The Role of Parents in Addiction & Recovery

Parents have a significant role both in the active drug use of their children and during the recovery process. Parents of drug users can do a great deal to help their children overcome the disease of addiction, but they can also do a lot of harm if they don’t make the right choices regarding their children. Unfortunately, this applies to adult children as well as adolescents – even the parents of an alcoholic woman in her 40’s can have a significant impact on the severity and duration of their daughter’s use; or her ultimate recovery. However, because people who are addicted to drugs often develop extreme difficulties in communicating effectively with their parents, understanding exactly what roles parents play during drug addiction and recovery is essential in order to get the addict the right help. This is especially important considering that in most cases it is rare for the addict or alcoholic to reach out for help on their own. This is where a caring parent can step in and literally save a life.

Few parents realize that they may inadvertently contribute to the drug use or alcoholism of their children. A parent’s attitude and views on drug use and alcohol consumption figure heavily in the development of similar ideas in the child. The source of some of the ideas concerning drugs and alcohol can be surprising. According to Scott Counseling, some things that parents do that send confusing messages about drugs and alcohol include:

*Not talking about tobacco and drugs
*Misusing/abusing legal drugs, such as alcohol, in front of our children
*Misusing/abusing prescription medication in front of our children
*Watching and laughing at TV sitcoms that include adults misusing/abusing mood altering chemicals (1)

Not talking to children about drugs is sometimes the most damaging thing a parent can do, because if a child doesn’t get their ideas on drugs and alcohol from their parents, then the chances that they will get them from a public largely obsessed with recreational drug use and drinking are high. Additionally, few people realize that children – even older or adult children – who see their parents laugh or make light of situations involving drug use or heavy drinking may form their own ideas about this based on their parent’s behavior. And when children actually witness their parents drinking or using drugs the chances the child will do the same increase significantly, according to the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America:

“Compared to teens who have not seen their parents drunk, those who have are more than twice as likely to get drunk in a typical month. . .” (2)

The negative role of parents in addiction and alcoholism extends far beyond inadvertently or uncaringly displaying unfavorable attitudes in regards to substance abuse. According to many addiction experts, genetics play a large role as well. For instance, if one parent is already an alcoholic or drug addict (whether in remission/recovery or not), then it’s theoretically much more likely that one of the children will possess this trait as well. However, with proper education and awareness about drug addiction and alcoholism, the genetic propensity for addiction can be mitigated. This is not the case, however, if one or both of the parents are enablers.

Perhaps the most common role that parents play in the addiction of their children is that of the enabler – a person who – consciously or not – makes the drug use of the addict possible. An enabler can be a parent who simply makes excuses for the drug use or drinking of their children, or they can be much more damaging. In an article titled Substance Abuse and the Enabler, Dfwan Taebon writes;

“Some enablers have been known to regularly purchase drugs or alcohol for the user, to make excuses for or hide the severity or frequency of use, cover up abusive situations, lie to prevent the user from suffering legal consequences, and in some cases assume the blame for problems caused by the user.” (3)

Parent enablers sometimes excuse these behaviors away. For instance, some parents procure drugs for their underage and /or adult children because they assume that they will just find the drugs somewhere else if they don’t. Other parents may provide money or transportation or some other resource that enables the drug use because they feel that if they don’t their child may go to such extreme measures to get drugs that they hurt themselves or someone else in the process. Additionally, some parents may “manage” the drug use of their children because they fear losing them to the penal system.

However, in most instance parents who enable their child do so unintentionally. But whatever the case may be, parents play an instrumental role in the drug addiction treatment or alcohol rehab of their dependent child. In fact, most rehab centers report that it is often the mother or father who initiates treatment for their minor or adult child. Drug addiction is such a severe condition that even the strongest-willed individuals cannot get help on their own, and therefore they are dependent upon their parents to reach out for help for them. But the role of the parent goes far beyond just getting the user to treatment. The parent’s primary role during treatment is to provide support, and in some cases this involves treatment for the parent directly. Clinician’s focus on providing therapies for the parents as well as the patient:

  • Rapport building and maintenance of communication with parents throughout the treatment episode.
  • A proper assessment and diagnosis is key. Many youth use drugs or alcohol as self-medication as a result of an underlying mental health disorder. Many parents believe drug use is a “choice” and need to be educated on the role of mental health disorders in addiction and the physiology of addiction.
  • Cognitive reframing for parents to begin to see their son or daughter in a more positive light again
  • Use of Motivational Enhancement Therapy as an engagement strategy with parents as well as youth
  • Exposing families to social support groups like Al-Anon
  • Providing treatment services in the home
  • Providing recreational or social events for the entire family to attend such as pot luck dinners, barbeque picnics, etc” (4)

Ultimately, parents play a critical role in the active drug use of their children, and they play a potentially life-saving role in the recovery of an addicted child. However, no parent is infallible, and when it comes to the life of a child, no risk is worth taking. Call the number at the top of your screen now if your young or adult child has a problem with drugs or alcohol. They may be depending on you now more than ever, though they might not know how to articulate that to you. Call us right now with no further obligation – the call is free and completely confidential.

Recovery First, one of American Addiction Centers’ Florida drug rehab centers, is ready to help you overcome addiction and find long-term recovery. Call us today at to learn more about addiction treatment near you.

(1) Scott Counseling How Parents Enable Drug Use
Accessed 09/16/2011

(2) Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America Study Finds Teens Drug and Alcohol Use Influenced by Parents Behavior Aug 27, 2009
Accessed 09/16/2011

(3) Taebon, Dfwan Substance Abuse and the Enabler
Accessed 09/16/2011

(4) Bohs, Rhonda, Ph.D. Parental Involvement in Adolescent Substance AbuseTreatment Programs: Synopsis of Focus Groups Conducted with Florida Adolescent Treatment Providers and Parents March 29, 2007
Southern Coast Addiction Technology Transfer Center
Accessed 09/16/2011

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