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Tips for Parents of Opiate Addicts*

By Anne Watkins

If you’re the parent of an opiate addict, whether your child is grown or still young, you’re probably going through rough times right now. You may be wondering if you’re going about it in the right way, and if there’s more that you can do.

And the challenges don’t end when your child seeks opiate addiction treatment. In fact, the post-addiction period comes with a whole new set of challenges for everyone involved. Many parents worry about what they can do to help prevent their child from relapsing, and there are also other complications such as social stigmatization and your own worries that you’ve failed as a parent.

To help get you through this difficult time, here are a few common tips that addiction treatment experts tell parents of addicts:

1. Know that it’s not your fault. When children have personal troubles, it’s natural for parents to try to blame themselves, at least on some level. This impulse is understandable, but it’s also unfounded. Thanks to countless scientific studies, we now know that there is a genetic basis for addiction. And when the predisposition is strong enough, no amount of good parenting can stop a child from eventually having issues with substance abuse.

In fact, look at it this way: If your child has acknowledged that he or she has a problem and is now seeking treatment, this means that you did something right. Many addicts never get better. The ones who do usually do so because their parents gave them a strong moral foundation. When your child seeks treatment, know that you gave your child the strength to deal with these problems without falling apart, as so many addicts do.

2. End your enabling. It’s common for parents to engage in enabling behavior even when they don’t know that they’re doing it. This is simply because you love your children and you want what’s best for them. But take a close look at what you do. For example, if you have consistently financially supported a grown child, this qualifies as enabling behavior. Yes, even when you help to pay for rent, bills or food, you’re giving your child a chance to go on being irresponsible.

Let your child know that you are there for emotional support, but that you can’t keep handing over money. Make it clear, and stick to your guns. Often, having to support oneself is the best antidote to drug addiction.

3. Use tough love when necessary. To be a positive guiding hand in your child’s life, sometimes it’s important to be tough. Part of this is ending financial support, but it also involves not allowing a grown child to live with you, not lying on his or her behalf and even calling the police if necessary. These may be among the hardest things you’ll ever do, but keep the long-term benefits in mind. The more you cover for your children in the short term, the longer it will take for them to seek treatment and get better.

Sometimes, parents just have to allow their children to fall. We all must go through our own learning experiences, and when you give your children an easy cushion to land on, you prevent them from having to face the negative consequences of bad life decisions. This experience can be powerful, so don’t deprive your child of it.

4. Educate yourself on opiate addiction and treatment. If you want to get a handle on your child’s addiction, the most important step is to arm yourself with all the knowledge you have access to. Look into the causes of addiction. Read about why it happens and what family members can do. Educate yourself about the latest treatment methods. If you can, try to talk to friends or coworkers about experiences they or people they know have had with addiction treatment.

The more you know, the more qualified you’ll be to play an active role in your child’s recovery. It will also be some consolation to have an understanding of why your child is going through these things.

5. Do the footwork. In addition to basic research, start to compile a list of all the opiate addiction rehab and treatment centers in your area. Look into which ones are best, and start to weigh which treatment options will be best for your child. If your child is grown, then they will have the final say in treatment option decisions, but you can take away a lot of the guesswork by helping them conduct research.

6. Involve the rest of the family. Children can be quite dismissive of what their parents say. But you can use your influence to organize a united front against your child’s addiction. If you have other children, close friends or family members who have some sway over your addicted loved one, consider organizing an intervention. Short of that, encourage others in your family to reach out to your problem child. Parents tend to play a large role, but it never hurts to involve the rest of the family as much as possible.

7. Go to a support group. You may think that you’re already well-equipped to handle this situation, but you can always get better. Going to a support group for parents of addicts can provide you with many coping tools that you didn’t even know were out there. You’ll learn how to find the right attitude and take the right approach to your child’s addiction. You’ll also get the chance to meet other people who are going through the same thing as you, or who have been through it in the past.

8. End codependence. As a parent of an addict, make it your job to be the strong, stable rock at the center of your child’s life. In other words, don’t allow yourself to be dragged into their life. Instead, set a good example of what a strong, healthy adult looks like. Going in the other direction and being sucked into your child’s troubles only perpetuates the problems that lead to addiction.

*This article serves as a guidepost and a jumping off point, but does not necessarily reflect the views of the ownership or staff of The Living Center. It is beyond important, however, that we educate ourselves on this topic, to be able to make the correct choices.