I Wish I Would Have Learned to Listen to my Addicted Son

Father Hugging Son

A while back, I received an e-mail from a concerned mother. Within it, she described her son’s addiction. The mother spoke about several experiences that were similar to my own. She told me about the different things she had tried to do to help and was scared she was going to lose her son.

She then asked me a simple question: What do you wish you had done differently?

It was a tricky question. Some may even say it was a trick question. Looking for the silver bullet has been the quest of every parent who I have ever spoken to. In fact, it was even my quest for several years.

After I read her email, the woman’s question remained in the back of my mind for days. It caused me great anxiety because I simply didn’t have an adequate answer.

What do I wish I had done differently? At first, I thought of all of the little mistakes I had made. If added up, would they would have made a difference? Maybe some of the small changes might even have prevented this nightmare…or maybe not. Yet, this response did not satisfy me. After a few weeks of deliberation, I finally discovered a better answer.

I would have learned to listen.

First, I would have learned to listen to my son. What does an addicted person really have to say that is worth listening too? All along, through his words and actions, he told me there was nothing I could do to fix him. But as a parent, it was my job to fix my son. That’s what parents do right? We fix things. I spent years trying to do so, despite the fact that he was telling me not to.

I would have also learned to listen to counselors and parents. Listening is very different than searching for answers. Getting answers to questions or “what to do” solutions assume that there is a single answer or methodology that will awaken not just you but also your addicted loved one from this nightmare.

I would have learned to listen to my own internal struggles about what I am told. What have I heard, what do I feel, and why am I scared? My emotional reactions were a result of unresolved internal struggles.

Finally, I would have learned to listen to my heart and my head. Most of the time, one or the other wins. My heart reminds me that where there is life, there is hope. It allows me to love someone that by all accounts seems to be unlovable. Yet my head reminds me of the reality of addiction. Heart verses head is not a win/lose struggle. Your heart and your head should work together. It is possible for your heart to accept that your son may die. It is also possible for your head to understand that there may not be an answer for addiction. Loving for just today is all you may get.

Listening is hard. After all, nobody will ever love your child the way you do. You fed him, changed him, raised him and provided for his every need. Listening to your child is hard when loving and caring for him has always been instinct.

What do I wish I had done differently? I wish I had learned how to listen sooner.

How to Listen

Learn how to keep the lines of communication open by knowing how to listen and when to talk.

638 Responses

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    November 30, 2017 at 3:51 PM

    My brother’s been in and out Detox for the past month. He doesn’t last more than 3 days tops. He leaves and all he says is he can’t do it. I know my brother is in there somewhere and when he comes out I believe everything he says; he wants to get clean but the feeling is stronger now. He’s been homeless, starving, days without showering and not even that makes him want to fight so he doesn’t end up like that again. Opiates have ruined him. From a sister that loves her brother and would do anything for him, I reach out and ask for advice. I don’t know what to do anymore but I don’t want to give up on him. I’ve tried tough love but In the end I want to help him, I don’t want him to face his demons alone.

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      December 1, 2017 at 5:02 PM

      Hi Michelle,

      My name is Katherine and I am one of the chat line help specialist. I am here to help you. It sounds like this has been going on for a while now and I can imagine how hard it must be for you. I am glad you reached out for support. I can tell how much you care about your brother and desire to want to help and support him. Often times family members feel and are told there is nothing they can do to help their loved one who is struggling with substance abuse. The truth is as a family member there is a lot you can do to motivate and encourage your loved one towards healthier decisions.

      Family members are often told that they need to use tough love, but generally that translates into yelling, lecturing, labeling and punishments, which can make the situation worse. This is not to say that family members such as parents or siblings shouldn’t have boundaries and consequences, but love and kindness toward your loved one when they are doing what you want can go a long way toward changing behaviors for the better.

      Here at the Partnership we utilize an approach called Community Reinforcement and Family Training, or CRAFT, which is a scientifically proven approach to help family members change their loved one’s substance use by staying involved in a positive, ongoing way. CRAFT is an approach to help family members change the way they have been interacting with their child to influence choices around substance use. CRAFT provides families with tools to better understand your loved one’s reasons for substance use, ways to improve communication and to reward non-using behaviors while discouraging substance use.

      I know you mentioned your brother has had several relapses and has struggled with staying clean. Although relapses are not inevitable, they are common and part of the recovery process for many. It is important to work together with your brother to come up with a relapse prevention plan for high-risk situations. I encourage you to check out the abundance of resources on our website that further explain the CRAFT approach and how you can use it to motivate your brother towards treatment and recovery.

      For additional support, please call our helpline at 1-855-DRUGFREE or check out our chat service in the evening hours to get personalized help. There are no fees for our services.



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    mary ann parker

    August 17, 2017 at 4:58 AM

    my nephew has been a drug addict for years. he loved crack so much. rehabilitation never worked for him. i so much thank God for newgracefoundation prayers on him and that of everybody’s. he’s a good man now and doing so fine. i know a lot of people out there are facing hell just as i did.

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      Franci Clarke

      October 26, 2017 at 8:09 PM

      What help is out there???

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        October 27, 2017 at 9:03 AM

        Hi Franci,
        Your question is a good one and one that so many family members have as trying to find help can be a challenge. Please call our helpline at 1-855-DRUGFREE or check out our chat service in the evening hours to get personalized help. There are no fees for our services.

        Our parent specialists can help you develop a plan and direct you to resources that can help whether it’s for treatment or your personal support. You don’t have to figure this out on your own and we would welcome the opportunity to help.

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