It’s a complex question that concerned parents ask themselves every day. Addiction is ravaging, living nightmare. It’s the cause of many restless nights. It’s the culprit of anxious thoughts ruminating about the very worst-case scenarios. It’s money wasted, squandered, or stolen. It’s as frustrating as it is devastating. Moreover, even though the individual may be struggling with the drinking problem, it’s you that’s struggling with knowing what to do to help him. As a parent, you want to do right by your children. You love your son unconditionally. You see the potential he has, and you want him to live up to these ambitions. But, how do you intervene? What if he doesn’t want your help? What if you’ve tried to reach out in the past- and it’s only ended in heartache?
Educate Yourself On Addiction
He could stop if he really wanted to! This all started because of that stupid friend he was hanging around! If only he hadn’t lost his job, he wouldn’t have been in so much pain. There are many misconceptions about addiction. For example, do you know the difference between problematic drinking and a diagnosable Alcohol Use Disorder? Do you know the significant signs and symptoms that indicate alcoholism? Many people believe that alcoholism is a choice, that it’s a matter of willpower. However, science continues to debunk this misconception. Neuroscience shows that drinking and drug use impact brain activity. Long-term use affects the neural functioning related to learning, judgment, stress, behavior, and judgment-making. Furthermore, many people also believe that a single culprit caused the addiction. However, research also continues to show that many variables can impact substance use including biological factors, living environment, and social development. As a parent, educating yourself on addiction allows you to understand your son and his situation with more clarity. This education will enable you to make the best choices for him- and yourself- in supporting recovery.
Recognize Who Owns the Problem
Many parents want to blame themselves for their child’s behavior. They analyze what they did- or didn’t do- and they berate themselves for making mistakes. The alcoholic may provoke this cycle by shifting the blame towards the parent, which only reinforces this cycle. However, the truth is that your child is an adult. He is capable of making conscious and proactive decisions. Every day, he chooses what he decides to do with his day, with his time, and with his life. Therefore, you do not own the problem. As a result, you cannot be liable for fixing the problem. This can be a challenging reality for many parents to accept. As a parent, you may be used to being your child’s hero. Of course, you don’t want your child suffering. Maybe you’ve always stepped in when they’ve needed you. However, you cannot hold yourself liable for your son’s addiction.
Identify Your Boundaries
Loving someone struggling with addiction can be incredibly painful. One moment, you may feel appreciated and respected. The next moment, you may feel discarded and humiliated. Having boundaries protects your integrity. It honors your individual needs, and it also acknowledges the needs of other family members, such as your spouse or siblings. You must identify what you are willing to accept- and not accept- from your son. Remember that there isn’t a right answer. Every parent has his or her limitations and guidelines. Additionally, these boundaries may change over time, and that’s acceptable, too. Boundaries may include:
- Prohibiting drug or alcohol use in your house.
- Refusing to allow other drinking or using friends in your house.
- Refusing to pay legal costs or bailout fees.
- Limiting financial resources.
- Refusing to lie or “cover up” the drinking.
- Setting physical limits in the home.
Take some time to identify your boundaries. You may want to work with a therapist or mentor to establish these needs. It’s normal to feel guilty or “bad” about having these limits. However, enabling tends to only lead to more heartache and continued substance use. Remember that boundaries are only as effective as your willingness to implement them. If you set boundaries without following through on them, your words stop mattering. Your child will continue to lie, manipulate, and coerce you into what he wants. As a result, you risk continuing the cycle of giving in to his demands- while simultaneously building a deeper and deeper resentment towards both him and yourself.
Consider Staging an Intervention
If your son does not (or will not) acknowledge his drinking problem, you may need to consider staging an intervention. Interventions, when done effectively, can be highly powerful. They can also be incredibly emotional. If you are considering this route, it may be beneficial to consult with a trained interventionist. These professionals support families through this process by helping each family member identify his or her needs, facilitating the intervention, and locating appropriate treatment referrals. They also help with transportation and coordination of treatment care. If you would like help planning an intervention and preparing a plan to get your son treatment, call Lakeview Health at 866-704-7692. Interventions work when all loved ones come together unilaterally to show their love and support for the struggling individual. These are not meant to be confrontational; they are intended to be honest and firm. Loved ones set their intentions, and they also define their boundaries should the individual refuse to seek help. Know that interventions do not always have happy endings. Sometimes, the individual will refuse help. That’s why this decision needs to be made intentionally and carefully.
Support Recovery Needs
As a parent, you can play an invaluable role in helping your son receive the treatment he needs for his alcoholism. Unfortunately, addiction often causes financial wreckage. Even if your child wants professional support, he may not be able to obtain it. This is not to say that you need to “fund” your child’s treatment. However, it is essential that you identify if and how you can support him should he decide that he wants to pursue recovery. Even if your finances are tight, many treatment centers will work with families to find the care (or the appropriate referrals) that will best support your son. If your son is actively in treatment, he will be working with a designated treatment team. This typically includes a case manager, therapist, and psychiatrist or medical doctor. This team collaborates to determine the best treatment options for your son. Trust that this team has your son’s best interest at heart. Know that your son may not always see eye-to-eye with these staff. This can happen due to denial, resistance, lack of motivation for change, or even personal differences. It is essential that you first discuss your concerns with the professionals before reaching out to your son.
Participate in Family Therapy and Family Programs
Addiction is a family disease. Successful treatment centers include the entire family system when treating addiction. If you have the option to attend family therapy or intensive family workshops, you should take advantage of these opportunities. Family engagement allows you to be a part of the growth and healing process. It also encourages you to obtain your own tools and resources. Furthermore, in family programs, you will also meet other people going through the same stress as you. This creates a sense of normalcy in reminding you that you are never alone in your struggles.
Find Your Own Support
There’s no doubt that addiction is a lonely battle. However, loving and supporting an alcoholic can be just as lonely- and just as stigmatizing. Unfortunately, many parents “lose themselves” while wanting to help their children. They focus all their attention on the addiction; they obsess over daily whereabouts; they hang onto every word and promise said to them. This cycle can be exhausting and heartbreaking. Regardless of your child’s recovery, you deserve to have your own recovery from the throes of addiction. This recovery may come in the form of support groups (like Al-Anon), individual therapy, or even spiritual connection. It may come in the way of reconnecting with old friends or passions. Remember that you are allowed to get your own help. You are allowed to seek your own support. You are entitled to find happiness, contentment, and peace.
Final Thoughts On How to Help an Alcoholic
As a parent, you will never stop worrying about your child’s well-being. You loved your son unconditionally from the day he was born, and you will continue to love him throughout this tiring process. Your support matters, but your health also matters. Take care of yourself and be kind to yourself during this time. You don’t need to rescue anyone. You only need to be the loving and compassionate support that your child has always needed. At Lakeview Health, we are passionate about helping both individuals and their families recover from the perils of addiction. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you.