How to love your addicted child and prevent the worst from happening without losing yourself in the process

As mothers, we inherently put so much of ourselves and our lives on hold to care for and love our children at any age — that’s just part of what I call the “Mom Code.”

While we generally tend to do this less as our kids grow into adulthood and need us less, that can change when we find ourselves figuring out the best ways to support our adult children through their addiction journey.

When this happens, we fall back into the same role we played when our children were younger and unable to take care of their own needs.

After all, it seems like those who are struggling with substance abuse often can not do what we would expect adults to do, like stay healthy, pay rent, hold down jobs, or even pay for their own groceries and bills.

As mothers, we once again push our own needs to the side to show our adult children they are loved while they fight addiction. We once again lose ourselves, neglect our own self-care, and sacrifice our lives to do what it takes to help our children overcome their own difficulties.

And most of us would do this gladly if it meant our children would get well. We would sacrifice anything for our children. What I learned, though, is that my sacrifice did nothing to encourage my son to choose recovery. He got deeper and deeper into his illness.

And the same is true for most of the moms I work with. The “children” continue down this dangerous path, while the moms continue to be consumed by their child’s addiction.

Is it time to get back some of your own life and find time to do the things you truly want to be doing?

There are clear signs that maybe you need to find another way to love and support your child while actually getting back to the life you want to live. Here are some of the signs.

  • Your child is using drugs or alcohol and may be addicted. You can know this is true when:
  • They no longer look or behave like the child you raised.
  • They have crisis after crisis without being able to navigate through them.
  • You hide what is happening from friends and family.
  • You feel responsible and that you’ve failed as a parent.
  • You feel sad because your relationships with your other children, your partner, or your friends have gone downhill. You may notice that the conversations you have with these people in your life centers around your “problem” child and nothing else.
  • You feel all alone, which is very different from feeling lonely. You feel all alone because there really isn’t anyone in your life who understands what you’re going through. For example, your child blames you for something having gone wrong in their life. Maybe you can’t tell anyone for fear that it will put you or your child in a bad light. And maybe when you do tell someone else, their suggestions are just not helpful at all.
  • You’re often frustrated because you aren’t able to find the time or energy to do anything that you used to love doing. Your hobbies and even your obligations fall by the wayside because you’re always “rescuing” your child from their constant crises.
  • You realize that you’re a victim of your child’s emotional, verbal, or mental abuse. You’re frequently blamed by your child for things like losing a job or an apartment, and in their story, you’re always the villain.

Do you recognize the above signs in your own life and relationships with your adult children with addiction struggles?

There’s a good chance you’ve been in one or all of these situations in the past few days or weeks, or maybe even this morning.

  1. 1
    You promise yourself day after day that you’ll spend time to do what you want — like having coffee with friends. At the last minute, your child calls in a panic and needs you. Your plans are ruined because you won’t be able to face your friends and explain what’s happening in your life without breaking down. They can never know about the terrible things happening in your life.
  2. 2
    You’ve finally scheduled a long-overdue trip with your partner or to visit family members. You’re afraid to go and not be there when your child needs you, or that your child may destroy your home or steal from you while you’re away. Or you make the trip, but it’s interrupted over and over by text messages and phone calls as your child fails to navigate crisis after crisis.
  3. 3
    You agree to cover one more cost or payment because you hope that just a little bit more financial help will help resolve your child’s issues. You tap into your savings or retirement account or max out your credit card to try and pay for the help your child clearly needs to pay rent, buy groceries, purchase a new cell phone, help them with rehab treatment — it seems like the list never ends.

It’s time to break out of this pattern of sacrificing what you need — try this approach instead.

Loving and supporting your child through addiction doesn’t mean you have to be at their beck and call, 24 hours a day, every day. No healthy relationship can survive a lack of boundaries like that. Instead, start to separate where your child ends and where you begin.

Defining this separation will allow you to better love and support your child in a way that actually encourages recovery, reclaim your own life and meet your own legitimate needs.

Why should you create these separations? Why will this work?

During addiction, your child thinks their needs are the only ones that matter, ever. You need to experiment with first recognizing and then honoring your OWN needs.

When in the throes of substance abuse struggles, your child will also behave as though the world will end when you DON’T meet their needs INSTANTLY. As the healthy one in the relationship, you’ll need to start practicing ways to slow down their expectations.

You’ve been living in the chaos of your child’s addition for a long time, and you need to create space for your brain to accept moments for yourself, to address the needs you’ve long been ignoring.

Try this experiment today to start recognizing your own needs

Set aside just 5 minutes of quiet time on your calendar for the next 3 days in a row; consider this as an appointment with yourself. Put your phone in another room, turn the notifications off, and document the results of your experiment here, on the 5-Minutes of Quiet worksheet.

NOW, download 5-Minutes of Quiet Time and start.

Get yourself back with my Mom-oriented approach.

When you have an addicted child, the journey can be complex when traveling from where we are to where we need to be to reclaim ourselves. I know this because I was in your place, too, with my son; I talk about my own journey in my workshop.

And, hard as it may be to believe in this moment, getting back to yourself is what encourages your child to choose recovery.

Give yourself the gift of this workshop! (Free & Confidential)

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


Certified Family Recovery Specialist (CFRS)

Leave a Comment:

Alyssa Ortolano says January 4, 2021

I have 3 adult, chemically dependent Sons, 2 oldest are by far the worst, younger Son is high functioning and stable but not free of all substances. My health has been declining rapidly for the past 10 years and what I have been doing is definitely not working. Hopefully I can reclaim my own life and sanity.

    Barbara Decker says January 4, 2021

    I’m so sorry for what you are going through. A lot of us moms have multiple kids with this disease and that makes it so much harder.

Lynda says January 3, 2021

I worry myself sick when I don’t hear from my daughter.I really want her to detox and work on getting her children back.shhes gone through it twice before.shee also has a partner that uses drugs..

    Barbara Decker says January 4, 2021

    Yes, Lynda, it is so very hard, and grandkids make it even harder.

JOY STONEHILL says December 30, 2020


    Barbara Decker says December 30, 2020

    Hi Joy – Thanks for your note. I post blogs about once a month. I post on my Facebook page almost daily. And I write a lot of emails. If you are not on my email list, you can sign up for it on my home page Just click on the button for my free guide and that will put you on my email list.

Evelyn Culleton says December 30, 2020

Thank you, I feel better just reading your material and I going to try and practice some of suggestions

    Barbara Decker says December 30, 2020

    Good to hear, Evelyn. If you are not on my email list, you can sign up for it on my home page here. I write a lot of emails about this topic of parenting kids (adult or otherwise) with addictions. Just click on the button for my free guide and that will put you on my email list.

Sharon Morning says December 13, 2020

Thank you Barbara, this is a great blog and so needed for myself and others struggling with these issues with a child. You bring hope and encourage healing for ourselves and in turn encourage healing for our child. These small snippets are timely, brief and packed with help.

    Barbara Decker says December 14, 2020

    Thanks so much Sharon:) That’s the goal – shortish and something that a reader can start with right now.

Stacy Davis says December 12, 2020

I’m thankful for this group and the many wonderful Mom’s/parents/care givers in this group. The dreaded fear and isolation addiction brings can be devasting and overwhelming. You truly learn how to do things differently- how to love from a distance while not losing yourself thru out the process. You learn you are NOT alone and help is available and it works all the while teaching your addicted children that you love them and they are capable and able to make different choices – including recovery!

    Barbara Decker says December 12, 2020

    Thank you so much Stacy. You’ve come a very long way, internally and geographically now:)

Pat N. says December 12, 2020

I joined Barbara’s group when my daughter decided to go for treatment this time. She has struggled with the disease of alcoholism for many years and had many ups and downs. I wanted to do something different this time. I was feeling so out of control.
In Barbara’s group I learned the difference between being clean and sober and doing the work of recovery. I learned that things I had done as a mom were actually delaying her recovery by not allowing her to feel her own strength and also the consequences of her behaviors.
I am learning more about this disease from Barbara and her army of experts. The support I feel from Barbara and the other moms in the program have allowed me to start my own recovery.

    Barbara Decker says December 12, 2020

    Thank you so very much, Pat. And you are right, we moms need our own recovery! We are worth it.

JoAnn Goostree says December 10, 2020

I found out about Barbara’s program from a popup on FACEBOOK. And I am so grateful that I saw it. I kept reading about the program and finally took the deep dive in!!! It’s been a great source of peace and support and education for me. I am not sure where I would be today emotionally had I not participated in this program. Over the years, I’ve been to Alanon, therapy, you name and I did it trying to SAVE my son. It just wasn’t possible. And through participation in this wonderful program, I am healing and I know my son’s healing will be up to him. Barabara, I am ever so grateful you and your program in my life. The support I have received is priceless!

    Barbara Decker says December 10, 2020

    Thank you so much, JoAnn. I love hearing on the calls about how things have shifted for you and for your son:)

Beth Wallace says December 9, 2020

As a person who responded to this gift offer in the summer, I can wholeheartedly recommend it. After three decades of trying everything I could with little success, I am now loving my addicted child a different and better way and I feel more at peace than I ever have, with my perspective changed and being armed with tools to handle the chaos that surrounds addiction. Best of all, I believe this is the only way a parent has any hope of leading his/her child to choose recovery. If this blog describes you, you deserve the love, kindness, wisdom and support you will find here.

    Barbara Decker says December 10, 2020

    Thank you so very much Beth! And thank you for your words encouraging others to trust that there is another way to love, a way that brings more peace and positivity for the legions of Moms wrestling this horrible disease.

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