I’ve Tried Everything as a Parent to Help My Child Choose Recovery. Why Is This Approach Different?

September 19, 2023

Expert Advice | Barbara Decker

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  • I’ve Tried Everything as a Parent to Help My Child Choose Recovery. Why Is This Approach Different?

Key Takeaways

  • Traditional methods of helping an adult child struggling with addiction often do not work. Trying new approaches and taking risks is necessary for change to occur.
  • Parents of adult children struggling with addiction may feel a range of negative emotions, including responsibility, failure, and disappointment in traditional support group meetings.
  • A 4-step process is recommended for parents to make decisions in response to addiction in a systematic way.
  • Knowing personal priorities is important for setting boundaries and encouraging recovery.
  • Parents play a vital role in their child’s recovery, but the child ultimately needs to choose recovery.

When my son was struggling with addiction, so much of my time was spent researching solutions that claimed to work for helping him choose recovery. I went to parent support group meetings and countless therapy sessions, read an endless number of books on the topic, and searched the internet far and wide for anything that claimed to offer answers and results — and nothing worked.

This likely sounds familiar: You try all of the “traditional” methods of trying to understand how to help your adult child through their addiction. You work through the steps, try what the therapist suggests, and follow through with what the “programs” say should be done. In the end, though, you’re still where you started.

So you start to wonder… 

  • Why should you even try something else?
  • Why try yet another new approach?
  • Why take the risk that you will again feel like you are failing your child (and yourself)?

...And yet, if you do not keep trying new things, take a chance, how will anything change?

Are you frustrated? Do you recognize these feelings as you try to find something — anything — that will work?

Cutting off contact and walking away isn’t an option for you, but things are getting worse and worse. Here’s what you’re experiencing:

  • Your child is using drugs or alcohol and may be addicted. You know it because:
  • 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 feel responsible and like a failure as a parent.
  • You find yourself disappointed in the group meetings you’ve been attending specifically for parents of adult children struggling with addiction. You leave these meetings feeling sadder and more hopeless than you did when you walked in because the meetings didn’t offer any solutions.
  • You’re discouraged about the state of your finances. Maybe you’re worried about your retirement; you never imagined you’d be in this situation, paying for rehab or therapy for your child and seeing no results.
  • You've spent too much of your time and energy as well, forsaking what you want to be doing, to concentrate on dealing with crisis after crisis for your child, and you feel like all the resources you’ve allocated to helping them choose recovery have been wasted.
  • You are skeptical. You may have tried programs or approaches you heard about on the internet before, and you did not get the results you expected — after all, your child is still struggling with addiction and you’re still searching for help.

These are the most commonly offered solutions for parents in your situation. Does this list look familiar? Have you tried these options?

Method 1: Al-Anon or Nar-Anon
Method 2:
Family support meetings
Method 3:
Method 4:
Your own in depth reading and research
Method 5:

Think beyond the list. Here’s another approach that I recommend — one that helped me and my family.

As I tried to navigate through parenting Eric through his addiction, I tried all of these things also. And I found that each of them had something to offer, and none of them had everything I needed.

I needed an approach that allowed me to make the endless number of decisions in a systematic way. I needed more than heart-felt sharing of what was going on in my life. I needed a way to anchor everything I did in response to the chaos that addiction had brought to my world.

What emerged for me is that there is really a 4-step process. Each step builds on the other steps and guides us to making decisions that may feel counterintuitive. I’m listing the 4 steps below - and I cannot teach the details of all 4 steps in a blog post. So for now, just know that these are the steps I recommend.

  1. 1
    Step back and evaluate your own personal priorities (hard, I know). Come to remember that you matter too and are a separate person.
  2. 2
    Reflect back in a thoughtful way on each decision you’ve made so far parenting your adult addict. We need to know what has worked as we wanted and what hasn’t.
  3. 3
    Each time you need to make a decision, consider all the variables, including your personal priorities, your family situation, your past experience, etc.
  4. 4
    Practice, practice, practice step 3.

And communicate each decision to your addicted child calmly and with love and support.

Here’s why I recommend this approach.

  1. Until you know your own priorities, you can’t set boundaries that you can stick to.
  2. Trying to fix your child will never fix your child.
  3. Until your child chooses… no recovery method will work.
  4. You play a vital role in whether your child chooses recovery or not. 

Start with trying something new. Start with this guide that helps you establish those priorities.

Now I know this seems unimaginably complicated. It’s not. You just need to know where to start.

When you’re putting everything you have into helping your child — time, money, energy — you lose sight of yourself, and it feels like your family is getting deeper and deeper into a cycle of addiction. Try something else that gets you off the rollercoaster.

When you learn about an approach that works, you’ll get a clearer picture of the priorities you need to re-set for yourself as you go. Choose another way to encourage your child to choose recovery and find more peace of mind.

Get Your Self-Priority Worksheet

Need more help finding a new approach that helps you re-set priorities and encourages your child to choose recovery?

I know that the 4 steps I outlined seem complicated. Please take a listen to my workshop, where I give concrete examples of each of these steps as I applied them in my own life.

Sign up now for this free 60-minute workshop

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. Mental illness is almost always intertwined with this beast and accelerated by addiction to substances. As a parent its been hard to navigate the illness part of this other than trying to believe and treat someone that is “sick”. The shame part of this also comes on strong that family members are so easy to walk away from a sick family member vs. someone who is obliviously struggling on the streets. I know they have given him umteen chances but now i cant mention his name without someone being offended and claiming that my involvement and softness toward him is part of the problem and making things worse.

    1. You are 100% correct. And yes, it is hard because we are conditioned to think that is our responsibility to help someone who is sick. And because, as you mentioned, people around us think they know better and have the right to judge the difficult decisions. I”m so sorry you are going through this and I encourage you to consider that each of the adults is entitled to make their choice about how they interact with the person on the streets – and that none are invited to judge the decisions of the other. We can help, if our program sounds like something you’d be interested in. -B

  2. Even though I have worked through many steps in this program, I find myself regretting decisions, wondering if my husband and I are making the right decisions concerning our AS. He has very little contact with us and I wonder why.

    1. Janet – It is so hard to be out of touch, and natural to wonder why. I’ve asked Patti to reach out to you by email so watch for that. If you don’t hear from her, write to support and ask for the link to her calendar for a deep discussion on this. -B

    1. Let us know how you do, Kathi, and thanks for sharing. Remember to experiment and give yourself permission to change your mind if an experiment doesn’t sit well with you after you start it -Barbara

  3. I have tried all of the above and we are getting worse and worse. Please sign me up. Thank You.

    1. Tina – The answer to that depends on whether my approach resonates with you. If it does, then you can continue reading emails, blogs, etc (free) or join one of my paid programs. Details are on our Resources Page here, or for more info, email [email protected]. Barbara

  4. Looking forward to the Self-Priority exercise! Thank you for the worksheet!

    1. Welcome – this exercise can be very powerful, and hard for many of us moms to do because we focus intuitively so much on others. Would love to hear your feedback. Barbara

  5. This discussion took my back immediately to a place I forgot. I am remembering when my parents tried to create boundaries with us as kids and there were none that lasted any longer than our ability to ‘get around’ the boundary. I remember those boundaries being old-fashioned (to my way of thinking), stepping upon my individuality, disrespecting my intelligence, pure common sense, so why a boundary?. There was a lack of real communication or sharing of opinions as mine were usually in opposition. I was stifled from exploring life beyond our ‘boundaries”. I was shy and self conscious. It never would have occurred to me to be open and honest; instead I accepted and manipulated. I’m thinking about how that has informed my current approach to my AS and my inability to date to set a boundary that is true to its purpose.

    1. Wow, Cathy, that’s a great insight – and it takes courage and vulnerability to look at these things. Most of the time, when I look at my own patterns of behavior, they lead back to a time when those patterns served me well, and don’t so much anymore.

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