Parent of drug addict help: Top 10 truths to help parents

My son’s addiction started in high school, with what at the time I considered to be “normal” experimentation with alcohol and marijuana. I never expected then that his alcohol and drug use would escalate into full blown addiction and that it would progress over the years all the way to intravenous drug use, near death, and a prison conviction. I have learned so much along this journey of my son’s addiction and recovery. From that I have compiled a list of truths to share with others who may find themselves seeking answers and help.

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I am the mother of an addict

I am the mother of an addict who is currently incarcerated.  He is a 22 year old young man that I know for a fact is sweet, kind and intelligent, musical and sensitive. Yet he is now a convicted felon who will spend the next 4 years in prison on a felony conviction for possession of a controlled substance.

Beginning when he was 19, my son has been in long-term rehab on four different occasions, for a total of almost a full year of days. He has embraced sobriety, only to lose it again several months later. He has done this multiple times. He has been rushed by ambulance to the hospital more than once. He almost bled to death and he has had overdoses and seizures. He spent a few days in a psychiatric hospital when he became suicidal. He has been saved by Jesus and lost his faith, joined a church, attended AA, NA, MA, and CA and seen psychiatrists, psychologists and counselors in an effort to understand his behaviors. He has been arrested multiple times. He has fallen down, and gotten up, over and over and over again.

As a single parent who left an alcoholic and drug addict husband when my two children were young, I vowed to myself that I would make a better life for them, and I didn’t drink at all as they grew up. I tried so hard to be a good parent, making their well being my number one concern. My daughter has matured into adulthood and is happily married with a child on the way. She seldom drinks at all, doesn’t use drugs at all, and has a stable and healthy lifestyle.

My son’s addiction

My son’s addiction started in high school, with what at the time I considered to be “normal” experimentation with alcohol and marijuana.  I never expected then that his alcohol and drug use would escalate into full blown addiction and that it would progress over the years all the way to intravenous heroin and meth use.

As my son’s descent into serious addiction took over and his life became a roller coast ride, I jumped on the ride too, and have been through all the ups and downs right alongside him. I have cried, yelled, talked, prayed, pleaded and begged. I have had more sleepless nights than I can count, and I have put myself in perilous circumstances more than once on his behalf. I have spent countless hours, almost all my money and all my energy into trying to save him from himself. I have attended Al-Anon and rehab family sessions galore. I have spent my weekends driving to visitations and embraced new thinking along with him. I have read and read and read every book and article on the subject I could get my hands on. I have considered at length every approach to recovery, from AA to Rational Recovery, from faith-based to non-secular, to medically-assisted to pure self will and determination, in an effort to find the key to my son’s condition and to his recovery.

Parents, trust your instincts

I would advise any parent of teens, if you are beginning to suspect a problem, trust your instincts. Pay attention to what your child does more than what they say. Trust is important between a child and parent, but don’t let your love for your child dissuade you from ignoring the facts. If a problem becomes evident and your child is still a minor or under your roof, address it immediately. This is the time to be the parent your child needs with rules, expectations and consequences. If they are a young adult and out on their own, your approach will be different, but be upfront with your concerns. As much as you want your young adult children to consider you a friend, it is more important that they are made aware that their addictive behavior has become noticeable to others.

10 Truths for the Parent of an Addict Child

You may find yourself reading here today because you are just at the start of that roller coaster ride, or maybe you are already deep into it, looking for answers. I don’t have the answers. But after all of it, I have learned a few hard lessons. From these lessons, I have compiled a list of truths. I wish I had read this list a few years back and taken it to heart. Maybe things could have turned out differently.

    1. Your actions and parenting are not what caused your child to become an addict. Perhaps there are things that you would do differently if you had it to do over. But keep in mind, at the time you made what you thought were the right decisions. Don’t waste your energy and affect your own morale by going over and over the past and endlessly second-guessing yourself.
    2. You can’t fix your child’s addiction. Only your child can find the answers to their sobriety. You may provide your child with self-help books, spend every dime you have sending them to rehab, find support groups for them within your community or much more. But none of that will get them clean and sober and on the path to recovery, until they have hit their own personal rock bottom and are ready to recover.
    3. What you believe your child’s rock bottom to be and what they believe their rock bottom to be can be very different. For you, their dropping out of school or college may seem a tragedy. For them, especially when they are actively using, it may be but a blip on the radar. For you, one trip to the hospital due to an OD may seem a nightmare that you never want to endure again. For them, it may take even more severe consequences for them to reach bottom.
    4. Telling a child that “if they loved you” they would get clean and sober “for you” will never, ever work. It’s not that they don’t love you, it’s that they are an addict.
    5. And along those lines, don’t for a moment believe that your child, who surely does love you, is not capable of lying to you, stealing from you and more when in the grips of their addiction.
    6. Bailing your child out of trouble caused by their addiction is not protecting them. It is enabling them to continue their addiction without consequences. Facing consequences for their addictive behavior early in their addictive behavior, for example, the loss of a job, an eviction, or a bad credit score, could be an effective lesson for them, and help them face that they have a problem.  Yes, they eventually will have a mess to clean up. Let them learn that.
    7. Bailing your child out of jail if they should be arrested is not always the right thing to do, even if every fiber of your being is in torment at the thought of them being incarcerated. Chances are very strong they will survive the experience, even if you leave them there for quite a long time, and the reality of spending days or even weeks in jail may be just the hard slap they need. Likewise, hiring expensive lawyers may or may not minimize the impact of criminal charges but it will not increase your child’s likelihood of recovering from their addiction.
    8. Telling your child you love them unconditionally is always right. Telling them you don’t like and won’t condone or support their behavior when they are actively using is also right. Addicts can be more manipulative and cunning in their drug seeking behavior than you would like to believe your child capable of. It’s OK and appropriate to tell your child that they cannot use your car, take your money, or jeopardize your home, health, or well being in any way. You may even reach a point when you need to tell your addict child they are not allowed or welcome in your home any longer. Protect yourself, your health, your finances, and your assets.
    9. Loving your child isn’t always enough.  Your addict child will hurt themselves, harm themselves, and cause themselves more pain that you can imagine, and all the love you have for them can’t prevent it or stop it. They may lose friendships and relationships with other family members and with you and alienate everybody. They may lose everything they have and cause irreparable havoc from their drug use. You will still love them, even when they are at their worst. In their own guilt and shame they may have a hard time believing that you love them and they may push you away. Always let them know you believe they have the ability to recover.
    10. There is always hope. In your child’s darkest hour, they may find what they need. Never give up on your child.


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Just for today

My son is now 4 months clean, via his arrest and incarceration. He writes to me that being imprisoned has allowed him to feel freer than he has in a very long time. He no longer has a needle in his arm and he is clear-headed and focused. He is reading and writing with a vengeance. He has the courage to face what is ahead of him and the belief that there is a path of growth and recovery for him. He accepts full responsibility for his current circumstances. I continue to pray for his well being, love him with all of my heart, and believe that he can find and stay on his path to recovery.

Are you the parent of an addict? How has your child’s addiction affected you and your family? Do you have truths to add to this list?

About the author
Francis Rivers is the single mother of an adult son who is an addict currently in recovery while he is incarcerated for drug possession. His addiction and efforts at recovery have greatly impacted her own life and taught her some difficult lessons about loving an addict child. Learn more at In a Texas Prison.
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