Guide for Parents: Helping Your Child with Substance Abuse

If you are a parent of a minor who is using substances, you can make decisions for the child about treatment; however, when your child becomes an adult, you may not know what you can do to help. Helping an adult child who is addicted to drugs or alcohol can be challenging, but there are steps you can take. This article will review some ways to help an adult child who is struggling with addiction as well as ways to take care of yourself.

How to Help My Child Struggling with Substance Abuse

father comforting son

It can be painful and frustrating when you’ve tried different ways of helping your addicted child and it feels like nothing has worked. Even if you’ve exhausted several approaches, you still may be able to get your child to hear your concerns. Encouraging your child to seek help can take time, patience, understanding, and repeated attempts at having difficult conversations. It’s not always easy, but persistence may pay off in the end. Continue to show your love and concern throughout the process in a non-judgmental, supportive way and your child may eventually express a desire for change.1

Keep in mind that, outside the judicial system, you generally can’t force an adult to stop using drugs or alcohol or seek treatment. Steps you can take, however, can include the following:2

  • Set aside an appropriate time to have a conversation about your concerns. Make sure that you’ll be alone and in a quiet place without distractions.
  • Be direct and clear about your concerns, but also remembering to express them with compassion and love. Try to avoid being confrontational, belittling, accusatory, or blaming. Let your child know that you are concerned about their substance use and you don’t want to see them suffer.
  • Listen to their feelings without judgment. Provide a safe space for them to express their frustrations, anger, sadness, or any other emotions they may want to share.
  • Reassure them that you are there to help. Let them know that you are willing to do what you can to make the process of getting treatment easier, such as researching the cost of rehab, helping them understand how to use their insurance coverage, and looking into different treatment centers.
  • Encourage your child to talk to their doctor. Teenagers and young adults, especially, can be resistant to listening to their parents, but they might be more willing to listen to someone else, such as a doctor or other healthcare professional.

You can view the whole “Recovery is Relative” series here.

Signs My Child is Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol

The signs of addiction aren’t always easy to spot. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) uses the term “substance use disorder” as the clinical diagnosis for addiction.3 While only a physician or other qualified professional can provide a diagnosis, it can be helpful for you to be aware of the criteria, which include:3

  • Using a substance in higher amounts or with more frequency than originally intended.
  • Being unable to control or cut down substance use despite expressing a desire to do so.
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of a substance.
  • Experiencing cravings, or strong physical or psychological urges to use drugs or alcohol.
  • Being unable to fulfill obligations at home, work, or school due to substance use.
  • Continuing substance use even though it causes ongoing social or interpersonal problems.
  • Giving up or reducing participation in activities once enjoyed (such as hobbies, sports, etc.) or withdrawing from family or friends because of substance use.
  • Using the substance in situations where it is hazardous to do so (such as while driving a vehicle or operating machinery).
  • Continuing to use substances even when it is clear they have caused or worsened psychological or physical health problems.
  • Experiencing tolerance, which is a need for higher amounts or more frequent doses of the substance in order to experience the desired effects.
  • Needing to keep taking substances to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

In addition to these criteria, there are other visible warning signs you may notice in someone who is struggling with addiction. These include:4

  • A sudden change in their peer group.
  • Poor grooming or self-care.
  • Skipping work or school/college classes.
  • Getting into legal trouble.
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits.
  • Worsening relationships with family or friends.

How to Get My Adult Child into Addiction Rehab

Watching a child suffer is heartbreaking, and not being able to fix the problem for them can be incredibly frustrating. Even though they’re your child, they are also an adult who has the right to make their own decisions and life choices. This means that they can legally refuse to enter treatment. However, through ongoing encouragement and support, you may be able to help them recognize the need to seek help.

When they are ready, your child can call a treatment center to discuss the rehab admissions process and their personal situation, or you can offer to make the call for them. Let your child know that rehab staff will ask specific questions about their substance use and health, but that they should rest assured that all their personal information remains confidential.5

You or your child may want to ask how soon they can be admitted to rehab and how to pay for addiction treatment. If you have health insurance, they can .

You can also ask what type of rehab might be appropriate for your child’s needs, such as inpatient rehab or outpatient treatment and the recommended treatment duration (e.g., short-term detox and rehab programs or long-term inpatient rehab).

Once your child has arranged their admission into rehab, you can provide ongoing help and practical support in different ways. Some ways you can help include:

  • Maintaining a positive and affirming attitude about their recovery and providing ongoing support.
  • Visiting the treatment facility and participating in family events or family therapy for addiction treatment.
  • Encouraging them to participate in mutual support groups, such as 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and provide transportation when needed.
  • Avoid using substances in front of your child or keeping them in your home if your child will live with you after treatment.

Caring for Yourself While You Care for Your Child with Addiction

Addiction doesn’t just affect the person struggling with substance use; rather, it takes a toll on families and other relationships as well. It can cause stress, arguments, and other forms of discord and chaos. Parents might blame themselves for their child’s addiction and feel as though they failed in some capacity. They might even think that their child should be able to stop using drugs or alcohol through willpower alone and believe their child chooses drugs or alcohol over their relationship. This can be especially true if parents aren’t aware that addiction is a brain disease that requires treatment to get better, just as with any other disease.6

The emotional stress, guilt, and shame can wear on parents and cause numerous issues that impact their own well-being.

Coping with Caregiver Stress as A Parent of an Addicted Child

Caregiver stress can also affect the way you feel physically and mentally, especially if you are in some way responsible for taking care of your adult child or have been taking on their responsibilities.

This type of stress can cause you to feel drained, unable to cope, or overwhelmed. It’s important to keep in mind that you didn’t cause your child’s addiction. You have needs that are just as valid as anyone else’s and you’re not helping your child or the rest of your family by ignoring those needs. It can be a good idea to talk to your physician or a therapist if you are feeling like you need additional help to manage this difficult situation.7

If your child is struggling with substance use, reach out right now to speak to one of our admissions navigators. They can answer your questions and offer assistance for your child if they are willing to accept help.

Don’t let addiction take control of your life any longer. Call us today at to learn more about addiction treatment at AdCare. There are two inpatient AdCare facilities, one rehab in Massachusetts, and one rehab in Rhode Island. AdCare also offers outpatient treatment and has sister facilities across the United States as well. Call us today to learn more about our comprehensive addiction treatment options.



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AdCare has multiple locations throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island, making it easily accessible to most parts of New England. We offer an integrated system of care and have been helping individuals and families struggling with addiction for 45 years. Take the next step toward recovery: learn more about our addiction treatment programs in MA and RI or learn about how rehab is affordable for everyone.