Parenting Your Child Struggling With an Addiction

When you first discover that your child is addicted to drugs, your heart breaks and your stomach churns. What is happening, what did we do wrong?

Our reaction is very personal. As parents, we take immediate ownership of this situation. We refuse to see this problem as it is– an addiction. We make excuses, we develop stories, and of course, we make plans to immediately correct this problem; all in an effort to control the situation. We look for someone to blame. Little do we know that this is an issue unlike anything we have ever experienced.

Addiction is not accepted as an illness for many uneducated about this disease. For too many people, addiction is stigmatized as a weakness of character. As parents of an addict not exposed to addiction, we carry that stigma along with the guilt of our own questionable parenting skills. We cling to the belief that if our child would only make a choice not to use again, then this nightmare would end and everything could be normal again.

Parenting an addict should not be done alone. Addiction is a disease that touches all of those around someone struggling with drugs or alcohol.

As parents, we hid what was going on with our son and wallowed in self pity. We searched the internet for solutions and read books and articles. No matter how many times we searched and tried to help, nothing seemed to work. Our son continued to use and we experienced more stress and more shame.

Finally in desperation, we visited a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. As parents, we stumble, we hedge, we mutter, “my son uses drugs.”


What makes it so hard to say? What makes it so hard to admit? As long as addiction carries a stigma of shame, the healing for this disease will not begin for neither the addict nor the loved one of the addict.

My son is an addict. This statement is freedom, but it is not actually free. This statement comes with tears, heartache and realization that my son is afflicted by a disease with no cure.

By opening your life to others, you allow others to help you and your child. I have found that people will continue to love you even when you are able to open yourself up for help. In fact, by opening up, I have found wonderful friends struggling with the same issue. Without the support of my family and friends, I know we would not be in the position we are in today with our son.

The fact is, if we as individuals and even as a nation continue to treat addiction as our “dirty little secret” and not recognize it as what it truly is, then we will forever struggle to provide the treatment someone struggling with addiction really needs for his or her disease.

My name is Ron and my son is an addict.

Help Your Child Through Someone Else

If your child hears the same information you’re trying to give to him from someone of authority other than you, he may be more inclined to listen.

clip art of teacher nurse and cop

17 Responses

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    May 12, 2014 at 8:52 PM

    The stigma and shame of having a son with addictions has been one of the hardest things to deal with. Living in a conservative Bible belt community where everyone knows one another is great until you have a problem. I know that my son is discussed in coffee shops, among acquaintances, Bible study groups, etc. All in the name of caring. After many years of trying to hide my son’s addiction problems and mental health issues, I finally called a friend to tell her of what we were dealing with. I gave her permission to share this information with our mutual friends and no one else. Since then, I have been approached by others in the community asking about my son. I find this so hard to talk about. I usually lie and say he is doing alright and change the conversation. I feel betrayed, alone, and humiliated to the point where I again do not feel safe to speak about this to anyone. I know our situation is discussed amongst our friends and get the feeling that everyone has an opinion about what we should or shouldn’t do. I find it so difficult to be around others who talk with pride about their children’s accomplishments and what great adults they have become. It feels like a constant slap in the face. I know that I should not take it personally, but yet can’t help but be hurt by their lack of empathy for my situation. I feel like they are trying to tell me, however subtly, that had I been parents like them, my son would not be an addict. I have a sister who really cares for me and listens. I am grateful for that but know that she is getting tired of all the drama involved in having an addict in the family. At the last family gathering attended by all extended family, including my elderly parents, he showed up so high, he could hardly speak. We were so embarrassed. We did not know where to leave ourselves. Everyone was watching us to see how we would react. Later a sister came up to me and said your son didn’t even say goodbye before he left. As if this was our biggest problem at the moment. Left me speechless. We have asked our son to no longer involve us in his life. When he is around us every day is filled with his problems caused by his addictions – relationships with women, car accidents, lack of money, anger issues, trouble with the law, etc…… I wish I could end this note with some words of hope and wisdom, but today is not that day. Maybe someday? God willing.

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    Patti Herndon

    July 23, 2013 at 4:40 PM

    It’s really hard. But, it’s our responsibility as parents/as individuals to address and heal a self-imposed sense of blame, or blame of others, for our beyond difficult circumstances in parenting a child with a substance use disorder.

    It’s important to remember that ‘stigma’ is the predominant reason we/our culture does all that ‘blaming of self’ and blaming of others’ for the presence of an addiction/substance use disorder.

    But, we don’t have to allow stigma to dominate our perspectives and choices regarding addiction/recovery.

    Addiction is beyond difficult. And…it’s a long journey for most people. As parents of children with a substance use disorder,the better-effective coping skills we develop as we journey through addiction, the more our son/daughter comes to develop a pattern of healthier choices, little by little.

    Recovery is a process that takes as long as it takes. And no individual/family’s journey is the same. We need to remember that…

    It’s a healthy thing to recognize that the blaming of self or others is a common dysfunction in our thinking, when it comes to addiction/recovery. As we become more self aware of those patterns of thought that are destructive to recovery, we can take the steps necessary to change our personal narratives, thus our spirit of approach to reflect a self efficacy-building, ’can-do-this’ approach.

    ‘This’ is the kind of spirit of approach that serves recovery. This spirit/personal narrative helps us advocate better effectively on our own behalf, but, also, on behalf of the person who needs advocacy/help ‘the most’ -our son/our daughter.

    When we ruminate on self-blame, the lion’s share of our cognitive and emotional energies are directed inward toward self. Sometimes parents get stuck in this cycle of clinging to their anxiety (blame, worry, shame, fear, resentments, anger) … even to the point of professing that they will ‘never let it go’. Parents are unaware that they are stalled out, emotionally and cognitively exhausted ‘because of’ this negative, anxiety-based pattern of thinking.

    This kind of self-directed energy/anxiety (self blame, blame of anyone -for that matter) doesn’t help us. More importantly, it doesn’t help our child in engaging or maintaining recovery.

    Personal narratives of failure, (i.e. holding ourselves captive to stigma-making narratives that would have us blaming ourselves for our circumstances, as in, “I’m an enabler”, “I’m a terrible parent”, etc., are examples of self-destructive, negative narratives -Narratives that not only prevent us from engaging our sense of hope and innate problem-solving/coping ability, but, also, these negative patterns of thought and expressed frames about our challenge block our son/daughter from engaging their own sense of self efficacy -their sense of ‘can do this’ in overcoming their challenge.

    As parents we need to strive to demonstrate/model, (consistently striving to think and speak), ‘genuine’ hope/self efficacy in ourselves AND our addicted child -whatever our circumstances are on any given day. For the record: Demonstrating hope is not the same thing as ‘being in denial’.

    Hope is hope. We can’t achieve improved circumstances or positive change without it. In order to do things differently/choose differently, we need to strive to ‘think’ differently. That means we need to be aware of our own destructive patterns of thought. In other words, if we profess that we ‘will NEVER let go of blaming self’, ‘we will NEVER let go of the shame we feel about our child’s addiction’, that, ‘we don’t believe our child will EVER stop using’, etc…then, that declaration, that ‘personal narrative’ has a way of influencing outcome. Because, when we choose to believe that the prognosis ‘is probably going to be bad and we have no control’, then, our spirit of interaction, as well as the way we advocate for ourselves our children, and others, reflects that negative narrative of “never”, “can’t”, won’t”, etc..

    These terms reflect a kind of pattern of thinking known as ‘catastrophic thinking’. When we hold ourselves captive in a pattern of thinking and verbalizing terms -like ‘never’, ‘always’, ‘can’t’, ‘won’t’, ‘didn’t’, etc., to describe our thoughts, views, and feelings about addiction/our challenge; we are influencing outcome.

    There is a lot of anxiety in addiction. If we allow it to dominate, it will. Anxiety’s vocabulary is very often limited to ‘can’t, and ‘didn’t’ and ‘always’ and ‘never’ etc..But, we can overcome our anxiety with the appropriate support. We deserve that support.

    A lot of us need help and support with overcoming our anxiety about addiction. It’s important to do our research and choose the appropriate kind of support. In addition, we need to develop awareness about how our personal narratives about our challenge -thoughts, verbalizations, and even our written word- impact the spirit of others who are trying to engage their own sense of hope and self efficacy. Because, if not managed appropriately with quality support/education; healthy, cathartic venting can become a pattern of ruminating on negative narratives about our challenge. This serves no one, least of all the spirit and sense of self efficacy of the loved we are hoping to support and encourage into and through sustainable recovery.

    Changing our patterns of thought to reflect healthier narratives, onto recovery-purposed actions/choices about our challenge, is a process…But, we can get there. We gotta work toward developing a pattern of thought that serves our sense of consistent, genuine belief. It doesn’t mean there are not days when we won’t feel ‘beaten down’ by the challenges we face. Parents will feel that way. But, that is not the same thing as holding ourselves, our energies captive in anxiety.

    Learn, hope, change and grow. Google SMART Recovery -(Self Management and Recovery Training Friends and Family) as seen on Katie Couric Show, last week, 7-16. SMART Recovery is a highly effective, easily accessible peer support resource that uses evidence-based methods toward the goal of building coping and communication skills, promoting recovery and healthy change for both parents and their loved ones who have a substance(s)use disorder.

    Addiction is the journey. Recovery is the destination.

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