My Child Is Doing So Well Right Now. Shouldn’t I Just Let This Play Out?

October 29, 2023

Expert Advice | Barbara Decker

Key Takeaways

  • It’s important to differentiate between being clean and sober and being actively engaged in recovery when addressing a child’s addiction.
  • Signs that you need to change your approach include your child no longer resembling the person you remember, facing constant crises without the ability to navigate through them, hiding the truth from others, and feeling relieved and relaxed because your child is temporarily safe.
  • Previous strategies such as trying to force life back to normal or relying solely on hope for the best have proven ineffective in sustaining recovery.
  • Instead, use the period when your child is clean and sober to focus on yourself, establish priorities and boundaries, and embark on your own recovery journey.
  • Prepare yourself for the possibility of addictive behaviors resurfacing and be aware that recovery may not be achieved if it is only a temporary solution to other life challenges.

You know the feeling: When you finally see a light at the end of the tunnel for your adult child struggling with addiction. It may happen after a crisis that lands them in jail or rehab, or their current sobriety may be a choice they’ve made on their own.

This is it, you think. This is when the nightmare ends and your child will finally be back to who you remember them being. You have the mental space to think about yourself, and put your own life in order after being there constantly for your child. As a result you back off and spend your energy elsewhere.

But then they come home from jail or rehab, clean and sober but not necessarily in recovery, and this is an important distinction to make. It’s not enough for them to simply not do drugs or drink alcohol; they need to be active in their ongoing choice to stay sober. However, just as they need to learn how to manage life’s challenges without using substances, so too do you need to learn how to support them. 

How will I know that I need to change my approach when they choose recovery?

  • Your child has used drugs or alcohol and:
  • Your child no longer looks and/or behaves like the child you raised.
  • Your child has crisis after crisis in his/her life and is unable to navigate through them.
  • You hide a lot of what is happening from friends and family. 
  • You are feeling relieved, more relaxed, and maybe you can sleep through the night again. A period of calm has entered your world because your child is safe or safer.
  • You are hopeful that this stint in jail, or rehab, or in “recovery” will be the end of this for your child and your family.

Wait — I thought this was it. Why isn’t my child continuing to choose recovery?

It can be easy to take your foot off the brake and assume everything will be okay when your child is clean and sober. You may have even tried that before, only to have your child relapse, leading your family right back into a dangerous cycle. You may have tried these strategies, too:

Method 1: When HE takes a break, YOU take a break. When your child's behavior settles down, you use that as an excuse/opportunity to be less concerned. You try your best to force life back to normal.

Method 2: Hope for the best. You put this out of your mind, even though you know that you’ve seen these temporary reprieves in the past. After all, there is always hope that “this” is the time that this will end.

It’s time to try a new approach.

When your child is clean and sober, you feel safe from your child’s addiction — which isn’t predictable or controllable. The bare truth is that you’ll likely face the same issues again at some point throughout the substance use and recovery journey.

Use this time instead to your advantage. Gain the clarity you need to get to a clear understanding about what your own priorities are, what boundaries are right for you, how you want to live the rest of your life. Use this time to empower yourself; to grow yourself; to move forward on your own journey.

Because make no mistake, we parents are on our own recovery journey as well. And the more work we do on ourselves, the more likely our child is to achieve and remain in long-term recovery.

While it may feel like the tough times are over, and while that could be true for now, prepare yourself for the likely return of some of these issues.

Here’s why you need this time to focus.

Most addicts relapse, and often more than once. It may take days or months, but it can also happen years later. You need to prepare for that possibility. Now is the time to do that, while you have the mental and emotional real estate to do so.

Clean/sober is something that a person can be forced to do - get the substance of their system. That is the easier part. The mental work of recovery takes sustained effort and many people do not do it. You need to prepare for the addictive behaviors to continue even after the substance is out of their system. You need to prepare for how you will respond.

Often, an addict will enter recovery or rehab or jail because they are out of options on where to live and how to be. When this is the case, sustained recovery will not occur and you will be back right where you started. 

Take this step today.

Here’s something you can do right now: Watch or listen to a small training from me, where we talk about the realities of your addicted child returning back home. Because addiction is not a sprint, it is a marathon. And the best time to equip yourself for what may lay ahead is while you are in a period of relative calm.

Sign up here for access to a recording I made for my students.

Ready to take another step while you have the mental space available?

Watch my workshop. I talk about the various options parents have to find the support they need to maintain this more peaceful state for you and your family. And this is so worth doing for yourself. YOU are worth it.

Watch This Workshop for how help ensure your child continues to choose recovery

I hope you find a pocket of joy in your day today.
Reach out anytime, because I care.


Certified Family Recovery Specialist (CFRS)

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  1. My 33 year old son is a severe alcoholic. Vodka being his drink of choice. He also suffers from depression and anxiety. I’ve been dealing with his disease for approximately 8 years now. He has been in rehab 6 or 7 times. The longest time of sobriety for him was 8 months. He lived with me for two years but that won’t happen again. I have paid his bills off and on. This past October he attempted suicide by taking a bottle of his blood pressure pills, Ativan, and Librium. The hospital brought him back to life after 6 minutes of CPR. He started a new job that he just quit after 3 months. He’s looking for a new job now. He is very depressed. I know what’s coming. I’m so sick of dealing with his problems. I know he needs love but I’m so tired.

    1. Julia – It is exhausting for sure – and I’m sorry you are going through it. It is important to take care of yourself. You matter too. Your son is responsible for making choices for his life. We can support you in shifting how you approach this, if that’s a good option for you. -B

  2. My son is clean after a rehab stint. He is now home attending IOP 3-4 hours each evening. He has not gone back to work- even remotely which I think he could each morning till like 3 or 4. Back to n sleeping past noon. I am so stressed always checking on him to to make sure he’s up and functioning. I am stressed and exhausted.

    1. Rose – I understands. Moms should be able to just be moms and not jailers, keepers, watchers, prodders, etc. -B

  3. I find comfort in reading with you. Feeling anxious at times and then alone. A child is always a child and when I am down I feel no one understands my situation and it makes you hide it and put myself into a shell. Not the right thing to do but safe to me as people don’t understand it isn’t cut and dry or black and white. There are always curves and hills in a Mom and addicts relationship. We made the vow they are our child when we gave birth and we love unconditionally. When we try to change they wonder about us and feel let down and get upset (the addict). And if we don’t try to put boundaries and put our foot down our families and friends get angry with us. We seem to catch the disappointment label either decision we make.

    1. Hi Sharon – Thanks for your note. It is impossible for anyone who hasn’t lived this journey to truly understand and I encourage you to kindly tell others that you are wrestling tough decisions and do not want their feedback. You have that right. When the person with the addiction gets upset, that is the disease trying to get what it wants. -B

    1. Catherine – I understand the fear. Now is the best time to start to plan for how you will respond to various situations when you son is released. We often have students wait until after the fact and it is easier to do the work and planning now. -B

  4. My 26 yr old son is drug addicted and homeless,and has been for the past four years.He also suffers from a mental illness(BPD)
    I only hear from him when he is in jail and sober.
    Then back out on the streets and I no longer get the daily phone calls.
    I feel a mother's,guilt for not going out and looking for him(been there done that) which is like finding a needle in a haystack.
    The worst part is that guilt sends me down a rabbit hole.
    What is the right thing to do? Look for him knowing I can't scoop him up and bring him home,or look for him and leave him there making me feel even worse.
    He has been in and out of jail few times,has been given the opportunity to live with his father for 11 months,then right back to the streets after a fight.
    This is not only his life,but a life sentence for me as well.
    I feel this story differs from many others as my son lives on the streets less that two hours away.
    I have no contact with him,even though I begged him to let me know he's safe out there.
    The saga continues .

    1. Terri – I’m so sorry for what you are going through. And your story is very similar to mine back in the day. Eric was also on the streets in my local area – and I only heard from him when he wanted something or was in jail. And all of that is a function of the disease our kids have – the disease of addiction. You ask what is the right thing to do, and there is no “right thing”. I encourage you to remember that you are a person who matters too, and the “right” think is the thing that is right for you. This is the work we do within our coached program, The Transformative Boundaries Experience. Helping each mom find her own best thing to do. -B

  5. It is so nice to be able to read and learn how I already feel and live everyday.
    Thank you for alittle peace on earth.
    Teresa Ovalle

    1. Yes, Teresa. We often feel alone, and we are really not alone. So many of us keep this to ourselves instead of discussing freely around the disease it is. I think to myself: Would I keep this secret if the disease were cancer, heart disease, diabetes? -Barbara

  6. The life of a mom and a addict !! So frustrating and so challenging,, I’ve had my son in and out of my care for the past two years ,,sleepless nights and constantly worrying and wondering,, We have tried to get in into a rehab place since December 2021 ,, still waiting patiently,,He’s doing much better ,, but has legal issues to be dealt with also ,, He has a family with two daughters,, He’s a loving person with so
    Much good in him ,, but the addiction takes over the person ,, and then we can’t find him ,,sad and helpless to this terrible disease ,, Hope his future will be better ,, prayers everyday to help me get through,,

    1. You are so right, Gwen, to recognize the difference between the addiction and your actual son. Hope things sort out. -Barbara

  7. Thank you, Barbara, for the invaluable info you make available. As a mom whose son is currently going through treatment, I am feeling the ups and downs of this experience. It is not my first time either so I know all too well how the elated feeling of his reaching out for help can be countered by past experience. Hope is a wonderful feeling though, but I know I must prepare myself to be strong for whatever the future holds. Thank you for your insight.

    1. Thank you Reen. You are right about the ups and downs and the trickiness of navigating this time. We want to give tons of support on the journey while still letting them own their own journey.

  8. I came upon your comments today. Very true & it helps to see someone else thinks this! I have always held my bottom line with my son. He views it as abusive behavior on my part. I know it’s not abuse! I had always trusted his promises to stay sober when he gets out of jail-until he broke that trust too many times. I would tell him he was sober in jail, but he needed to change his past friends & activities he enjoyed doing. All involved drugs & alcohol & I felt he needed a strong commitment to treatment & recovery to be able to succeed for any length of time! One time he made it two days, came to my house drunk & almost killed me! As soon as I could escape I called law enforcement-as I had promised I would. He’s still furious with me, but I know I made the right choice. Our county has no addiction resources-even in jail. It costs too much money! Same in prison, where he now is. Same with housing here for anyone with a record of violence. Therefore, I had no other choice in the past. Now, after almost a year of peace, ability to sleep at night, focus on my own needs & recovery, living in fear, I feel much stronger now. I have never had this long in between incarcerations for almost 10 years. He still continues to blame me foe everything that has happened in these10 years. The hard part was that we were always so close, & when he’s truly sober, that son came back to me, but I could see the difference the minute he started using again. I begged the court & his probation officer to deal with his addiction issues with no luck! He even applied for Drug Court, but was denied! Was also ready to start treatment (on his own) a week after he was incarcerated again last August. Much more to the story, but I want to thank you for what you offer for free. Financially I can’t do more, but your message today prompted me to write. Thanks!

    1. Thank you, Nancy, for sharing your story. I would like to point out 2 things. First, the abuse, the manipulation, the lousy behavior is the mind disease of addiction trying to get what it actually thinks it needs. That does not excuse it – nor does that mean allow it in our lives – just wanted to say that your son is beneath the addiction and the true son does not believe the things this disease says either. They often cannot tell us that while in the disease, but it is true.

      Second thing – there is a huge difference between “clean/sober/free of sustances” and “recovery”. The first can be done in jail, in rehab, by a person’s sheer will. The second is harder and requires that the person do mind work; it cannot be forced and will only happen when that person chooses to do it. And Love Another Way strategies that I write and teach about are the things we can do to actually encourage our child to choose to do the work of recovery – and it is real hard work. Hope things improve for you.


      1. Thanks for the response! I appreciate it! I have been following your posts for about a year now. Thanks for saying that the disease is talking when he has tried to place responsibility for his actions on me. I know I didn’t cause his destructive behavior. The disease did. I have had to accept there is a possibility he might not ever choose recovery. That decision is his alone to make. I believe that as long as he continues to believe he can pick right back up with his old friends & activities, the chances are not good. That hasn’t changed yet. I hope & pray some day he will see things differently. But, until he is released from prison I am taking this time to work on my own mental recovery & prepare myself for what lies ahead. Thanks for the valuable insight & support!

  9. This was such a good reminder to stay prepared for the probability of more challenges coming. I’m kind of in that place now. You’re so right about wanting a breather from the trauma. I love the idea of taking the down time to do the boundaries work to become more and more empowered. Thank you, Barbara!

    1. Doing them in the heat of the moment is so hard. Welcome, Julie and thanks for the note.

  10. Looking forward to hearing this Barbara. This is exactly what has been on my mind. With so little contact with her since the program began I have had little opportunity to physically set any boundaries. What it has done is allowed me the opportunity to really look at my own personal priorities, be mindful that I am working toward a more worryfree life and focus on me. Listening and reading others comments/situations has both affirmed the journey of addiction we have been on of what we have done that was right in the moment and what we learned by experience. As our AD is 6 mo pregnant and appears clean/sober the journey is long over and pray she chooses recovery. The olive branvh has been extended (text message to her)to come home temporarily while waiting for housing via HUD. No answer back yet…her choice. God’s Will. Thank You Barbera for sharing your gift in communicating how to love in a different way by communicating lovingly within our own priorities the boundaries needed for the success of our addicted adult children that are struggling with this horrible addiction . Blessings.

    1. Welcome, Denise. Thanks for sharing here. And I hope she chooses to reconnect. A wise doctor told me during Eric’s journey, that he would be back. And I said “when” – and he pondered and said “well it could take 8-10 years, but he will be back – you and he are connected.” Shame and guilt keeps them away often – and your gentle acceptance and love is what might turn the tides:)

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