Addiction ends one of the following ways: in jail, in an institution, by death, or by recovery. That’s an awful thought – but it’s true. And parents of addicts can spend years afraid of these consequences and afraid of the next phone call they will receive. Here’s 5 tips for parents of addicts from people who have been there.
I have a little personal experience with addiction in both my family and through my patients. I think we all know someone that does these days. But no one seems to bear the burden of addiction (besides the addicts themselves) more than parents and spouses.
My fabulous sister and brother-in-law, Ally and Lance Lang, know addiction on another level, though. They started a ministry of Christian sober living homes called Hope is Alive in 2013. (https://hopeisalive.net) They now own 16 homes and mentor countless recovering addicts and their families going through this difficult process.
In this time when addiction is rampant and only growing, I wanted to get their advice for parents who are struggling either in silence or just don’t know where to start.
5 Tips for Parents of Addicts
Tip #1: Make the decision to STOP supporting the habit.
Your addict child is smart. They know how to play the game. And coming to you for money so they don’t starve, so they can pay their friend back, or so they can get gas to drive to work means they want money for drugs.
DO NOT GIVE THEM MONEY. If you are concerned about them eating, take them to dinner or go buy groceries with them. Go fill up their gas tank. But CASH is off the table. It will be spent on addiction and that is not helpful.
Tip #2: Work a Program YOURSELF to get healthy.
I have heard Ally say many times, “When the parents get healthy, the family gets healthy.” Parents have the power to get their kids into recovery they just don’t realize it. And you starting your own road to recovery may just spark that. Addiction effects everyone in the family, not just the addict. Getting healthy for your other children and yourself is equally important.
If nothing else, you will be surrounded by others going through the same things you are. They may be just starting their journey or have years of healthy experience down the road but no one will understand your feelings more than other parents of addiction.
Hope is Alive offers the Finding Hope (https://hopeisalive.net/finding-hope/) Support Group in 4 locations – with their Wichita meetings starting this week. Al-anon (https://al-anon.org/) has 3 locations in Kansas as well. As my new obsession, Brene Brown, says, “Shame needs 3 things to grow: secrecy, silence, and judgment.” Joining a support group eliminates all 3.
Tip #3: Keep your flashlight on the dark.
Lance explains the need to confront bad behaviors rather than avoiding the uncomfortable discussions by “keeping the flashlight on the dark.” Parents must be on the lookout for addictive and abusive behaviors as they arise and address them at that time. Be the one asking questions when you are wondering. If you don’t do this, as their parent, who will?
It is easy to talk yourself out of discussions and use your faulty logic to come up with a million explanations as to why your child slurred their speech or failed out of school. And if you turn a blind eye you will become very good at that. But that will not help your child. If you are questioning the behaviors, there is a reason. Keep the flashlight on the dark.
Tip #4: You must set boundaries … and stick with them.
Boundaries allow us to physically and emotionally protect ourselves. They allow others, especially addicts, to know how we expect to be treated. For your own safety, and the safety of your family, you must set boundaries and address them with your child.
Let me give you an example Ally provided. Boundary: You will not drink alcohol in my home.
This sounds like a clear boundary. But what will you do when your alcoholic son does get drunk either in your home or comes into your home drunk with alcohol? Are you willing to follow through? That may mean calling the police to have your son removed from the home. Are you willing to do that?
You must be willing to follow through. If not, your boundaries mean nothing. And as soon as you drop those expectations, you have taught your addict child that your words mean nothing.
Tip #5: It’s normal to be afraid.
An addict typically will not get help UNTIL they have negative consequences for their actions. Best case scenario – the consequences come from you, their parent, cutting them off and your child realizing that their life is headed in the wrong direction. Worst case scenario – they hurt someone else or themselves. Both are possible.
And that leaves parents up at night afraid of the present and afraid for the future. Your fear is completely normal and expected. It is what you do with that fear that will make the difference.
I have been to many events with Ally and Lance. I have sat across the table from parents whose children were graduating the program with 1-year sobriety and seen the joy in their eyes. They still had a little spark of fear. I have also sat across the table from parents whose children have died from addiction. Listening to their stories brings tears to MY eyes. Their fear was no different.
Let me end with my favorite quotes from Ally and Lance for parents. These go straight to the heart from people who continue to work in the trenches of addiction.
You can’t cause it, you can’t cure it, but you can be part of the solution. You are not alone, it’s not your fault, THERE IS HOPE.
If you would like to read more Finding Hope: A Field Guide for Families Affected by Addiction by Lance Lang is available at Amazon. Or consider attending the Finding Hope Support Group (https://hopeisalive.net/finding-hope/).
For more Blog Posts on Substance Abuse: