My Child Is in Treatment: Now What?
Everyone knows of a family that has struggled to cope with a loved one who is an alcoholic or user, shares Psychology Today. Friends and observers may try to understand the experience of the family and may watch—sometimes with judgment—as family members try to navigate this stressful situation. Years may pass and, despite the family’s best efforts to address the unhealthy family patterns and facilitate change, somehow the addict seems to control the family and in a sense call the shots.
Parents: “Letting Go” Is NOT Neglect
“I have had the honor of working with addiction specialists who focus on the treatment of the families of those with addictions,” shares Sarah A Benton MS, LMHC, LPC in Psychology Today. “They have a really difficult job in terms of helping families to see that the way that they have been relating to and loving the active alcoholic has actually been feeding the addiction and not helping their loved one. This can be confusing, scary and counterintuitive in that the way that a family would demonstrate caring towards a healthy member of their family is not the way they should toward an active alcoholic or addicted user.”
As one parent stated about what she learned through the process of dealing with a child having a substance use disorder, “We all want our kids to be so happy. I didn’t realize how much I’ve felt responsible for making my son ‘happy’ so he wouldn’t use. Big mistake. It has been so freeing for me to let go of this” by placing him in the responsible care of a highly-acclaimed treatment program.
“Fear,” notes Benton, “is a driving force”—a driving force in the way families relate to a loved one’s substance use disorder including fear of loss, fear of causing pain and discomfort, fear of illness and death, fear for safety, fears of opinions, fear of the unknown and fear of guilt. These fears are real and legitimate since any of them could actually be realized. However, the alcoholic part of the individual may count on his loved ones being ruled by these fears and try to capitalize on it. That’s where a treatment center can help relieve the user’s family from this emotional burden and misplaced responsibility.
Many people have seen the show A&E Intervention or movies that depict dramatic addiction intervention scenes. There is a reason that families find it necessary to hire skilled interventionists to intervene in order to raise the inevitable bottoming out floor for their loved ones so that he can see how his addiction is affecting not only himself, but everyone else in his life as well. The families and friends of individuals with a substance use disorder hopefully care enough about him to face their fears, make themselves uncomfortable and hold the line in order to target the sick part of their loved one so that the healthy person that they once knew has a chance at a productive life again.
It is often stated that parents must hand their children’s recovery back to their children. That single concept is one that is discussed in every forum, book and support group notes . Yet for most parents, letting go is the hardest recovery concept to embrace. Handing over an actively using child to others can intuitively seem parentally neglectful. We love our children and want to cure her addiction with every fiber of our being. We are told that we can’t cure it; yet, as newcomers to the battle, we struggle to fix our child.
Parents oftentimes think death to addiction can be avoided by keeping their baby safe at home. The number of children that die in their bedrooms with a heroin needle hanging from their arm is staggering. Allowing your child to use at home does not equate to safety. Home is often used to fuel the addiction as the child sells every item that’s not nailed down to the floor in order to feed his demon. The other family members deserve a safe haven—one free of the drama and chaos that is always associated with addiction.
Helping Parents See the Situation Clearly
The following are a few concepts that Addiction Journal tells us has helped parents get proper perspective on their addicted children:
- We mustn’t put a Band-Aid on this life injury called substance use disorder. Covering this issue up won’t cure it. Deal in the reality of the addiction, and learn how to fight back by using the real-life (been there, done that) experiences of others who have struggled through all of this themselves.
- We must allow our children to find recovery on their own terms even though the journey may bring difficult consequences to a life that’s already in the throes of utter chaos.
- It is not our place to bear the burden of recovery more than they do. Dragging your child to NA/AA (12-Step) meetings is futile if they truly do not wish to be part of that self-help program. They have to want it and chase the sobriety as hard as they have chased the drink/use life.
- We must learn to break free of the drama that is symptomatic of addiction. It is a viable option not to take a cell phone call from your distraught child at 3 a.m. and allow him to work out the personal issues at hand.
- We must learn not to love our addicted child to death. Again, love alone does not cure a child. Enabling and codependency will serve to actually deter potential recovery.
“Where there is life there is hope,” shares one parent, “but for me, there was no hope if I continued to enable my son.” The need to detach with love from your child’s addiction is just one of the many challenges that parents will face in the parent-child interaction surrounding substance abuse disorders.
No one expects a family to instinctually know how to appropriately care for a loved one with an addiction, but there are resources out there to help with this process. If you call our 24/7 toll-free helpline, a friendly, knowledgeable professional will assist you in getting the info and answers you need. Then you can find out firsthand what 11 federally funded research studies concluded: Ours is one of the very best treatment programs in the country. We are effective. We are discrete, and we really care about you.