What Nobody Tells You About Loving an Addict

Is your child struggling with addiction?

You're probably desperately searching for answers.

You've heard it all before -- but the advice you’ve been given doesn’t seem to work. 

This is because most of the advice out there is wonderful and effective if your child has made the decision to choose recovery.

But what if your child has no interest in recovery? Or maybe they've tried rehab in the past and relapsed? Maybe over and over?

You've been by their side, listened to their requests, tried to help them in any way that you could. You’ve loved love them in the only way we've been taught.

But it was never enough.

Your love didn't stop their lies.

Your care didn't make them care. 

Your support didn't stop them from using. And it seems like it only enabled them to keep hurting you, themselves, and others.

So what do you do when you're at the end of the rope and nothing works? When being loving seems to only spur on more conflict, manipulation, and pain?

I am the mother of an addict myself. I’ve dedicated myself to learning everything I could about loving and supporting an addict. Here’s what I want to share with you today.

I want to share with you how you can Love Another Way.

  • A different way than the one we've been taught.
  • A way that is empowering instead of enabling.
  • A way that actually helps both of you recover.

A way that is different from the Mom or Dad Code most of us operate under instinctively. It goes like:  

“If your child is hungry, feed her. If your child needs a place to sleep, give him a bed. If your child needs x, help him or her with x in any way you can.” 

Does that Mom or Dad Code Sound familiar? It was how I coped for years -- and it is how many of the parents I work with cope also.  It’s part of who we are. It’s what we do as parents. And it doesn’t help our kids!

Addiction destroys families from the inside out

Addiction has become an epidemic.  And addiction is largely misunderstood by most of us. 

I have felt the shame, the anger, and the utter helplessness and hopelessness that comes with trying to love an addict. I have seen the same excruciating pain in others who have shared my struggle for years. 

Their lives now revolve around one single question: “What can I do to stop my child from using? What can I do to help my child get back to living up to his or her potential?”

You may hear a lot about having compassion for the addict.  And it’s true. Our addicted children need love, support, compassion. No one chooses to become an addict, and once they are, it is a hard climb out. 

But, how exactly do you maintain compassion? 

It’s hard to find useful information on exactly how to continue being loving, supportive and compassionate. The lies, deceit and manipulation just get in our way. It’s hard to tap into the kindness we want to show when we are blamed, treated meanly and taken advantage of over and over. 

And you find little or no information on how to find that compassion and support for yourself. 

And you must find that -- because you matter too. You are here also.

What I want to share with you is how you can take back your life. You can still behave lovingly with your child even after all the ways you’ve been hurt.

What parents of adult addicts should know

Once your child chooses recovery, they have an entire support network around them.

They can now talk about their struggles without being judged or ashamed.

On the other hand, the addict’s loved ones are often left behind. 

They often suffer in silence.

Parents often have no one to talk to because no one really understands. They get blamed for enabling their children. They get blamed for falling for their lies over and over again. They have no one to talk to about their debilitating trust issues, shame, and depression.

I’ve learned so much through my own experience and through the experiences of so many other people. 

And this is why I feel compelled to share what I’ve learned about how addiction impacts our lives. 

Here are 7 things I've learned over the years that have helped me tremendously in my recovery:

1. You may feel empty and lost

One of the harsh truths addiction teaches you early on is that the person you once knew is gone. Once their deception is no longer effective, you may struggle to recognize them behind all the lies. 

You may feel empty, betrayed, and scared all at the same time. The only thing you really  want is to have the  son or daughter you remember back. You don’t want that disease of addiction creeping in and stealing them from you again.

2. You will never be the same person you once were

At first, you might be in disbelief of your child's addiction. 

When the gravity of the situation sinks in, you may blame yourself. 

Once the manipulation starts, you may doubt everything, including yourself. 

When you uncover the truth, shame will kick in.

You may feel confused. You may be plagued with worry, constantly wondering if they're using again. 

You might develop anxiety, suicidal depression or PTSD as a result. You may no longer be functional in your day-to-day life. You might struggle with sleeping, working or even leaving your bed.

3. Your feelings are normal and valid

I’ve been through everything that’s described above. And so have many other parents of adult addicts. 

You may likely feel incredibly isolated and misunderstood. I promise you that you're not alone in your pain. Everything you are feeling is a normal reaction to what you have been through. There are others who understand.

4. Addicts only choose recovery when they are in unbearable pain; not when others around them are suffering.

This was probably the hardest lesson that I’ve had to swallow on my journey to recovery.

It boils down to this. An addict will only choose recovery when the pain of remaining in the addiction is greater than whatever benefit they get from using their drug of choice or drinking. This view is supported by many of the recovery professionals I’ve worked with and by almost everyone in recovery I’ve ever spoken with. 

Pain can come from homelessness, loss of access to children, loss of a job, hunger, and on and on. Pain can come from a combination of these and other factors. Or, the combined pain of all of these things together may not be enough. It is impossible to know. 

Unfortunately, someone in addiction is unable to care about the pain of anyone else. Oh, they may have moments of clarity here and there. And almost always these moments of clarity fade. And the addiction asserts its demands. 

Personal pain must be greater than the benefit their substance provides. Only then can the individual choose to take genuine & consistent action toward recovery.

You need to understand this. This is why you cannot save your child. Your child must have a genuine desire to choose recovery. Without that and no matter what you do, nothing will change for long. No matter how much you wish otherwise.

5. Your trust will be completely shattered

Parents of addicts bear the burden of hearing lie after lie, untruth after untruth. It’s debilitating for the parent. This can crush any sense of trust you have in others or in yourself. After all, it was the trust that you granted your child that enabled their usage so many times in the past. And almost always your child will continue to use your trust against you to get what they want.  This disease is one of manipulation. 

I'm not here to tell you to trust or not trust your child. Rather, I encourage you to educate yourself on addiction. Get clear in your head and your heart on how addiction really behaves from the addict’s point of view. This helps you avoid making any rushed decisions out of guilt or misguided love.

6. You will have to find new ways of communicating

I know this sounds harsh, and still I need to say it. Giving in to your parental instincts often backfires when dealing with an addict. 

That Mom Code or Dad code works so very well when you are parenting a non-addicted child. And that same Mom or Dad Code fails miserably once your child is in addiction or has a mental health issue. 

Kindness, blind trust, and guilt will most likely be used against you and so you will give in to their demands.

It’s a vicious cycle.

  • Your child gets into some kind of trouble.
  • You rescue your child.
  • Your child never feels the natural consequences of his or her actions.
  • No significant pain to the child and so the child ends up using again.
  • Repeat and rinse.

They are not really feeling all of their own pain. You are absorbing it. And an addict will not choose recovery because someone else is in pain.

As painful as it will be, you need to stop enabling your child if you want them to have a chance to choose recovery. 

What that means is personal to each person and family. And what that means usually happens in micro-steps over time. An experimentation process.

  • Maybe that means you finally tell your child he or she cannot live in your home.
  • Maybe you stop giving them financial support.
  • Maybe you draw a line on how they speak to you.
  • Maybe you no longer intervene when they are in a crisis of their own making.
  • Maybe you stop making excuses for them to others.

The list goes on and on and is as varied and personal as each family.

These are the types of actions that enable the addiction less and less. And each of them can be taken in a loving, supporting way, which is different than giving in. 

These are the types of actions that help your child. These types of actions allow your child to choose recovery for themselves. 

And if your child chooses recovery, you will be there for them to support and love them during that process. 

And through it all this you will be there, loving your child. You will just be Loving Another Way, instead of under the Mom or Dad code.

7. You can overcome this pain and feel at peace

My son, Eric, slipped into psychosis after using hard drugs for several years. 

I could no longer feel the ground beneath my feet. 

I was devastated. 

After his countless relapses, failed promises and lies, I was broken as a person. 

If someone had told me then that I would recover, I would never have believed them. Yet there I was, some years later,  at peace and living my own life. I recovered years before my son Eric chose recovery for himself. 

And Eric tells me that my recovery is what allowed him to finally choose recovery for himself. 

I know your own recovery may seem impossible to you. And in a sense, it is. You will never go back to being the person you were before addiction entered your world. This experience has fundamentally changed you as a person.

But you will be able to feel peace, relief, and even joy again. 

Peace is possible for both of you

Your child may be in recovery, or actively using, or in mental illness, or you just aren’t sure. 

You can still find peace. You can move from crippled by anxiety, guilt, and shame.  You can be in a place where the quality of your day is independent of the quality of your child’s day.

And there is something beautiful in how this all works. Once you get to this place of peace, you are far better equipped to cope with your child's hurtful actions. You are able to behave in a way that truly helps your child choose recovery for him or herself.

You will be able to respond lovingly to their behavior but also remain aligned with your own values. You will be able to support them without enabling them. You will be able to show your compassion and love while still looking after your own needs. 

You will finally be able to love them and yourself in a way that allows both of you to find peace. You will be Loving Another Way. 

If this insight is useful to you, please click here to take a listen to my free confidential webinar, where I share expert advice and my own experience loving an addicted child. 

I felt all these things that nobody tells you about loving an addict. For more of my story and how I helped my son, hop on my workshop

Free, confidential, 90 minutes.

I work side by side with parents on finding new coping strategies that help them regain control of their lives and also create real opportunities for their children 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)

Leave a Comment:

LaurieB says July 22, 2020

A new perspective, this Mom/dad code impact. Thanks for sharing this insight on how it can be enabling to addicted children.

    Barbara Decker says July 22, 2020

    Thank you, LaurieB, for taking the time to leave a comment.

Anonymous says July 13, 2020

Very informative and great insights

    Barbara Decker says July 13, 2020

    Thank you.

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