Parenting an Addicted Child

Having to watch your child battle a substance use disorder is one of the most heartbreaking things that can happen to a parent. No matter if your child is a pre-teen, adolescent, or an adult, navigating how best to help can be confusing and frustrating. As you move through this difficult time in your life, remember these things:

You Did Not Cause This

Trying to understand how the child who loved cupcakes and snuggles turned into the teen or adult who lies and manipulates can make you feel like a failure as a parent. It may also make you feel resentful of your child and of the people who you feel have been a bad influence. It’s important to remember, however, it’s not your fault. Addiction is caused by a complex relationship of genetics, psychological condition, social influences, and the environment.

Addiction is a disease, and should be treated as such. That means, instead of laying blame on yourself or on other people, you should approach your child’s addiction as a health issue that, with time, effort, and professional help, can be treated.

It’s Okay to be Conflicted

As the parent of a child with a substance use disorder, you’ve seen first-hand how addiction hurts everyone. You’re also a witness to your own conflicted feelings about your child. You may spend your days wavering between outright anger, grief, and hope. Some days, you may dislike your child, and others feel nothing but love and compassion.

These complex feelings are normal. For your own mental health, however, and the future wellness of your child, it’s good to remember not to speak to your child with judgment or derision. You can hate your child’s addiction, but working through your child’s disease with respect, honesty, and love will help renew and strengthen the bond you share with your child.

Boundaries are Crucial

Wanting to protect your child from the repercussions of the decisions he or she is making is totally natural. However, sometimes protecting your child can actually be enabling. If you find yourself lying or making excuses for your child, giving your child money, or putting your own health and security at risk for the sake of your child, you’re probably enabling the addiction.

Your job as a parent of a child with a substance use disorder is to maintain structure in your own life and set up boundaries. You make the rules for your life and your home.

Don’t Fear Conflict

You can’t wait for the perfect time to talk to your child about their substance use disorder, because there really is no perfect time. If your child is truly struggling with an addiction, then it’s your job to speak openly and honestly with him or her about their drug or alcohol use. When this conversation happens, it’s also your job to listen.

If you can refrain from getting angry and concentrate on listening to your child, you may learn things you hadn’t thought about. You may also hear things that are difficult to understand and hard to respond to. But, if you can give your child the support to be vulnerable, a cry for help will be much easier to hear.

Establish Goals for Treatment

When your son or daughter is ready for treatment, it would be beneficial to look into family recovery plans. The disease of addiction impacts the entire family unit, which means everyone in the family can benefit from the education treatment programs can provide.

Once you’ve established the right place for your family’s treatment plan, take some time to set up goals. Remember, addiction is a life-long disease, so it won’t be something that just “goes away.” Your child’s recovery will be a long process that will require consistent care. Make long- and short-term goals with your child. The more the entire family can be involved, the better.

For more information about the Walker Center’s Family Recovery Plans, please visit