When a child grows up in a home where a parent is engaging in substance use it can have a highly detrimental effect. Regardless of the child’s age, the parent’s habit can cause harm on multiple levels. Kids who witness the effects of the substance use may experience neglect, anxiety, isolation, depression, and even physical harm.
Someone whose parent is battling substance use may no longer live at home but, as an adult, may see the situation more clearly. They may finally understand that their parent suffers from a disease and is in need of help. These are some actionable steps an adult child can take to persuade the parent to get help, and to support them emotionally on their recovery journey.
Recognizing the Signs of Addiction in a Parent
While a younger child may not know why their parent is sick or unstable, an older teen or young adult will begin to recognize the signs of an addiction. Adult children may:
- Witness obvious signs of intoxication, such as nodding off or drowsiness, slurred speech, or lack of coordination
- See the parent black out
- Find the substance(s) hidden around the house
- Notice that the parent has stopped practicing personal hygiene habits
- Observe the parent’s frequent mood swings
- See the physical signs of substance use, such as pinpoint pupils, changes in eating habits and weight, bloating, etc.
- Become aware of the parent’s financial problems or legal problems related to the use of a substance
- See that their parent has lost their job, or is on probation for poor performance
- Notice the parent neglecting responsibilities or having sudden financial problems
- Observe the signs of withdrawal
Identifying the signs of substance use is the first step toward guiding a parent to treatment.
Supporting a Loved One With a Substance Problem
Parents that struggle with a substance use disorder will go to great lengths to either hide their problem or deny it. They may feel ashamed or guilty about the problem, and don’t want their adult child to know about it. It is essential that the adult child gently, but unwaveringly, address the problem with their parent, and not permit the parent to dismiss their concerns.
Here are four ways you can help your parent:
- Start the conversation. If you feel safe and comfortable doing so, it would be good to begin a conversation about the parent’s substance issue. Be aware, however, that the parent may become defensive and angry, even refusing to discuss the substance use at all. Find a moment alone with the parent, in a non-public setting, where you can open the conversation with, “So, [Name], I am concerned about your health. Is everything alright?” The parent will deflect and say they are just fine. When they do this, continue with something like, “I have a feeling you are struggling with a substance issue. Can we discuss some possible solutions?” Keeping a calm, non-confrontational tone, and a sincere message of concern may help the parent feel comfortable about sharing.
- Get educated about treatment options. If the parent is not receptive at first to discussing the problem, you can still move forward and take steps to help them. Become informed about the substance use disorder the parent is battling. Learn about the treatment options, such as outpatient versus residential treatment. Begin to research treatment programs, even scheduling a visit to gain information and insights about guiding the parent into treatment.
- Check insurance benefits. If the parent has medical insurance, you can begin to research what their plan covers. This can help with financially planning treatment, including learning what out-of-pocket expenses to expect. If the parent is over age 65, they will likely have Medicare coverage. Their insurance plan will have a network of participating treatment providers, which begins to narrow the options.
- Conduct an intervention. If your parent continues to be unresponsive to your attempts to discuss their substance problem, consider arranging an intervention. It is usually advised that, for the best chance of a successful outcome, a trained professional should lead the intervention. He or she will ask you to select some family members to participate in the meeting, and to each write a letter to the parent. During the intervention, the parent will learn how their substance problem has affected the family, and then be asked if they are open to getting help.
While talking to a parent about their substance use can be a very difficult situation, you will never regret trying to persuade them to get help. Begin the process by first getting educated about substance use disorders and treatment options. It is always best to address the loved one from an informed place, and with a compassionate, hopeful attitude.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, holistic addiction treatment, drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to heal each individual with respect and dignity, and reflects on our ongoing commitment to meet new challenges. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.