Help for Parents of Addicts: A Guide

When you find out that your child is using alcohol or drugs, it can be a heartbreaking and frightening experience.

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At that point, the most crucial step you can take is to address it immediately, before it’s too late. But, before you confront your child, you need to take some time to prepare. If you are considering treatment as a solution, it can be beneficial to understand the continuum of care of our alcohol and drug rehab programs in NH.

Addiction Explained

help for parents of addicts

Addiction, also known as substance use disorder (SUD), is considered a brain disorder because it involves changes in the brain circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control. These changes may last long after the person has stopped using drugs.

Similar to other chronic diseases, like heart disease, it disturbs the normal, healthy function of an organ in the body. Both diseases have serious harmful effects, both are preventable and treatable (in many cases), and if not treated, they can last a lifetime and lead to death.

How Can I Recognize Signs of Addiction in My Child?

Parents have concern for their children’s health whether the child is a teenager or an adult with their own family. Due to this natural concern, you may have noticed some changes in their behavior and lifestyle. Here are some signs that your child may be struggling with substance use disorder (SUD):

  • Fatigue or depression
  • Irritability and hostility
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Unusual odor on their breath or clothing
  • Poor grades and behavioral problems
  • Finding drugs and paraphernalia
  • Financial and marital problems (in adult children)
  • A drastic change in their appearance, physical health, or friends
  • Evasiveness and lying about where they go
  • Loss of interest in personal appearance
  • Changes in their sleeping, eating, and mood.
  • Memory problems
  • Dizziness
  • Dilated pupils (even in bright light)
  • Pinpoint pupils (even in low light)

A Guide for Parents of Addicts

You should be aware that your child will probably not be truthful about their problem. Still, giving in to their dishonesty will make you feel helpless and can delay getting the help your child needs. Be prepared to face the truth and be able to help your child do the same.

Prepare a United Plan of Action

If one parent says “no,” we all know that children will go to the other. In this case, it’s important that you, and anyone who shares parenting with you, get on the same page about how to deal with the issue before bringing it up with your child.  Here are some suggestions on how to do this:

  • Make it clear that no one is to blame
  • Mutually agree on the position you both will take
  • Make a promise not to trash-talk or undermine each other
  • Present a united front, even if you don’t totally agree
  • Always remember that you are approaching your child from a place of love and concern

Be Prepared for the Response

Your guidance may be necessary whether your child is an adolescent or an adult. You need to be ready for some serious pushback due to the way SUD affects people. You might be asked, “Have you ever tried any drugs?” There are ways for you to answer honestly that keeps the attention less on you and more on what you want for them. You might tell them that you drank, smoked, or tried drugs to try to fit in. And then you realize that’s not a good reason to do anything.

Try to stress that substances affect people differently, and just because you weren’t seriously harmed by substance use, you have seen others be harmed very badly by substance abuse. On top of that, stay focused on the main issue, which is to keep your child safe and healthy.

If you are currently in recovery yourself, think of your past substance abuse as a cautionary tale you can use to help your child learn and improve their future. You could tell them that you did these things and it was the wrong choice. Explain that you want them to know their family history on the subject and be able to avoid it.

Collect Evidence

You may find drug-related paraphernalia around the house if your child is living in your home. Or you may find signs of alcohol use. Signs of substance use may be noticeable in your child’s room. When you confront them about their substance abuse, you may want to present these items as evidence.

As you collect this evidence of drug or alcohol use, prepare yourself for different ways they may deny any responsibility for it. A common excuse is, “I’m holding it for someone else. Even if you don’t have an conclusive case, all parties involved will be prepared for the unavoidable conversation that lies ahead. Some of the most common places for hiding evidence include:

  • Under the bed
  • Between or inside books
  • Pencil box, jewelry box, or any other small containers
  • Backpacks, purses, or other bags
  • Under or in between clothing in dresser drawers
  • In containers made for hiding things such as fake soda cans, chapstick, lipstick, etc.
  • Inside over-the-counter medication bottles such as aspirin, Tylenol, cough medicine, etc.

Stay Calm Before and During the Conversation

If you think you’ll be uncomfortable in this conversation, you’re right. But think about how uncomfortable it is for your child. Be prepared to hear things that may shock you. You’ll hear denials of even the most convincing evidence. There will be accusations or distrust and worse. Prepare yourself beforehand for how you’ll handle an angry or resentful reaction from your child:

  • Be steadfast in staying calm, no matter what your child says
  • Don’t be drawn into responding with your own anger
  • If the conversation gets too heated, take a pause and come back to it later
  • Above all, tell your child that you love them and that’s why you’re concerned

Realistic Goal Setting

Consider the outcome you want from the initial conversation. Things will go smoother if you have this in mind. However, it’s probably for the best if you keep your expectations low. If you expect them to admit to substance use and promise to stop immediately, you are probably setting an unrealistic goal. A more reasonable goal might be expressing to them that you don’t want them to use substances anymore. Remember to:

  • Keep your expectations to a minimum, especially if this is your first time talking to them about it.
  • Set a small goal and move in that direction, little by little.

Establish Rules and Consequences

And finally, establish rules and consequences. However, you need to do this before you even begin the conversation. Think about the rules you would want to set up and what the consequences will be if they’re broken. In addition to making the goal of the conversation clear, it can help you establish a clear next step.

  • Ensure that your spouse or co-parent is ready and able to enforce the rules.
  • Pay attention to your child’s feedback. If they take a part in creating the rules, there is more likelihood that they’ll obey them.
  • Do not set consequences that you aren’t likely to enforce.

Understanding Youth SUD

Before you have your first conversation, you should know some things about why teens turn to substance use. There are a lot of challenging behaviors during the teen years, but using substances isn’t typically one of them. It’s not true that “everyone is doing it.” Nevertheless, there is a variety of teen experiences that can become an excuse for substance use. Understanding why they might drink or use drugs is an important step in keeping them healthy.

Peer Pressure

Wanting to be included and liked by others, but feeling like an outsider is pretty common during teen years. But whether your child is a teen or an adult, peer pressure could be causing substance abuse in their life. You need to tell them you are there to support them. Talk about their need to fit in and be accepted.

Help them reveal friends (or sometimes even family members) who have encouraged them to use drugs or alcohol. Once you identify some of the negative influences in their life, you might be able to help them come up with some ways to avoid situations that lead to substance use.


Often, teens and young adults will use drugs and alcohol to lower their insecurities and help them feel more confident socially. This only serves to make them feel like substance use is the best way to achieve a certain level of social interaction.

Emotional and Psychological Agony

It might be the emotional weight of family problems, everyday drama, work problems, stress, or trauma that causes some people to use substances to numb the real pain they are experiencing.

Loneliness, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues are common causes for teen and young adult substance abuse. Also, many of these happen in combination and each one magnifies the intensity of the others.  A child with these emotional or mental tendencies may have an increased risk for addiction:

  • Impulsiveness
  • A diagnosis of ADHD
  • Poor academic performance
  • A history of an anxiety disorder or disruptive disorder
  • A history of depression or bipolar disorder (might appear after substance use begins)
  • Low economic status with little access to opportunities
  • Has a need to take part in dangerous or risky behavior
  • Has problems remaining emotionally stable
  • Believes that drug use is harmless

Getting Treatment for Your Loved One at Live Free Recovery

There is help for parents of addicts. And that is by showing your child that you care by helping them get professional treatment. Live Free Recovery offers several levels of care so your child can enter treatment at the appropriate level. We are able to work with you and your child to help this be the opportunity that can actually help your whole family heal.

We can provide inpatient treatment as well as several levels of outpatient care so a comprehensive program can be created to meet your unique needs. Contact us today, talk to an admissions specialist, and get the help you need for your loved one.