Counseling for Parents of Drug Addicts
Most experts agree that addiction is a family disease. When one family member is addicted to drugs or alcohol, the physical and emotional health of the entire family is negatively impacted. As words and actions of addicted loved ones hurt those closest to them, family members often respond with anger, fear, and resentment, weakening the family unit.
Counseling can provide the tools, skills, and resources needed to guide the addicted person to recovery and heal the family.
Parents and Addicted Children
Parents can unwittingly play a powerful role in supporting the addictive behavior of their children, enabling it to continue. This applies to children of any age, including adult children.
How Parents Enable Addiction
Although well-intentioned, parents who protect their children from the consequences of addictive behavior are reducing the incentive for the addicted person to change their behavior. By allowing children to avoid responsibility for their own actions, the addictive behavior is tacitly approved.
When parents do the following for their child, they are enabling addictive behavior:
- Lie or make excuses for their behavior to keep peace in the house, to keep them out of trouble, or to prevent others from thinking poorly of them
- Take care of responsibilities they should be attending to themselves
- Loan money or otherwise bail them out of financial trouble
- Blame the addiction on something or someone else – divorce, illness, loneliness, the people they socialize with
- Fail to say “no” when an addicted child requests something the parent doesn’t agree with
- Make threats or set boundaries, but fail to follow-through
Multiple studies support a higher risk of addiction in the children of an addicted parent. This can be especially problematic if the parent is an enabler. However, if the addicted parent is in recovery, and has a solid understanding of addiction, they are in a good position to help their child recover, rather than enable the behavior.
Counseling and Education for Parents of Addicted Children
Parents are often confused and angry as to why their addicted loved one does not simply stop the behavior that is causing so much pain and destruction. They do not understand that addiction is a chronic disease. Counseling and education enable parents and other family members to better understand the nature of addiction, how drugs and alcohol cause changes to the brain, and how difficult it is to break the cycle.
When education and family counseling are combined with support group participation, family members stay healthier and are better equipped to guide their addicted loved one to treatment and through recovery.
Understanding How Addiction Affects the Brain
When drugs enter the body, they cause an increase in dopamine, a chemical that regulates emotional responses like pleasure, joy, and motivation. Although these responses also occur naturally in reaction to a positive experience, drugs trigger a more intense response.
When drugs are used regularly, the brain adapts to their presence and begins to require greater amounts of the drug to deliver the desired response. This is called tolerance and often leads to addiction. Once tolerance sets in, withdrawal symptoms will likely occur if drug use stops.
Eventually, the brain may become incapable of producing a pleasure response without drugs. In a desperate attempt to overcome feelings of sadness or depression, the addicted person may be driven to seek out drugs in order to feel good or even “normal.” At this point, it is especially difficult for the addicted individual to give up the one thing that makes them feel happy.
When parents understand how drugs affect the brain, they also understand why their child is lacking in motivation to change the behavior. Counseling helps parents in this understanding and provides the tools parents need to help their addicted child recover.
Counseling can help parents:
- Understand the nature of drug addiction to better support recovery of the child, and to facilitate healing of the family
- Understand how best to guide the child to a treatment program and support them throughout recovery
- Understand the warning signs of relapse, and how to develop a relapse prevention plan
- Strengthen communication and rebuild trust with an addicted child and within the family
- Set and maintain healthy boundaries
- Learn personal stress management techniques
The National Institute on Drug Abuse provides an excellent guide called Positive Parenting Prevents Drug Abuse, which discusses parenting skills effective in preventing drug use or in stopping the progression of drug use in children.
Support Groups for Parents of Addicted Children
In addition to family counseling, all family members can benefit from regular attendance at 12 step or other support group meetings. The group setting is designed to offer a safe place for any member to discuss what they’re going through, and to know they’re not alone. Group members are often able to provide much-needed hope to families that recovery is indeed possible, both for the addicted person and for the family.
Many support groups offer both in-person and online meetings. Some family support groups include:
- Parents of Addicted Loved Ones (PAL) – Christian-run non-profit for parents who have children that are addicted to drugs or alcohol. PAL groups are run by peers and consist of both an educational and a sharing component.
- Nar-Anon – 12-step program for the family and friends of people who are addicted to drugs.
- Families Anonymous – a 12-step program for family members of people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol or have related behavioral health conditions.
- Grief Recovery After Substance Passing (GRASP) – provides support to those who have lost someone they love to addiction and overdose.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – a peer-led support group for those with a loved one who has a mental health condition.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides a National Helpline for individuals and families seeking resources for substance use or mental disorders.
What You Can Do to Help
It’s terrifying to believe your child is using drugs, and difficult to know where to turn for help. If you’ve tried talking to your child and they deny there is a problem or refuse to seek treatment, talk to a professional for guidance. Addiction rehabilitation specialists are uniquely qualified to guide you and your loved one through the treatment and recovery process.
Seek counseling for yourself. Learn how to develop healthy boundaries, improve communication within your family, and how to help your child avoid relapse. Counseling provides you with the tools you need to promote healing within your family.
Our goal at Midwest Recovery Centers is to not only treat those with drug and alcohol dependence but to provide education, counseling, and support for families. Contact us today to start your family’s recovery journey.
Reviewed and Assessed by
Taylor Brown, B.A.Com., MAADC II
Tim Coleman, M. of Ed.