help you identify other enabling behaviors that need to be cut out to help promote recovery.

So be sure to get some regular exercise. Make a concerted effort to go see a movie or engage in a hobby you used to love. Meet up with friends. Plan a date night. And start taking better care of yourself.

Tip #3: Understand & Prepare for Denial

Not all addiction looks alike. But one of the most common thread connecting nearly every addict is the fact that they’ll likely deny their substance abuse problem. And they’ll deny it strongly.

In fact, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that among the 17.7 million American adults that needed addiction treatment but didn’t receive it, an astounding 95.5% simply felt that they didn’t need help. That’s 16.9 million people in the U.S. that didn’t get help because they were in complete denial about their addiction.

For a parent in particular, this can pose a unique problem. Parents are naturally predisposed to put their child before everything else. And that means that a mother or father is more likely to believe the words of their son or daughter than most other people.

A child’s denial, then, can be overwhelmingly convincing to a parent.

And that can make it especially easy to spot the signs of addiction.

What you can do is start recognizing the signs that a son or daughter’s denial might be hiding a problem with drugs or alcohol.

Tip #4: Educate Yourself About Addiction

One of the most important things a parent of an addicted son or daughter can do is educate themselves about the disease. And one of the first lessons to learn was in the previous sentence – addiction is an actual disease.

As a physical disease, there are certain things that you can educate yourself about so you know what to expect from your addicted child and how best to help.

For instance, learning that addiction involves compulsive (a.k.a. uncontrollable) drug-seeking can help you better understand the radical change your child may have gone through.

Some of the best places to start researching are:

And have a look at this YouTube channel too. It has videos that cover different treatment approaches, signs and symptoms of addiction, what to expect during recovery, and so much more.  

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Tip #5: Use Positive Reinforcement to Inspire Change

Addiction works on a chemical level in the brain. All addictive substances either directly or indirectly impact the main “pleasure center” in the mind. And since pleasure is actually one of the most powerful forces in guiding learned behaviors, the more pleasure a behavior brings, the more likely someone will be to continue it. This is what addiction stems from.

In that same way, parents of addicts can use this positive reinforcement to help their child actually adopt new and healthier behaviors. These behaviors could include:

  • Attending support group meetings
  • Staying in for the night rather than going out with friends who may be using
  • Going to therapy
  • Spending time with family
  • Communicating promptly

Parents can reinforce these behaviors through a number of ways. For big accomplishments, they can give rewards like gift cards or tickets to an event.

But more importantly, the free reinforcements – like an encouraging comment, a smile or a hug, or even a small act like cooking breakfast for them – can often be the most powerful.

Tip #6: Set Boundaries & Stick to Them

It’s absolutely vital to set boundaries with an addict. And equally important is the fact that you stick to them.

Boundaries are lines that you are determined not to cross. More than just guidelines (which are flexible), these are specific and uncompromising behaviors that you are determined not to perform for the health of the child and the relationship.

And they’re essential when it comes to cutting out enabling behaviors.

Some boundaries that many parents of addicts may want to set include:

  • I will not give you money
  • I will not tolerate being intoxicated in my house
  • I will not allow drugs or drug paraphernalia in my house
  • I will not lie to cover up your addiction
  • I will not bail you out of jail
  • I will not pay your rent

Equally important is communicating these boundaries and not crossing them. If you do, the addict will know that these supposedly “set-in-stone rules” can be broken. And that’ll likely lead to breaking them even more.

Tip #7: Set Reasonable Expectations

Educating yourself about the nature of addiction can go a long way towards understanding what kinds of outcomes are possible for an addict. This is, after all, a chronic disease. And more likely than not, your son or daughter will be struggling with it for a long time.

For example, even with treatment, the average percentage of recovering addicts that end up relapsing is 40 to 60%. That means 2 to 3 of ever 5 addicts will turn back to using at some point in their lives. And understanding that fact can help parents stay vigilant and better react if a relapse does happen.

On top of that, drug-seeking behaviors are uncontrollable in an addict. And according to NIDA:

Brain imaging studies from people addicted to drugs show physical changes in areas of the brain that are critical for judgment, decision-making, learning, memory, and behavior control. Scientists believe that these changes alter the way the brain works and may help explain the compulsive and destructive behaviors of a person who becomes addicted.

Understanding this can go a long way towards tempering expectations.

Tip #8: Encourage Structured Family Time

It’s easy to get caught up in the activities of the day. And with iPads, TVs, phones, and hundreds of other connected things serving as distractions, many families just don’t spend enough time together. And that can cause distance to grow and possible addictions to worsen.

Setting a designated family time, like dinner, is a great way to reconnect with your addicted child if they’re living under the same roof. There’s also church, movie night, or countless other activities that you can perform together.

In the end, making the effort to engage with your addicted son or daughter can go a long way towards re-establishing trust and appreciation in the relationship.

Tip #9: Don’t Fall for the “Rock Bottom” Myth

Most people are under the impression that an addict has to hit “rock bottom” – the lowest of their lows – before they’ll enter into treatment. Maybe they’ll have to overdose before realizing just how destructive their addiction has become. Or perhaps they need to lose their job, their loved ones, and everything else they care about before they’ll change their ways.

Otherwise, they won’t ever voluntarily check into a professional treatment program.

And while this type of thinking is incredibly pervasive today, the truth of the matter is that hitting rock bottom is not a necessity.

According to the Principles of Effective Treatment from NIDA, “Treatment does not need to be voluntary to be effective.” The agency states that:

Sanctions or enticements from family, employment settings, and/or the criminal justice system can significantly increase treatment entry, retention rates, and the ultimate success of drug treatment interventions.

And while it’s important to remember that there’s only so much that you can do to help, it’s important that treatment can begin at any stage of addiction. That means that people in the earliest stages can benefit from treatment just as much as those in the later, more destructive ones too.

On top of that, believing the rock bottom myth can actually prevent some parents from getting their children the help they need early on. This is an especially big problem because the longer addiction continues to go on unchecked, the harder it can be to quit.

The takeaway here, then, is that the earlier you take steps to convince them to seek out treatment, the better.

Tip #10: Stay Open to Communication

Some situations may call for cutting off a loved one. But rarely should that mean ceasing all forms of communication entirely.

The support of a family unit can go a long way towards helping an addict get treatment and accept a sober lifestyle. And not responding to calls, texts, or other means of reaching out can make the problem worse.

However, this comes with one big caveat: do not allow this communication to lead to broken boundaries. Manipulation is a common tactic among addicts looking for support for their substance abuse. And parents need to be on their guard at all times to make sure they don’t double back on their word.

But keeping these lines of communication open can help you pounce on moments where the addict is actually asking for professional help. And when it comes, you’ll want to be ready.

Tip #11: Embrace the PRESENT

One of the biggest difficulties that parents of addicted children face is the fact that many will always see their son or daughter as a child rather than an adult.

This can make it hard to push them from the nest and learn how to fly on their own. Many parents of addicts end up handling bills, paying off debts, finding jobs, and even cooking for their children because they think they won’t be able to do it by themselves.

But in the case of addicts who are in their 20s and 30s, these behaviors will continue to enable substance abuse.

Realizing, then, that your son or daughter is an adult is key to recovery. Because in making their own mistakes, they learn.

Tip #12: Consider an Intervention

Some situations may call for a structured intervention to get your addicted child back on the right path.

Recently popularized by a number of reality TV shows, interventions force addicts into hearing about the pain and suffering their substance abuse has caused friends and family members. Often these confrontations also are coupled with an ultimatum that they either get help or will be cut off entirely.

However, an intervention is a complex process that requires an enormous amount of planning, forethought, and structure. And they should only be conducted or guided by a certified professional.

Otherwise, they can actually end up doing more harm than good.

Tip #13: Research Resources They Can Use During Recovery

Have a look at some of the best local addiction resources near you here.

These guides point out nearby 12-step programs, other local support groups, guidance for dealing with an overdose, and tips for picking out a professional treatment program.

On top of that, you may also want to be aware of community health programs and housing programs for your city.

Here are a few links to have a look at in Idaho.

Idaho Department of Health and Welfare

Housing Idaho – Emergency & Transitional Housing Providers

Tip #14: Find A Reliable Support Network

With such intense focus on the addicted individual themselves, many parents can often lose sight of the fact that they too need support. But unfortunately, many of these individuals just don’t get it.

And that’s a shame because having a reliable support network can help keep parents from relapsing into old enabling behaviors, educate them on the nature of addiction, and guide their journey to getting their children professional help.

Below are just a few support groups to consider that are dedicated to helping family members of addicts. 

  • Al-Anon – This group is dedicated to supporting those who have been hurt by a loved one’s alcoholism.
  • Nar-Anon – This group is for friends and family members of addicts struggling with any kind of substance abuse. That includes heroin, cocaine, meth, and any other type of addictive substance – even alcohol.
  • Families Anonymous – Though it isn’t affiliated with Al-Anon or Nar-Anon, it offers support and healing for anyone who has been hurt by the substance abuse of someone close to them. 
  • SMART Recovery (Friends & Family meetings) – A non 12-step approach, SMART Recovery uses the latest in addiction research to help friends and family members support their loved ones without enabling their addiction.

Tip #15: Realize You Can’t “Fix” Everything

Going along with Tip #11, it’s critical to realize that you can’t fix everything. Your addicted son or daughter is an adult. And they’re capable of making their own decisions.

As a parent, letting go can feel like abandoning them – like you’re a bad mother or father. And that often leads many to keep enabling their child’s substance abuse.

But even though they may be under the influence of addiction, they need to experience consequences in order to adopt new behaviors and ditch old ones. And ultimately, it’s their decision to get help or not.

You can, however, continue to encourage them to seek out a professional program through positive reinforcement.

Tip #16: Know How to Handle an Overdose

Unfortunately, overdoses are becoming just as common as they are horrific. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that drug overdoses increased by a whopping 316% from 1999 to 2017 – from 16,849 to 70,237.

The problem has gotten so bad that drug overdoses are now the number one killers of Americans under the age of 55.

While no parent would wish an overdose on anyone’s child, the truth of the matter is that it could happen. And with each passing year as the drug epidemic becomes worse and worse, it’s becoming more and more likely.

That’s why it’s important to know how to handle an overdose, even if you are determined never to let it happen to your son or daughter.

And the most crucial step after identifying the signs is getting emergency help by calling 9-1-1. If you do have to leave the side of the victim, be sure to place them into the recovery position. This simple process takes just a minute to perform and can prevent serious and life-threatening complications.

In the case of an opioid overdose, let the 911 operator know if you happen to have Narcan (the nasal spray version of the opioid reversing medication naloxone). And be sure to follow their instructions when administering it.

Operators may also tell you to perform CPR. Be sure you know how to do so correctly using this short guide.

And finally, always give emergency personnel information that is both accurate and honest. Lying about the use of an illegal drug, for instance, can put the life of your son or daughter in serious jeopardy.

Tip #17: Understand Co-Occurring Disorders

Addiction and other mental disorders often go hand in hand. In fact, according to NIDA, “about half of people who experience a mental illness will also experience a substance use disorder at some point in their lives and vice versa.”

These mental disorders can come in many different forms, including:

When a mental disorder occurs alongside a substance use disorder, it’s called having co-occurring disorders/dual diagnosis.

It’s important to recognize that these disorders often make it harder for an addict to quit. And often times, substance abuse actually develops as a way to treat symptoms of these disorders.

Finding a professional facility that has expertise in treating co-occurring disorders is critical to future sobriety for your son or daughter.

Tip #18: Trust the Professionals

There’s a lot of misinformation floating around out there about addiction and how best to treat it. And while it may not be intentionally misleading, spreading false ideas about addiction (e.g., that addiction is a choice) can make recovery much harder than it needs to be.

That’s why it’s important to find a drug rehabilitation or alcohol detox/rehab that knows their stuff.

Talking to an addiction specialist at a qualified program can help you determine the extent of your son or daughter’s addiction and build a plan that will get them the help they need.

Tip #19: Find a Family Therapy Program

Addiction can have a devastating effect on the family as a whole. You probably know this fact firsthand. But one of the leading factors in determining long-term success is whether or not that family is involved in the recovery process.

Family therapy helps facilitate healing within all members of the family, not just the addict themselves. And that means that family members will be in a better position to support the addict throughout their recovery.  

Unfortunately, family therapy hasn’t become a standard model of treatment. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,

Family work has become a strong and continuing theme of many treatment approaches, but family therapy [emphasis added] is not used to its greatest capacity in substance abuse treatment. A primary challenge remains the broadening of the substance abuse treatment focus from the individual to the family.

When professional treatment does become an option that your son or daughter is open to, be sure to seek out a facility that offers a family therapy program. That way, you can work on healing the family unit as a whole and give your child the best chances at staying sober permanently.

Tip #20: Have a Treatment Center Ready

Finally, when it does come time to get your addicted son or daughter the help they need, it’s vital to already have options lined up. Someone who’s addicted to drugs or alcohol can often go through waves of acceptance and denial. And when they do actually accept that they have a problem, it’s important to pounce on that realization and get them help before they reconsider.

With all the different options out there, though (some of which can actually be scams), finding a professional treatment program can be a bit of a daunting experience. And knowing exactly what to look for beforehand can go a long way towards making the process much easier.

Below are just a few of the most important qualities to look for in a professional treatment program.

Northpoint Recovery: Helping Parents of Addicts

At Northpoint Recovery in Boise and Nampa, we know that being the parent of an addict can be exhausting, traumatizing, and incredibly overwhelming. But we also know that with the right help, recovery is possible.

Our 28-day inpatient programs for drug addiction and alcoholism understand the importance of family involvement in the recovery process. And with fully individualized treatment models, we cater to the specific needs of each and every one of our patients.

Plus, we’re nationally accredited by the Joint Commission – a testament to our quality services.

Watching your son or daughter struggle with addiction is hard. And sometimes it might feel like there’s nothing you can do to help. But with the right mindset, the proper guidance, and the help of a professional treatment program, your son or daughter can recover.

And we’d love to help. So contact us today to find out how.

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