If your parent is dealing with a substance use disorder, you can speak up and help them.
At first, the task may seem daunting or even impossible, but if you can convince your parent to get help for their problem, the rewards are well worth the effort.
The term substance use disorder is the clinical term that now includes the older concepts of substance abuse, substance dependence, and addiction. Substance use disorders represent mental health disorders that occur when the use of drugs or alcohol results in significant distress and/or significant issues with functioning in everyday life.
Substance abuse is not a discriminatory condition. It affects everyone regardless of their age, status in life, occupation, or sex.
Recovery from a substance use disorder is difficult, but it is far less so when a person has support from family. If your parent is affected by a substance use disorder, you may be the best person to help them understand how their substance abuse is affecting them, you, and the entire family.
According to the book Treating Substance Abuse: Theory and Technique, there are several potential patterns of interaction that occur in families where a member is using drugs or alcohol.
If the majority of the communication that occurs among your family members is negative, such as frequent criticism, complaints, and other expressions of dissatisfaction or displeasure, this negativity may be used by your parent to reinforce their substance abuse.
The rules of the family interactions may be inconsistent, boundaries may not be set, or children may not be able to predict parental responses and react accordingly. This often creates confusion.
Very often, despite how obvious it may be to others, the person affected with a substance abuse disorder does not see the problem. Instead, they may consider their substance use to be “normal” for them.
Children of parents who have substance abuse issues are often afraid to express their resentment of the situation.
Parents with substance use disorders have unrealistic appraisals of how their substance misuse negatively affects the rest of the family. Family members often have expectations that their parents will simply stop using drugs or alcohol on their own or that everything will be okay in the end without the need for professional intervention.
The parent’s use of drugs or alcohol may be a way to deal with stress, negativity, and insecurities.
If you have a parent with an addiction, expect some manifestation of nearly every one of these patterns of interaction in your family.
The other issue you should expect to see somewhere in the family structure is co-dependency. Co-dependency describes a situation where the other parent or one or more of the children is overly concerned with the problems of the substance-abusing parent and does not attend to their own needs.
Co-dependency is not a clinical term but more of a description of a family relationship issue that often occurs in families that struggle with addiction.
Here are some traits of co-dependent people:
They believe that others in the family structure are not capable of taking care of themselves.
They often sacrifice their values, needs, and desires to avoid anger or rejection.
They are often in denial about their feelings.
They will often react in an oversensitive manner. They may be very sensitive to disappointment, disruption, or other difficulties.
They tend to identify or define themselves in terms of their relationship with the affected person.
They are usually very loyal to people who do very little to deserve such loyalty.
In all of these above instances, expect a restructuring of the family system as your parent enters treatment.
Expect to get involved in treatment yourself. Get the family involved in treatment to redefine relationships, develop positive communication skills, and deal with resentment. This often means family therapy will be part of the overall recovery program for you and your parent.
Despite your age or whether you are still living with your parent or are on your own, you can make a difference. You are never too young or too old to help someone you love to address their substance use disorder.
Negativity and inconsistency may be consistent themes in your family relationships. Accusing and blaming your mom or dad will only fuel the fire.
Addiction is isolating. It is vital to demonstrate to your parent that you care about them, love them, and are willing to support them through the whole process.
No parent ever wants to look weak in front of their children. Let your parent know that you do not believe they are weak, immoral, or somehow flawed as a result of their substance abuse. Let them know you are not embarrassed about their situation, but you are concerned about them and want to help.
It is tough for people with addictions to understand how their actions affect others around them. Parents often do not realize the impact their drug use has on their children. They may avoid looking at the situation in an objective manner.
Parents often care about their children more than anything else. Explaining how their substance use affects you can give them insight and motivation to change.
Have resources ready when you talk to your parent. Do your homework. Give information on local support group meetings, rehab facilities, therapists, and other resources when you speak to your parent.
It is difficult to approach a parent that has a substance abuse problem without support. Consider hiring a professional interventionist to set up a formal substance abuse intervention to address your parent’s issue with substance abuse.
Talking to an interventionist can help you to organize, streamline, and complete the process of getting your parent into rehab.
It is essential to remember that you cannot control anyone else. You can assist your mom or dad, give them insight, and offer support, but you cannot make them stop using drugs or alcohol.
In the end, you are not responsible for your parent’s substance abuse. Regardless of what your parent decides to do regarding treatment, seek help for yourself. Get support from groups like Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, counselors or therapists, and other sources.
(April 2019) Substance Use Disorder. MedlinePlus. Retrieved April 2019 from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001522.htm
(2011) Treating Substance Abuse: Theory and Technique. Guilford Press.
Learn About Interventions. Association of Interventionist Specialists. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.associationofinterventionspecialists.org/learn-about-intervention/
Find an Al-Anon Meeting. Al-Anon. Retrieved April 2019 from https://al-anon.org/al-anon-meetings/find-an-al-anon-meeting/