When your child is an addict

It may be one of the most heart-breaking situations a parent will ever face: the realization that their child is addicted to a substance (alcohol, prescription drugs, street drugs, food), a behavior (gambling, anorexia, internet-associated behaviors, pornography, lying, stealing) or a person with whom they are in a toxic relationship.

For some parents, this realization is experienced as a personal affront “I raised her better than that” or “I never did those things, so why is he?”  It is difficult for some parents to accept that their child has become a completely different person than the child they raised.

Some parents cover up the offending behavior, offering explanations, excuses and bailing out the child from situations with grave consequences.  Those parents feel they cannot tolerate watching their child grapple with the consequences, so they step in, much more to protect themselves than the child, although that awareness may not be available to them for some time.

Shame is another common reaction to this situation, usually followed with a cover-up.  Sometimes the child is sent away to relatives or to the military, sometimes the child is banned from returning home.  Secrecy is very important to these families.  Shame is very painful.

Anger and frustration are natural reactions to the realization of an addicted child.  It is painful to see a child suffer.  It is the natural reaction of a parent to want to help.  But when the child’s suffering is self induced, parental anger and frustration come forward.  Some people use that energy to find help for the child.  Some use the energy for self-protection or retribution.  Some slump into despair or victim passivity.

What helps?  First, get support for yourself.  Try anonymous meetings for the particular issue your child has, such as Al Anon for alcoholism, Narc Anon for narcotic addicts.  Local hospitals often have free support groups. Counseling is sometimes very important to help families learn how to set appropriate boundaries with the addict.  Turn to safe and trusted friends and family.

Next, find out what all the legalities are, if your child has been in contact with law enforcement.  Find out what your liabilities are if your child has been using your car or your home to engage in illegal behavior.  Are you at risk of having your car confiscated?  Is there anything you can be sued for as a homeowner?

Take inventory of your money, your valuables, anything that can be taken and sold for quick cash.  Do you have all your extra cheques and your credit cards?

Many people fail to take these steps because they refuse to believe their children would do these things to them.  They leave themselves open to exploitation in hopes that their children will not do these things, and then feel enraged when they do.  It is so painful to admit that once an addiction takes over a child, the former child is no longer there.  It is the addiction talking or stealing or shooting up.  You may have to take legal action to protect yourself from your child.