Do you know how to help a drug addict son?
Watching a child struggle with addiction can be one of the most painful experiences in a parent’s life. Try as you might, you can’t force your son to stop using drugs. In fact, sometimes your efforts backfire, and you actually end up enabling his addiction. So, as a parent, do you help your child? Continue reading to learn how to help a drug addict son while avoiding enabling behaviors.
If your son is addicted to substances you probably know the feelings of pain and consuming worry all too well. When you think about your son’s drug addiction, you likely feel helpless, scared, and constantly fear for your child’s wellbeing. All parents worry about the safety of their children. But when that child is compulsively engaging in behaviors that put his life at risk, it is important to know how to help a drug addict son.
When your son is addicted to drugs, it can be quite tempting to want to blame him for it. However, blaming someone for their addiction usually only does more damage. It is important to understand that addiction is a disease, not a morale failure. Initially, using drugs may have been a choice, but becoming addicted is not a decision anyone makes.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as “ a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences.” Although substance use may have begun voluntarily, for some, it progresses to a compulsive behavior that continues despite harmful consequences and one’s desire to stop using.
You may have tried to reason with your son. He may have even agreed to quit, only to use again. Well, drug use can actually change the brain’s reward circuit resulting in uncontrollable cravings. Cravings are even more likely when a trigger is presented. Add to that the fact that drug use affects decision-making parts of the brain, compromising a person’s judgement and making them more likely to seek short term rewards (aka the high). This leads to many people being unable to quit using drugs, even if they want to do so.
Over time, heavy substance use causes long-term changes to the brain, impairing the way it works. Because addiction is a complex disease, not an issue of will power, it can require treatment and aftercare like other chronic diseases. Before trying to help a drug addict son, remember not to take his addiction as a personal attack or dismissal, as difficult as that may be.
Knowing what you can and can’t control
It can be frustrating and even confusing for a parent to know how to help an addict son. Many parents blame themselves for their child’s drug addiction. You may feel guilty for things that happened in your son’s life that led him to use drugs, whether these things were under your control or not. Your son may even blame you when he is confronted about his drug use.
Some parents also feel personally hurt when their son lies, steals, refuses help, and continues to abuse substances. Thoughts like “if he loved me, he would stop using” may have crossed your mind. It’s normal to experience guilt as a parent of an addict, these feelings don’t mean that you should enable or ignore your son’s addict behaviors. Understanding that you cannot control or cure your son’s addiction is a first step. Recognize that having an addiction is not a choice one makes.
Recognizing your son’s addict behaviors
Substance use disorders are often accompanied by several negative and destructive behaviors. Many times they are directed at people closest to the addict, including parents and siblings. Some common behaviors your son might exhibit include:
- Lying about drug use or intentions to quit using drugs
- Missing work, school and other commitments
- Manipulating loved ones to get access to drugs, money or a place to stay
- Disappearing for periods of time
- Shifting the blame to others for one’s addiction, life circumstances and negative behaviors
- Insults, blame and verbal or physical abuse, especially when under the influence, experiencing cravings or in withdrawal
- A lack of impulse control
If your son exhibits some or all of these behaviors, a drug and alcohol treatment program could be extremely helpful to his recovery.
How to help a drug addict son get treatment
Addiction is a complex, chronic disease of the brain and body that involves compulsive behavior. Like any disease, it requires treatment and management. Despite existing stigma, there is no shame in struggling with addiction. In fact, even for celebrities like Demi Lovato, addiction is a huge issue.
Attending rehab can be an instrumental part of recovery for individuals struggling with substance use disorders. For many, there are traumas, unhealthy behaviors and other issues that need to be addressed during the treatment process. A strong program can help your son understand his addiction, learn how to manage triggers and get to the core of his underlying issues while learning healthy coping strategies. If you want to know how to help a drug addict son, consider contacting a treatment center. Liberty Ranch offers free consultations where you can discuss your son’s situation and learn about the treatment options available.
Talking to your son about his addiction
Although in most cases you cannot force your son to go to rehab, you can have a sit down conversation where you talk to him about how his addiction affects you and let him know that treatment is available. Here are some tips for talking to your son.
1. Have an objective in mind before talking to your son. Take some time to think out what you want to say and what you would like to get out of the conversation. You may even want to write your objectives down somewhere. If you have a spouse, you should talk to one another and come up with a plan together.
2. Find a time to talk to your son when he is not under the influence of any substances.Make sure that there is ample time available for the conversation. When you do sit your son down, be clear and concise. Let him know how much you love him, how concerned you are for him and the ways in which his addiction has impacted you. Remind him of how you remember him before his drug use and what a wonderful person you think he is. Use “I” statements and avoid blaming or shaming. Be clear with your son about the outcome that you want. If you want him to go to treatment, tell him.
3. Your son may become angry or defensive during the conversation. Remember, by asking him to attend treatment you are also threatening something that he physically and emotionally depends on. Although you may not get the reaction you hoped for, remain clear, loving and respectful. This conversation can potentially be the start of a longer dialogue. At the least, you may be opening the lines of communication.
4. Let your son have a voice in the discussion. This should be a conversation, not just a one sided lecture. Some people struggle to calmly communicate with their children and need some assistance. You may find it helpful to get the whole family together for an intervention or to even contact an expert in interventions.
5. Be prepared to move quickly. If your son does agree to attend treatment, it is best for him to get into a program as quickly as possible before changing his mind or using again. For this reason, we recommend finding and contacting an accredited, quality facility beforehand. If he is willing to get treatment, there is one less roadblock. For more in depth information on talking to your son, check out our Guide for Teen Addiction and Guide for Addiction in Adult Children.
Choosing a treatment programs for your son
Drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers generally offer inpatient and outpatient treatment programs. Treatment is not one-size-fits-all. It should be based on your son’s specific needs, scientific evidence, and methods that work. When deciding what option is best for your son, consider the severity of his addiction, the level of supervision he requires, his health and any comorbid conditions he may have.
Inpatient treatment is a good option for those who need 24/7 supervision and require a higher level of care. Because inpatient programs can be quite costly and outpatient programs may lack the level of support your son requires, intensive outpatient treatment may also be a good option for him.
Programs like the Liberty Ranch Intensive Outpatient Program take an evidence-based, comprehensive approach to treating addiction. Clients work to not just get sober, but to get to the core of why they use drugs to cope, developing healthier behaviors and ways of thinking. Because family support and healing are so critical to the recovery process, Liberty Ranch also integrates family counseling into its program. Through counseling, you and your son can work to heal from the past and rebuild a healthier, stronger relationship for the future.
Liberty Ranch’s qualified professionals provide the following services:
- Individual counseling with an emphasis on cognitive-behavioral, rational-emotive, and solution-focused therapy
- Psychotherapy for comorbid conditions such as Anxiety, Depression, ADHD, Bipolar, Eating Disorders, Trauma, PTSD, Grief and Personality Disorders
- Family Counseling
- Multi-Family Counseling
- Psychiatric evaluation and services
- Medication Management
- Partial Hospitalization
Is sober living right for your son?
Following treatment, sober living can be an extremely important part of the recovery journey. Sober living homes provide a safe and supportive living environment for those in recovery. According to a 2007 study, key factors in long-term recovery include social and community support, and long-term stays in programs. Long-term stays in treatment or in sober living can be extremely important aspects of a sustainable recovery
There are a number of sober living homes out there, but quality can vary depending on the level of supervision and structure, professionals on site, programming available, house rules, and the facilities themselves. When selecting a sober living facility, some choose one close to home, searching for “sober living near me”, while others prefer to go out of state to get space away from familiar triggers while one’s sobriety is still fragile.
Participants learn to apply the skills they have learned in treatment in the real world with support and guidance, easing their transition as they move towards a life focused on sobriety, recovery and purpose. Participants build strength, confidence and independence before being fully exposed to all the triggers of their daily lives at one time. 9 to 12 month stays in sober living facilities often have the best results. Rebuilding and changing lifelong ways of thinking is something that requires time, introspection and consistent reinforcement. A long-term stay can help your son build a strong foundation and the life skills needed to sustain his recovery.
Still it is important to remember that finding recovery is a decision your son must make for himself. You cannot force him to recover from addiction. Whether or not your son agrees to get treatment, it’s also important to consider your own role in his addiction. Many parents believe they are encouraging their child to stop using drugs when they are actually enabling them to continue.
Are you enabling your son’s drug addiction?
Seeing your child go down the wrong path is difficult. As a parent, you want to do everything you can to save your child. Sometimes, attempts to help your son only further his addiction. In this case, enabling means protecting your child from the consequences of his addiction. You can also enable your son’s addiction by doing things for him that he would be able to do himself if he was sober. If your son isn’t experiencing all of the negative effects of his actions and behaviors, he has less motivation to stop using drugs and alcohol.
While no parent sets out to support their child’s addiction, many end up doing so unintentionally. Parents may even try to convince their child to stop using, while at the same time facilitating their drug use. Usually, this is because of underlying assumptions and thoughts about your son’s addiction. These include self blame, living in the past, taking his addiction personally, and thinking you can control the situation. It is important to recognize and stop the thoughts that ultimately hurt you and your son.
The desire for control is something many parents struggle with as their child moves from adolescence to adulthood. When children are young, parents solve problems, clean up messes and protect them. However, as your child becomes an adult, these are skills he must develop for himself. This transition can be difficult for most parents, but when your adult son struggles with substance abuse, it can be tempting to pull him back in and care for him as you did when he was young.
How to help a drug addict son by recognizing enabling behaviors
It can be hard to recognize our own enabling behaviors because they can feel like loving our children. In fact, your son may even plead for your help, praise you and provide other motivations to enable his addiction. It can be tempting and even feel good to be able to help your child in the moment. In reality, you could be enabling him to continue on with his self-destructive ways. Examples of enabling behavior include:
- Ignoring or excusing unacceptable behaviors
- Lying or covering for your child because he failed to meet work, school or other obligations
- Bailing your son out of jail, covering for him in a legal situation or paying expenses related to incidents that occured when he was drunk or high
- Protecting your son from the negative consequences of his actions
- Providing money for food, rent or other basics
- Overlooking theft or missing items
- Avoiding expressing feelings for fear of angering your son
- Offering your child a “safe” place to stay
- Caring for your son when he is sick because of substance use or a hangover
If you have done some or all of these behaviors, it may be time to reevaluate your current relationship with your son, develop healthy boundaries, and seek support for yourself.
Helping a drug addicted son by setting boundaries
If you are looking for ways of how to help a drug addict son, setting boundaries in the relationship is a critical step. Boundaries, in general, are an important aspect of any relationship. Boundaries are limits that you set with others to protect your physical, emotional mental and financial state. These essential limits let others know what you will and will not tolerate.
Do I have good boundaries with my son?
While you may tell your son to stop using drugs and get upset with him when he doesn’t listen, this is not the same thing as setting clear enforceable boundaries. Your son must learn to make his own choices, which means considering the consequences, making a decision and living with that decision.
If you are constantly criticizing him, don’t allow him to make his own choices or usually you bail him out of hard situations, your son may believe he is incapable of making decisions (good or bad) and that you will always be there to get him out of trouble. In the long run, this can create low self esteem, a lack of independence, and the inability to make good decisions. In other words, he is not building the skills he needs for recovery.
If you are unsure whether you have set good boundaries ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I criticize my son?
- Am I constantly telling my son what to do (or not to do) and reminding him of the consequences of his actions?
- Am I constantly walking on eggshells around my son, minimizing situations and avoiding conflict?
- Do I remind him of his past wrongdoings and guilt him?
- Do I offer him solutions to issues when he hasn’t requested help or advice?
- Do I give my son money or does my son steal from me?
- Do I cover for my son or rescue him when he is in a bad situation (lying for him, making excuses, calling in sick, or bailing him out of jail)?
If you answered yes to some or all of these questions, you likely have ineffective, weak or no boundaries with your son. Remember, your son is an adult and needs to work on developing his own independence. This includes independent decision making.
Examples of boundaries to set with your son
Boundaries should be specific and apply to your own circumstances. Take time to think about how you enable your son and define your limits. In order to be effective, each boundary must come with a consequence. Specific consequences depend on your mental, emotional and financial circumstances, as well as your son’s situation. In general, some good example of boundaries to set to with your child include the following:
- Respect the house rules
- No drugs or alcohol in the house
- No toxic relationships where drugs are involved or drug using friends allowed in the house
- No coming home if you are high or drunk
- No longer providing money or allowance to your son
- No more lying for your son
- No more criticism, yelling or insults (from you or your son)
- Refusing to call in sick or cover for your son
- Refusing to bail your son out of jail or pay for legal-related expenses
Think about what boundaries and consequences are right for you and your situation. Sometimes, setting consequences means letting go of your son completely when he continues to break boundaries. Check out our guide on how to let go of a drug addict son to learn more about what this means. Families Anonymous has a workbook you can buy to help you define your boundaries with your son.
What to expect when setting boundaries with a drug addicted son
Remember, setting a boundary does not mean that you can control your son’s behavior. But you do have some control over what you will and will not tolerate. Boundaries will not cure your son of his addiction. In the end, the decision to stop using drugs must come from him. Nonetheless, boundaries can protect you, your family, and force your son to take responsibility for his situation. Here are a few tips for setting boundaries:
1. Communication is key in boundary setting
If your son doesn’t know what boundaries exist, how can you expect him not to break them? You must name the limits you are setting as well as the consequences for violating them. Be clear with your son, and communicate the boundaries and consequences ahead of time. When a boundary is broken, let him know, and follow through with the consequence. Otherwise the boundary becomes meaningless. In the end, actions speak louder than words. Also, provide positive reinforcement by recognizing him for respecting boundaries.
2. Let your son know why you are setting a boundary
Take the time to discuss these new boundaries with your son, allow him to respond and give him input in the limit setting process. The idea is that the two of you come to an agreement about the rules and their consequences if possible. This empowers both of you. Explain to your son that you love him and are worried for his well being. Tell him how breaking the boundary affects you and that your decision to set this boundary is because you no longer want to contribute to his addiction. Moreover, you have to protect your own wellbeing.
3. Respect your son
Talking about boundaries does not mean pointing fingers and hurling insults. It is important to be firm but also kind. Although he has hurt you, be respectful when setting boundaries with your child. Listen to what your son has to say and let him know that you recognize him as an independent person who is capable of making his own choices, even if you disagree with them.
4. Take responsibility for your own part
Acknowledge your own role in the situation. Taking responsibility for your own wrongdoings does not mean you can’t still hold your son accountable for his actions. Owning up to the ways in which you have hurt your son or enabled his addiction can open up communication and start a dialogue for the future. If your son does eventually get treatment, healing as a family will be an important aspect of his recovery.
5. Know that setting boundaries will not be easy
Your son may be used to getting what he wants from you. When you do set boundaries, there is a good chance that he reacts negatively, makes you feel guilty, or becomes angry. This may be because you are no longer enabling him, are getting in the way of his addiction or because he feels upset by the new boundary. That is okay. Be firm with him, but remain calm. Escalating the argument will help no one.
6. Remember that having boundaries does not mean that you no longer love your son
As a parent, it can be extremely painful to set boundaries. You may feel a great deal of guilt during this process. Nonetheless, you must remember that your enabling behaviors only support your son’s addiction. In the end, you are doing this because you love him. As scary and painful as it may be, only he can truly decide to stop using drugs and find recovery.
7. Take care of yourself and get support
Boundaries are as much for you as they are for your son. But that doesn’t make setting them any easier. Consider getting support for yourself during this time. Individual therapy and peer support groups for family members like Al-anon and Families Anonymous can be helpful outlets. Having a supportive group or therapist who understands addiction and what you are going through can be life changing. At the end of the day, if you do not take care of yourself, how can you be there for anybody else?