Addiction Affects More than the Addict

5 Feelings the Parents of Adult Addicts Should Give Themselves Permission to Have

Parenting is not a job for the faint of heart. Every child is different, and that means that parenting every child comes with its own unique challenges. As children become adults, they don’t stop needing support from their families-- but when an adult child falls prey to addiction, providing that support can be an emotionally difficult experience for loved ones, especially parents.

However you are feeling in response to your adult child’s addiction, know that your feelings are valid. Here are a few-- but by no means all-- of the most common feelings that parents of adult addicts may experience throughout their child’s illness:

  • Disbelief
  • Shame
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Grief
a man in a brown puffer jacket stands gazing out over a lake, his hands placed behind his head in a gesture of exasperation
It can be difficult to accept an adult child’s addiction, and feelings of disbelief are a common reaction from parents.

Disbelief

Accepting that your child is held captive by a disease such as addiction is a difficult process for many parents. It can be easy-- especially in the early days of a child’s addiction-- to dismiss their behavior or ignore the signs of substance use and abuse.

Parents may be inclined to normalize their child’s behavior-- perhaps by suggesting that all kids of that age experiment with different substances or that their child’s use is a “one time thing.”

It can be difficult to accept that our children make mistakes, and it’s even more difficult to admit that our child has developed a serious problem such as addiction. However, addressing your own feelings of disbelief and realistically assessing your child’s behavior can be instrumental to getting both you and your child the support you need.

a man places his face in his hand
It can be difficult to accept an adult child’s addiction, and feelings of disbelief are a common reaction from parents.


Shame

One of the reasons why it can be so difficult to address our children’s mistakes is because, as the people who raised them, we may feel shame as a result of their behavior. This is especially true if your child’s struggle with substance abuse affects your standing within your local, religious, or other communities.

When we talk about addiction, the focus is typically on the addict themselves. Of course this makes sense, but it is also worth noting that addiction can affect the entire family. Any feelings of shame you experience should be recognized and ideally shared with a support network.

a man with graying hair in profile, his face scrunched up in anger
It can be difficult to accept an adult child’s addiction, and feelings of disbelief are a common reaction from parents.


Anger

You have done your best to give your child a good life. As any parent has, you have made sacrifices to support your child and set them up for a successful adult life. How could your child squander all of the opportunities that you have worked so hard to provide for them?

This feeling of anger at your child’s behavior is completely normal, especially when your child appears to have abandoned their life as a well-adjusted adult to pursue such fleeting pleasures as those chased by addicts. How can your child not see what he is doing to himself, or what she is doing to her friends and family?

Many parents may even feel anger directed at themselves for not noticing the signs of addiction. If you had parented differently, could you have stopped all of this from happening?

Realistically, your child’s addiction is not something that you or your partner could necessarily have prevented, and allowing anger to bubble up to the surface in uncontrolled ways can be unhealthy and counterproductive.

The best way to deal with anger when your child has fallen prey to addiction is to seek out support from your family and other communities, as well as from licensed personal or family counselors.  

a photograph of a woman in black and white. she has long dark hair and  has placed her head in her right hand
It can be difficult to accept an adult child’s addiction, and feelings of disbelief are a common reaction from parents.


Guilt

When their child encounters one of life’s countless hardships, many parents feel guilty that they are not able to protect their child from the harsh reality they are currently facing. In addition to feeling guilt that their child has fallen prey to addiction in the first place, parents often have to cope with societal pressure as well.

Society has a tendency to blame parents for their children’s mistakes and struggles, and unfortunately this stigma absolutely exists for the parents of adult addicts. It may cause some members of your support network to turn their backs on you and fail to see the love, support, and effort you put into helping your child recover.

Guilt is a natural response to this sort of pressure, but it is important to draw a line between things you can control and things you cannot. For example, you can identify and eliminate your own enabling behaviors, but you can’t make the choice to return to sobriety for your child.

a man in jeans and a green shirt sits on a bench in a park with his head bowed
It can be difficult to accept an adult child’s addiction, and feelings of disbelief are a common reaction from parents.

Grief

Addiction is a terrible disease that can take over many aspects of a person’s life and even cause them to behave in a way that is uncharacteristic of the person you know and love. This-- combined with the feeling that recovery from addiction will be a battle-- leaves many parents with a strong feeling of loss or grief when they discover their child’s addiction. Will you ever get your child back again?

To make matters even more complicated, many religions support some form of the belief that, when a child breaks a serious rule or otherwise breaks from the teachings of their parents and community, that they should be considered “dead” to the family.

The grief of having a child who struggles with addiction at any age is one of the most difficult feelings that parents must cope with. Unlike some of the other feelings, which may come and go or eventually pass entirely, grief is not something you truly get over. It is simply something that you must learn to “deal with” in order to go on living your life.

two people's clasped hands sitting on a couch cushion between them
It can be difficult to accept an adult child’s addiction, and feelings of disbelief are a common reaction from parents.


Seeking Help for Your Child and for Yourself

If your child is struggling with addiction, it is important to connect them with experienced addiction counselors who can help them take back control of their life. In Pittsburgh and West Virginia, the ROOTS program has everything your child needs to break the cycle of addiction and make a lasting change in their life.

The ROOTS program is offered at our offices in:

  • Morgantown, WV
  • Wheeling, WV
  • Bridgeport, WV

Because addiction affects the entire family, it is also important for parents and other family members to seek support from licensed counselors who specialize in helping the families of addicts work through their complex feelings and reestablish a sense of wellbeing and control.

In addition to providing support to addicts themselves through the ROOTS program at select locations, our Harmony health and wellness centers offer a variety of mental health services that may help people suffering from a wide variety of disorders or experiencing a wide variety of challenges, including coping with a loved one's addiction.

Our Harmony health centers are here to help the families of Pittsburgh and West Virginia at these locations:

  • Wexford, PA (Pittsburgh)
  • Morgantown, WV
  • Wheeling, WV
  • Bridgeport, WV
A woman with short brown hair sits behind a desk, offering addiction support to a patient at a harmony health center.
Addiction support from ROOTS and Harmony can help you and your child take back control of your wellbeing.


Parents of adult addicts experience a wide range of emotions, and that is completely normal. No matter what you are feeling-- be it disbelief, grief, or something else entirely-- know that your feelings are valid, and there is always someone ready and willing to offer support as you navigate this difficult experience.



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