What You Can Do About Your Parent’s Addiction

By Dr. Robin Barnett, EdD, LCSW

An addiction in the family can take a heavy toll, especially if that family member is your parent. So what can you do if you discover parent (or grandparent) has an addiction? Here are some healthy interactions to try:

  1. Communicate. What you say and how you say it are important. It’s good to share how you feel, but do so without blaming your parent. Begin your communication with the word “I.” For example, you could say, “When I see you black out, I feel scared,” as opposed to “You’re making my life a living hell!” Talk from your experience without threatening, pleading, or judging.
  2. Set boundaries. Set strong, healthy ones. Stick to them. Recruit support to help you stick to them. Choose boundaries based on what helps you maintain emotional and mental balance. Do not base them on what your parent does or does not do: that is a losing battle. Be clear, be specific, and be sure you can follow through on them no matter how difficult it becomes. For example, you could tell your father, “I will not spend time with you while you are high,” and not “Don’t get high this Friday night when we are planning to go to the movies.”
  3. Understand the treatment options. Your parent might not be interested in treatment. If so, accept that the decision for treatment is theirs and that you may not be able to influence that. If your parent is ready for treatment, you can support her in the pursuit of the best treatment available. Do your homework to find out which treatment centers are equipped to address the unique set of issues that your parent might face. Ask a lot of questions and don’t settle for just any treatment: they are not all created equal. Finding the right one will make long-term sobriety more likely.

What drug and alcohol addiction treatment options are out there?

  1. Detox: The detoxification (or “detox”) process occurs in a medical facility to immediately and safely deal with any physical withdrawal symptoms. Detox can last from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. The length of stay is based on the substances used and the individual manifestations of withdrawal. Treatment during detox only briefly touches on the psychological factors of addiction. Medications are used to ease the discomfort of the symptoms of—as well as to circumvent any dangerous physical side effects of—the withdrawal.
  2. Inpatient treatment: Also known colloquially as “rehabilitation” (“rehab” for short) in which your parent would temporarily live onsite at a treatment center (often located in hospitals or large residential facilities) and participate in a daily schedule of educational groups and counseling. Rehabilitation programs usually include a plan for aftercare (setting up outpatient treatment or ongoing group or individual counseling) for when your parent is discharged.
  3. Outpatient treatment: Your parent would live at his home and attend daily educational groups and regular group and individual counseling sessions at a location (often a suite of offices) for a set period of time. There is more freedom to come and go than inpatient treatment, but your parent committing to the program is essential for long-term recovery.
  4. Support groups: Once your parent has successfully completed an inpatient or outpatient program, a support group—Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), or any number of other specialized support groups—can help her maneuver day-to-day life sober.

Coping with a parent’s addiction includes a tremendous amount of self-care. Consider talking with a therapist or attending support groups such as Al-Anon. Once you are able to recognize the effects the addiction has had on you, you can also begin to develop new skills to lead a healthy and happy life, whether or not your parent recovers.

For a deeper dive into family member addiction, check out Dr. Robin Barnett’s acclaimed new book, Addict in the House.

Learn more about Dr. Robin Barnett and her commitment to helping families help themselves.

Sign Up for Our Email List

New Harbinger is committed to protecting your privacy. It's easy to unsubscribe at any time.

Recent Posts

Quick Tips for Therapists