Living with a parent with an addiction can be a very difficult, complex situation. There are often relational difficulties, feelings of resentment, as well as physical and mental health ramifications. Before we discuss how to deal with some of the long-term effects of living with a parent with an addiction, we first need to break down what addiction is.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) describes addiction as, “a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences. It is considered a brain disorder, because it involves functional changes to brain circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control.”
Addiction is often a symptom of something deeper, like a mental disorder or unresolved trauma. As a result, addiction isn’t usually a conscious choice. People often seek out substances as a way to numb psychological or emotional pain. Since the root of the problem doesn’t get addressed, the addiction often gets worse and continues to progress.
Additionally, it’s important to note that addiction is often influenced by biological and environmental factors, such as:
Living with a parent with an addiction might feel unbearable at times. Loving them may feel impossible, especially if there has been relational damage, as there often is whenever substances are involved. It is important to remember that you can love your parent without loving what addiction does to them. You are not responsible for their choices, substance use, or healing.
Remembering those things is much easier said than done. Hopefully, the reminders below will give you some framework to go off of so that you can feel less alone and empowered to take care of yourself.
One common thought among adult children dealing with a parent struggling with addiction is to want to “fix” them. While the intention behind this is good, unfortunately, it’s often ineffective. As much as you may want to, you cannot force your parent into recovery. Recovery is a lifelong journey, not a task to be accomplished. It requires determination, major lifestyle changes, and, most importantly, a desire to heal. Healing cannot happen until a problem is identified, recognized, admitted, and an honest desire to change is expressed.
Recovery has to be their choice. When they’re the ones choosing to heal, they are more likely to follow through with the treatment, feel empowered to change, and have a higher chance of maintaining recovery.
Another important thing to remember when trying to love a parent with an addiction is that, for some, relapse is part of the healing process. NIDA confirms, “Treatment of chronic diseases involves changing deeply rooted behaviors, and relapse doesn’t mean treatment has failed. When a person recovering from an addiction relapses, it indicates that the person needs to speak with their doctor to resume treatment, modify it, or try another treatment.”
Even though relapse may be part of the healing process for some, it can still be incredibly dangerous. If you are genuinely concerned for your safety or your parent’s health, please contact emergency services immediately.
One of the most important ways you can love your parent with an addiction is to take care of yourself. There is a difference between supporting your parent as they heal from their addiction and enabling their destructive behaviors. Boundaries are necessary for protecting yourself and your parent. Enforcing boundaries can feel tricky, especially when it’s regarding your parent. It can feel even more complicated if they don’t understand or agree with the boundaries.
This is where enrolling in counseling and getting help from a licensed clinician could be beneficial. As a non-partial third party, a counselor will be able to advise you on how to enforce healthy boundaries safely. They’ll also be able to help you heal from any relational damage that’s been caused as a result of your parent’s addiction.
It is important to note that living with a parent who has an addiction can pose potential health risks for you. Things like second-hand smoke and potential exposure to other substances can dramatically impact your physical, mental, and emotional health. If you are feeling unsafe, please contact emergency services or a trusted friend or relative. For some, the best choice may be to temporarily or permanently relocate to a healthier environment.
Here at Sage Recovery, we understand all the complexities that come with being a child of a parent who struggles with addiction. We want you to know that you are not alone and you don’t have to heal alone. As a result, we offer all kinds of services that may be helpful in your healing journey, such as:
Being the child of a parent with an addiction can feel isolating, complicated, and lonely. Here at Sage Recovery, our master’s-level clinicians are ready to walk alongside you as you heal from the hard things you’ve been through. Our entire staff is trained to provide trauma-informed care, so you can be sure that your healing will take place among professionals who will treat you with compassion, dignity, and respect. Our clinicians specialize in evidence-based treatment techniques like CBT, DBT, and EMDR. Additionally, we offer innovative, holistic options like individual & group yoga therapy sessions, art therapy, and weekly group therapy. Whenever you’re ready to reach out, we’re here to listen. Call us at (512) 306-1394 to find out more.