So many of our blog posts are focused around what to do if your child is suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction. But what if the suffering person is your parent? Here is some great information from Drug Addiction Treatment about how to help an addicted parent.

We often hear advice for parents who want to get a child into alcohol or drug rehab, but what happens when the situation is reversed and it’s the parent who needs treatment? It’s not as uncommon as you might think.  Many adult children find themselves dealing with a parent who abuses substances or has a serious addiction. In one study, more than 4 million adults over the age of 50 had used illicit drugs in the previous year.

Confronting the Issue

Confronting your parent can feel daunting.  You may even feel as if you’re overstepping–that it’s not your place, since you’re still “the child,” in a sense.  Don’t wait until your addicted parent hits rock bottom  to find help.  That “bottom” could be a deadly overdose or a drunk  driving accident that kills innocent people. Addiction is a progressive disease, and your parent needs help before it gets worse.  Now is almost always better than later, especially since later often comes too late or never comes at all.

Consult with a professional

Before you talk with your parent about alcohol or drug rehab, it may be helpful to consult with a professional. For example, talk to a mental health professional or a physician, perhaps even your parent’s primary care physician. Other options include consulting an addiction specialist.  These professionals will share their knowledge and insight.  They can give you some guidance in terms of how to handle the situation.  This, in turn, will allow you to better help your parent.

Approach your parent

  • Choose a time when he or she is less likely to be drunk or high. For instance, if you know your mom starts all-night-long binges with an evening glass of wine, try approaching her earlier in the day.
  • Talk to your parent about your concerns in a calm, non-judgmental way.  Let your parent know that you’re broaching this delicate subject out of love and genuine concern.
  • Describe what you’ve observed about his or her behavior. For example, “When I visited yesterday morning, your speech was slurred and I smelled alcohol on your breath,” or “I noticed you have pain medication prescriptions from several doctors.”
  • Stay away from “you” accusations, such as “You always were a horrible parent,” or “I never trusted you to do right by us.”
  • Avoid dramatic antics, like dumping alcohol down the sink or flushing prescription pills down the toilet. This will only antagonize your parent.
  • Listen to your parent’s side of the story. You’ll be more successful if the interaction is a conversation instead of a preaching session. You don’t need to agree with what’s said, but it’s important to show that you care enough to listen.
  • Discuss the physical effects of substance abuse. For example, remind your parent that alcohol or drugs can interfere with medications he or she may take for other conditions.
  • Realize that it may take several conversations. If the first conversation doesn’t convince your parent to find help, try again.
  • Offer to assist in ways that will facilitate movement toward getting help. For instance, say “Let’s visit the doctor to make sure you’re OK.”

Consider an Intervention

When informal conversations aren’t successful, consider an intervention. The intervention is a structured process for convincing a parent to enter alcohol or drug rehab. A trained professional will work with you and your family to identify treatment options, manage process details and moderate the intervention itself. You’ll also work with the interventionist to come up with consequences if your parent refuses treatment. For instance, you might withdraw any financial assistance you’ve been providing.

In addition, an interventionist can be critical for finding appropriate treatment resources for older addicts. A senior addicted to drugs or alcohol may have special concerns related to health or mobility. For example, your parent may need medications for a health condition. The interventionist will also consider potential inpatient rehab challenges. For instance, an 80-year-old prescription drug addict may refuse inpatient treatment that houses them with young adult heroin addicts.

An intervention may not work the first time–or the second. It can be discouraging to go through repeated unsuccessful attempts.  Make sure you stick to the consequences you outlined during the meetings. Make it clear to your parent that when he or she is ready for treatment, you’ll be there to help. Often addicts will come to the realization they need rehab when they’ve tapped all their resources and can find nobody willing to help them sustain the addiction.

Finding Help for the Addict’s Spouse or Children

An addicted person’s partner may be in denial about the substance abuse. If you have a parent or step-parent who is in denial or enabling their spouse’s condition, encourage them to find help as well. He or she might benefit from therapy or a self-help group like Al-Anon.

Some parents may still have younger children at home. There are few alcohol or drug rehab facilities that provide child care. If your parent has younger children at home, help them make arrangements for their care. It may be easier for a parent to choose rehabilitation if they know their young ones are being cared for.

Finding Help for Yourself

Children of alcoholics and drug addicts often share characteristics that are different than those of children from non-addicted homes. Adult children of addicts may not have a sense of what is “normal” family behavior or they might have trouble developing intimate relationships. Those who took on the “adult” role during childhood may also have a difficult time having fun.

Consider attending therapy yourself. A mental health professional will help you evaluate your emotions as well as the behaviors they trigger. You’ll learn tips and strategies you can use on a daily basis to cope with feelings in a productive and healthy way.

Support groups are another invaluable tool for the adult children of addicted parents. The stress of dealing with a substance abuser takes an emotional toll. Support networks, such as Al-Anon, are designed to give family members a place to freely express their emotions. You’ll connect with others who are dealing with the same feelings and challenges. Members share stories as well as resources that you might find useful.

No one is beyond help. No parent is ever too set in his or her ways to change. Your loved one deserves to live a life that’s free from the physical and emotional effects of substance abuse. Don’t wait to reach out for help. Alcohol or drug rehab can start the healing process. Begin a conversation with your addicted parent as soon as possible.

Do you have an addicted parent? How have you been able to help them?