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When people develop drug or alcohol addictions, the effects of substance dependence extend to their families. Parents of addicts suffer pain and stress. They may face financial hardships when trying to help their child. Often, they experience shame and feel like they’re struggling alone. Even if their child is an adult, parents don’t stop feeling like parents. They want to find the best ways to help their child. At the same time, they need support and understanding.
What Do Parents of Addicts Go Through?
Parents of Addicts Experience Fear
For many reasons, parents of adult addicts worry intensely about their child. Between 1999 and 2019, roughly 841,000 people in the U.S. died of drug overdoses. In 2020, overdose deaths reached a record high of over 93,000.
Drug misuse often leads to a range of short-term and long-term health problems, such as damage to the heart, brain, and liver. The psychological effects may include depression and aggressive, unpredictable behavior. Parents also fear the consequences for their child’s life. They worry about their child losing relationships, getting fired, dropping out of an academic program, going into debt, or landing in jail.
Feelings of Anger and Betrayal
When confronted with their adult child’s addiction, parents often feel angry at their child, at themselves, and at anyone involved in their child’s drug use. For example, they may be furious with their child’s friends or with a doctor who handed out a certain prescription.
Parents also feel devastated and betrayed by their child’s behavior. In many cases, addicts lie to their loved ones. When trying to hide their addiction and pretend that everything is fine, they resort to dishonesty. Furthermore, addicts may steal from their parents to sustain a drug habit. They may borrow money on false pretenses or help themselves to money from a parent’s wallet or purse.
Effects of Grief
When people develop a drug addiction, their personalities may change in various ways. They may become more irritable, emotionally volatile, or secretive. Since their addiction consumes their thoughts, they behave selfishly and neglect their obligations and relationships.
Parents may feel as if they no longer recognize their child. They think about how their child used to be healthier, happier, and more honest, and they wonder whether that person is totally lost now.
The destruction of the parent-child relationship is another source of grief. Addiction eats away at closeness, trust, and emotional warmth. Parents agonize over the possibility that addiction will lead to estrangement.
Shame and Guilt
When confronted with their child’s addiction, parents may wonder about their own actions. They think about how they’ve behaved as parents and try to find connections between their own decisions and their child’s drug misuse.
Even if their self-blame is inaccurate or simplistic, they may still feel guilty. They think about what-if scenarios, things they could have done differently. In some cases, the parents themselves either currently have a drug problem or used to have one. Their own drug misuse intensifies the guilt they feel over their child’s addiction.
Due to the stigma around drug addiction, parents often feel ashamed about their child’s struggles with drug abuse and dependence. Even when keeping silent causes more harm than good, they may try to hide the addiction in their family and avoid looking for support.
Parents may also face social and financial repercussions from their child’s drug misuse. A loss of reputation can hurt a family business, damage friendships, and lead to rejection from certain social circles.
Personal Neglect and Stress-Related Problems
As parents try to figure out how to help a drug addict son or daughter, they often neglect themselves. Since they’re under so much stress, they may lose sleep, and their diet may deteriorate. They may put off medical appointments, cut themselves off from social activities, and skip exercising. As a result, parents of addicts become more vulnerable to illnesses. From heart problems to chronic anxiety, they suffer damage to their physical and mental health.
What Are the Best Ways to Provide Support for Parents of Addicts?
One of the best ways to help parents of addicts is through a high-quality support group. Some people don’t realize that they can join groups specifically for parents and other relatives. They incorrectly assume that groups exist only for the addicts themselves.
What can parents expect from a support group? It depends on the kind of group they join. The factors to consider include the:
- Size of the group.
- Location of the meetings. Groups generally aim for in-person meetings, but some offer online options.
- People organizing and running the meetings
In peer-led support groups, the facilitator isn’t a licensed therapist or counselor. This is a typical model for support groups and can work well. However, parents may also want to consider a group run by a mental health professional, especially someone experienced in working with addicts and their families.
The Importance of Support Groups for Parents of Addicts
Sometimes, parents hesitate to attend a support group, because they’re afraid of exposing family secrets, or they’re worried that the group will pressure them to talk. In a well-run group, safety and confidentiality are paramount. Also, there’s no pressure to speak. Attendees choose when they speak and how much they share.
Even when parents don’t share at a meeting, they benefit from hearing other participants’ stories. They witness the raw emotion of other parents, and they realize that they’re not alone. They’re among people who understand the pain of having a drug-addicted child. They gain insight into how to deal with a drug addict daughter or son.
When parents do share, they tend to feel relief. Finally, they’re among people who respond with empathy. In the safe environment of a meeting, they don’t fear insulting and ignorant comments or an outpouring of harsh judgment.
Parents may become so focused on their child’s well-being that they neglect their own mental health. When trying to cope with a child who’s addicted to drugs, parents may suffer from anxiety and depression.
In some cases, they also develop post-traumatic stress. For example, if they’ve ever witnessed an overdose or suffered a violent attack from their child, they may experience post-traumatic stress symptoms, such as flashbacks.
During individual therapy, parents can focus on their own needs. They can speak freely to the therapist without fear of judgment or exposure. Even if some of their thoughts are dark and unpleasant, a therapist won’t experience shock. They’re professionals who know how to listen to and respond to various confessions.
Many times, parents of addicts bottle up their anger and frustration. Releasing these emotions in a safe environment can be helpful. Therapists can also share insights on how to handle the child’s behavior, maintain healthy boundaries, and strengthen relationships.
Addiction and other mental health issues don’t occur in a vacuum. One way for parents to receive support is through family therapy, which works on unhealthy relationship dynamics.
Parents may attend family therapy with their drug-addicted child. Other family members may also participate.
The issues covered in family therapy include:
- Improving communication
- Working on healthier conflict resolution
- Giving support to the addicted child without enabling harmful behavior
- Addressing long-standing issues, such as financial problems, marital strain, and emotional abuse
Even if an addicted child refuses to attend family therapy, parents and other relatives may still find benefits in meeting with a therapist. They may wind up resolving certain problems and developing stronger relationships. They may also become more hopeful about reaching out to the addicted child, reconciling with them, and helping them seek effective treatment.
Self-care habits are a key coping strategy for parents of addicts. Although self-care routines don’t make all the stress and hardships go away, they do help parents become healthier and stronger.
When parents care for themselves, they make an effort to treat their own medical or psychological problems. They work on developing healthier habits, such as exercising regularly, eating nutritious food, and aiming to get enough sleep.
Another aspect of self-care is knowing when to take a break. Even if they feel like they’re in crisis mode, parents can’t remove all enjoyable or relaxing activities from their lives. These activities can be simple pleasures, such as going for a walk, sitting quietly in a garden, or watching a movie for some light escapism.
Parents sometimes skip these pleasures because they feel guilty. They wonder how they can enjoy themselves when their child is struggling. However, depriving themselves of all enjoyable experiences won’t lead to better outcomes for their child. It won’t make parents stronger and more effective.
Contact Lifetime Recovery Today
If you’re the parent of an addicted child, you deserve support and understanding. You need to work with people who will help you become stronger and give you guidance about how to respond to your child.
The professionals on our team are highly trained, compassionate, and experienced. We’re available to offer support to you, your child, and other family members. Our approach is personalized and addresses your specific needs. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
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https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/deaths/index.html https://www.aafp.org/news/health-of-the-public/20210806overdosedeaths.html https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/health-consequences-drug-misuse/introduction https://www.drugabuse.gov/international/abstracts/characteristics-drug-dependent-people https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/noras-blog/2020/04/addressing-stigma-surrounds-addiction