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Tips for Adult Children of Parents with Addiction

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Substance use disorders (SUD) negatively impact the whole family. Vulnerable children who grow up in this environment are more likely to personally experience SUD and often have significant trauma they carry throughout their lives.

While most opioid-related deaths occur in the 25–34 year age group, many adults 55 and over also struggle with opioid addiction. While adult children are less vulnerable than young children, they often bear the weight of responsibility and the challenge of protecting their own children.  

Here are some helpful tips for adult children of addicted parents to help navigate this challenging relationship and situation.

Support their recovery efforts

While you can’t force someone into recovery, you can provide resources to support your parents. You could also give information on heroin addiction treatment in your area or help with transportation to NA meetings and outpatient appointments. 

Working with your parents’ treatment team to put an emergency response plan in place will also help them navigate this process.

Learn about addiction

There’s still a lot of harmful stigma around addiction that creates conscious and unconscious biases. Learning about addiction, the causes and the challenges with treatment is integral for processing your own emotions, setting boundaries, and offering support.

Some people aren’t aware that the root of the opioid crisis was the medical release of OxyContin, a pain killer marketed as a non-addictive option. The Sackler family, who owns Purdue Pharma LP, has since been ordered to pay $6 billion in restitution for the false claims that led to this crisis. 

People don’t become addicted out of weakness, selfishness, or greed – although addiction can lead to those behaviours. It’s a chemical reaction in the brain that’s hard to overcome.

Avoid enabling behaviours

Many family members of people with SUD unknowingly enable the addiction. Enabling behaviours is not your fault. They often stem from love or shame. 

Some common enabling behaviours include:

  • Lying or covering for someone’s absence
  • Offering transportation to get a substance
  • Providing financial means to secure a substance

Breaking these behaviour patterns will help minimize the person’s means of fueling their addiction in a non-harmful way.

Set strong boundaries

People with SUD often lack boundaries or engage in toxic behaviours that put their adult child’s well-being at risk. Setting strong boundaries with your parent is a must.

Indicate what behaviour you won’t accept in your home or life. Set clear expectations for when and how you can help and your limitations. For example, you may not be able to provide transport all the time if your schedule fluctuates. It’s perfectly reasonable to set boundaries and protect your mental health and well-being.

Avoid blame and judgement

It’s natural to feel anger, blame, and judgment when your parent is struggling with addiction. Their actions and behaviours can hurt those around them; especially their children.

It’s important to avoid projecting those feelings onto your parent. Using blame and judgmental tones won’t help you or them; it will alienate them further. Instead, take time to calm down before discussing issues and concerns. Avoid using ‘you’ statements and target the behaviour rather than the person. Identify why that behaviour is hurtful. Try to come from a place of love, indicating why you worry about them in this situation.

Seek personal counselling and support

As mentioned, feelings of anger are normal. While projecting them onto your parent is unhelpful, it’s also unhelpful to bottle those feelings up. Instead, invest in your own recovery and support by seeking professional counselling. These sessions can help you process your feelings so you can cope and let go.

It’s also valuable to connect with a group of peers in similar situations. Programs like Al-Anon and Nar-Anon offer support to the family members of people with SUD.

Sometimes dealing with a parent facing addiction can make you feel like a helpless child again. It’s important to support your parent’s recovery efforts while protecting your own boundaries and mental health. Use these strategies to help.

Adam Mulligan did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle. 

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