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How To Help Your Adult Child Who Is Using Drugs

My adult child uses drugs. Photo by Xavier Sotomayor.

As a parent, your adult child’s drug use is frightening. You lack the control you had when she was under 18. Still, you can take steps to help.

We often hear about drug use among teens, but less is said about adult children struggling with addiction. As a parent, the battle with your teenager over drugs is difficult, but at least your efforts are backed by law. You have guardianship. Society enables you to restrict your child’s behavior. You neighbors expect it. Yet, when your baby reaches her early twenties, you may feel inept.

Having a close connection to your daughter may have empowered you to influence her career aspirations or choice of partner when she was sober. On drugs, she is not the same person you reared. A rush of emotions overwhelm you — frustration, guilt, shame, anger, and helplessness. The real her is still there, somewhere beneath the haze of being high, but her opinions, thoughts, and feelings have fundamentally changed while under the influence.

Addiction does not play by the rules. Your child’s addiction is a personal battle that affects everyone in her life. It’s a selfish disease that harms everyone connected to her. In order to help, you must empower yourself.

Blaming Yourself Makes The Problem Worse

No matter how good of a life that you provided for your child, her experimentations with drugs ensnared her, through no fault of your own. Sure, you might have done things differently with the knowledge you have now. Hindsight is 20/20. Instead of focusing on how clearly you messed up, focus your energy on the options available to you now, in this moment.

Addiction is insidious. There are a multitude of reasons why your child got hooked on drugs.

Stop blaming yourself. Stop ruminating over coulda, woulda, shoulda. You are driving yourself nuts! Your daughter needs you to be strong, clear-headed, and responsible. Drugs are effectively stripping her of her adulthood, and when she eventually gets sober (and she will — you have to believe and pray that she will), she is going to need you to be strong for her.

You cannot allow your life, your work, or your other children to suffer because of the actions of one drug addict. As hard as it is, be practical. If you take all the blame, you are pushing your child further away from treatment.

Enabling Equals Killing

Are you setting your child up to fail?

By all means help your child, but be aware that your resources may be misused. If you are helping your kid stay afloat by paying her rent, buying her food, and paying her bills while she is in active addiction, you are allowing her to spend her own money on getting high.

You may not know when her addiction began. Partying on the weekend, for people who later become addicts, may morph subtly into an out-of-control habit. As a parent, the onset of your child’s addiction is important for you to recognize. As the requests for money become more frequent, remember that you have the right to say no.

Watching you child struggle is heartbreaking. Your first instinct is to help her. Too much help, however, robs your child of the opportunity to learn from the greatest teacher in life: pain. While it is true that not everyone needs to hit rock bottom to wake up and seek treatment, the longer you pretend that your child doesn’t have a problem, the worse that problem becomes. Continuously bailing your kid out of a bad situation creates a belief that she is invincible. Her addiction justifies itself. “I can keep snorting these percocets because I still have it pretty good.”

If you are going to give money to an addicted adult child, follow the guidance of Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D: only give money if your child is in treatment, establish limits, and when she calls with another story that pulls on your heartstrings, have a response ready that will protect you from reacting irrationally.

Keep Your Hand Extended

You’ve heard the expression that you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink. This old adage rings truest in a situation where your desire to help your adult child outweighs her desire to help herself. Show that you care, show that you’re there, and make your love clear.

While offering help, be cautious with your approach; do not try to drag your kid out of harm’s way. It will not work. You will only alienate yourself more. Should your child be arrested, let her sit in jail. Rejoice! Jail might be the only time your child finds to think the sober thoughts that could put her on the path to recovery.

Educate yourself on the nature of addiction. Look into local rehabs in your area and offer your child a game plan. She may not know her options. If you can afford it, promise her financial assistance and a place to live should she decide to get clean. If she’s a dealer with a record, remind her that there are jobs out there that hire felons.

No matter what your adult child does while high, or how dire her situation becomes, show her love. Yes, she may run her life into the ground. Yes, she may do things that make your blood boil. In active addiction, she will likely say awful, hateful things that confuse you — but, you can never give up hope. Always let your child know that you believe in her power to recover.

Hold What You Got

Addiction to narcotics is brutal. It destroys your child’s personality. She may begin to act in ways that you never dreamed possible; demeaning you, stealing from you, ignoring you. You will feel pain, but you can get through this. The most important thing that you can do for you is maintain your stability. If you let yourself go down with her ship, then you increase the casualties of her addiction.

Some parents may be bled dry by meeting the financial assistance pleas/demands from children who are habitually showing up in the judicial system and need money for court/legal fees. (And they may hope, often in vain, that the money goes to the stated purpose rather than buying their child more trouble).

Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D

Stop the cycle. Knowing when enough is enough is not by any means an easy judgement call, and yet you owe it to yourself and the rest of your family to know when to draw the line. Set clear boundaries and adhere to them.

Getting your addicted adult child into treatment is far from easy. Until he or she wakes up, make sure you take the necessary precautions to protect your health, wallet, and sanity.

Cory Caaz
Web Designer | Poet | Entrepreneur | Writer

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