A Child’s Drug Addiction: Caring for Yourself First in Order to Care for Someone Else

Many parents who have a child struggling with substance use notice that these concerns start to consume huge amounts of time and energy. As you’ve probably experienced, under the best of circumstances with kids, it’s hard to carve out space to focus on yourself. When your child and your family is dealing with something as complicated and anxiety-provoking as substance abuse, it can feel impossible to have room for anything other than trying to help, reacting to the latest crisis, and dealing with all the “have tos” minute to minute, day to day.

In this environment, taking care of yourself falls to the bottom of the list, if it makes the list at all! However, even though it might be the furthest thing from your mind (e.g. how can I go to the movies when I’m worried my child might be out getting high again?), finding some room to focus on self-care is really vital if you are going to be and remain helpful to your child and the rest of your family. This is about resisting your instincts to put your life aside by going into emergency/panic mode.

This is a long-term project; a marathon, not a sprint. Similar to running a marathon, you need to keep your energy reserves up and pace yourself for the long and sometimes bumpy road ahead. We are not being touchy-feely psychologists when we say this. We are trying to help you be tactical in the midst of a difficult struggle, and it matters. Try to keep in mind what they say on planes before takeoff: if the oxygen masks are needed, resist the urge to put it on others before you put it on yourself. Many people have the impulse to help their loved ones BEFORE they help themselves. But the oxygen recommendation is not that you alone use it; it’s to make sure you are getting at least some oxygen, and don’t entirely ignore yourself. Without attention to this, the “helpers” (that’s you) get lost along the way (“lack of oxygen”), and can’t guide, direct, think, and help anymore.

We also realize that no one wants to hear that the problem they are facing is likely to be a long haul as opposed to a short crisis. We do know, however, that taking care of YOU will help YOU ALL stay healthy as you navigate this, and will also help you be as effective as possible in working on all the challenges involved in trying to help your child.

We recommend that you spend some time each week doing something that makes you feel good, relaxed, content, soothed — something that’s a WANT, not a SHOULD. We recommend that each week, you take a few minutes to review how your self-care is going and to set reasonable, SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely) for taking care of yourself in the week ahead. You might find yourself wondering how in the world you can make this a priority when you have so many other, more urgent demands to attend to. We ask you to try, because the oxygen mask metaphor is true: you won’t be any good to anyone else if you are not taking care of you.

What’s your SMART self-care goal for this week?

Self-Care Isn't Just For Yourself

You can help your child better by learning to take care of yourself, and manage all of the complicated emotions that go with caring for a child struggling with substance use.

Checklist: Taking Care of Yourself

CMC: Foundation for Change is a nonprofit organization staffed by addiction professionals with one mission: to provide help and hope to the families of those struggling with substances. They are devoted to training parents in effective strategies to help their children who are struggling with substance use, and improve the functioning and health of the whole family. There is a wealth of research-supported and clinically-tested information for families about how they can help a loved one change behaviors while staying connected and staying positive. Families can learn these skills and succeed in helping their loved one.

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    December 24, 2015 at 6:43 PM

    Hello, I am new to this site.I have a 34 year old son that has done drugs since his teen age years.He and my ex do meth togeather.I have a sister addicted to pills, thou she would never admit she has a problem.Her son is addicted to herion.Another sister is ten years sober and looking to have a liver transplant, her son has 5 years clean and sober.My brother died of drinking to much.My parents rarely drank.Maybe 4th of July and Christmas.I enjoyed reading all of your experences.I have 18 years sober and no drugs since I was 25, I am 54 now.I quick smoking in 2006 and I just know I am told to keep doing what I am doing .Working on My sobriety.Stay in the light and the rest will follow.They mean my son will find his way.I can only hope and pray for this to be true.Lori

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    September 22, 2015 at 6:16 PM

    I go on with my life however my 26 year old SMART, BEAUTIFUL daughter hooked on heriion is NEVER OFF mind. It eats at me day and night that she would throw so much away, she has so much to offer this world. J often wonder if what I do for her is helpful or hurtful . She has cased our family so much Heart ache and pain and has finacially broken us. I find myself both Loving and hating her at the same time. She has caused so much frustration and anger in the family, I know my Love is much stronger then any Hate. I know I DONT HATE HER, I hate what she is doing to herself and our family. We need help and no one has the answers tub help us change her, only SHE can change Her. And we HOPE and PRAY she DOES

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    January 12, 2014 at 9:35 PM

    I am the Mum of a 21yr old now Meth / P Addict. My daughter has had a bit to do with drugs since her teens, Last year things changed. She left her job and went downhill from there, she no longer has job interviews or dresses well, she is so untidy it drives me insane, I found a box of syringes which answers my questions about her nasty moods. She has cost me thousands of dollars (which was for a house deposit), she sold my partners camera and she leaves her stuff where ever she goes. She lost her laptop that I am still paying off. She has no respect for a car that I pay to be on the road. I cannot stand a certain group of people she associates with and it drives me insane. I am trying so hard to keep a relationship with my daughter and it is so hard. I cannot accept what she is doing. I get so hurt with the way I speak and handle things. I’m glad I came across this site and found that there are other people facing the same problems. I just want my baby girl back, we had such a good relationship, now its hard to be in the same room when she is on a comedown or high. I am just used. I would never see her live on the street, Its really difficult to cope and so depressing. I don’t know how this will get better. So much for paying attention to my own job today, while I surf the internet looking for a magic cure for my beautiful daughter who is now owned by a syringe. How do you really think positive and look at it as a disease.. Even trying to go away for a couple of days is distressing, Don’t trust leaving her the house anymore.

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    July 19, 2013 at 1:44 AM

    Just as when you bring your newborn home during those first few weeks; you need to have time to rest in order to properly care for your baby and many new mothers get help from family. It’s just as important when they’re older to maintain this and make time for yourself so you can continue being the best you can.

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    July 12, 2013 at 1:32 AM

    Gee, I never really thought about taking care of one’s self first and foremost.
    We as mothers are so focused on our children, that it is nearly impossible to think about anything other than THEM.

    thank you for insight and letting parents understand that there needs to be room for YOU. I think this would help you to be a better parent and couselor. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the problems that we are unable to see clearly and may overreact.
    Thanks for the insight!

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