How to help an addict mother or father?

Do you suspect that your parents are addicts? Can you really help them overcome addiction? These and more Q&A in an exclusive interview with someone who’s been there…and back. More here.

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Can you help an addict?

Usually, you can only help someone who wants help. When it comes to addiction, though, there are stpes you can take to keep your parents accountable for their actions. Learn how you can intervene here. Then, we invite your questions about dealing with a parent who’s an addict or alcoholic in the comments section at the end. We’ll get back to you with a personal reply ASAP.

How to help an addict mother or father?

We’ve asked someone who’s been there and has returned to tell the tale. Bria is the author of the books:

“A Stolen Childhood” – A fictional story that is briefly based on her life events
“Where Hope is Born” – A series of vignettes about growing up in a family stricken by addiction, and
“Still My Best Friend?” – A children’s story that explains the disease of addiction to young children

Using her talent of writing, she has dealt with the disease and crisis of addiction in her family. Today, Bria Riley shares her experience about ways to help your addict mother or father and how to care for yourself in the moments of overtaking parenting. Again, please use the section below if you have a question at the end. We will do our best to give you a personal and prompt answer.

ADDICTION BLOG: What are some of the main signs that your parents are addicts? How can you be sure?

BRIA RILEY: The main sign that parents (or anyone, for that matter) are addicts is that their lifestyle, priorities, and interests begin to change because of the use of their substance or compulsive behavior of choice.

For example, if your parents were diligent workers, the main cheerleader at every one of your soccer games, and always went fishing and hiking during their days off, but once they started excessively drinking, they:

  • often missed work
  • didn’t perform up to par in their tasks while at work
  • barely showed up at your activities
  • live to drink and party on weekends

…while fishing and hiking suddenly became the last thought on their minds, these would be signs of a problem.

Another main sign is that their everyday personality starts to change. They might become more short-tempered and agitated when they definitely weren’t like that before. Addicts often become secretive and ashamed of what has become their addiction, so parents may forbid their children of speaking of their using.

Addicts lose control over their addiction, so if they are using every single day or so often that it begins to affect their life, health, or personality that is a definite cause for alarm.

If any of these examples sound all too familiar, the child of the possible addicts should consider talking to someone such as another family member, guidance counselor, or family friend about the concerns. Denial is the hallmark of addiction, so most likely, the parents will not admit it. Addiction is often a tough diagnosis, so there is no way to be 100% sure which is why others should be aware so they could also be on the lookout for the signs.

ADDICTION BLOG: How do parents try to hide their addiction?  

BRIA RILEY: Secrecy. They will often tell their child to not dare tell anyone of their using or activities related to their using. If the child tells someone, they become livid and may even implement punishment.
They may also lie to their child about where they have been, what they have been doing, and how often they have used.

When family or other spectators are around, they suddenly act like everything is stable by lying about aspects of their lives that may have been affected by their using such as their job, money, bills, activities, and using if it is a substance or behavior that it is not taboo such as alcohol, gambling, or prescribed painkillers.

ADDICTION BLOG: How can I help my parents?  

BRIA RILEY: There is no real way for the children of addicts to “help” their parents; the parents have to make their own decision to seek help. If they feel that their parent is that far gone, they can arrange an intervention, call the State’s Department of Health and Social Services, or seek help from another adult who they trust. When their parents are in recovery, kids can be loving and supportive, which will make their parents feel good about their decision to choose recovery.

ADDICTION BLOG: What should I do if/when violent behavior appears?

BRIA RILEY: Stay calm and try to not fight back or stop it. You do not want to get hurt. If it comes to the point that they are becoming physically abusive or doing any type of damage that affects others, do not hesitate to call the police, tell someone, request to live with someone else, or contact your state’s child protective services.

ADDICTION BLOG: What should my first step be when I see no way out in facing my drunk or drugged parent?

BRIA RILEY: It depends on the situation. If it is only a temporary thing like if they are really bad for a day or a few days, I would say to stay with a friend or another family member for a night or few nights. If living with them has become unbearable, I would start asking family members or any adult that is close to you that is in the position to care for you to live with them. Now if you’re a grown adult, it may break your heart, but you may just have to avoid contact with your parents.

ADDICTION BLOG: What do I need to do to take care of myself?

BRIA RILEY: They should definitely educate themselves on the disease of addiction so they understand what they are dealing with in terms of the complexity of the disease. They should definitely not become co-dependent (an enabler) by giving money, bailing out of jail, making excuses for work or other commitments, etc. Most importantly, they should seek help in Al-Ateen (teens) or Al-Anon (adults) meetings or other support groups, school guidance counselors, school social workers, outside counselors, or church members.

In the end, I hope that each child of an addict would all want to still live a fulfilling life so they should try to rise above by making positive decisions for themselves, and education plays a big role.

ADDICTION BLOG: Who else can I connect with so that I don’t feel so alone?

BRIA RILEY: The best way to not feel so alone is to find a group of people who can empathize (other children of addicts). The best place to find these people are support groups such as Al-Ateen or Al-Anon. Some schools may even have a support group, so I would advise that they check with a school guidance counselor or social worker. Some churches, hospitals, or other organizations may even have their own support groups. The friends made in these support groups usually become their best friends because they understand what they are going through. A person to vent to is also good to have such as a supportive family member, friend, pastor, teacher, or counselor.

ADDICTION BLOG: What do I need to do so that I don’t become an addict myself?

BRIA RILEY: Simple. Make the right decisions and monitor your behaviors throughout your life.

As I have mentioned in previous questions, education is key because it provides the opportunity and motivation for success and keeps you in line. Hang around peers who do not engage in drugs or alcohol. Believe it or not, you are who your friends are. If you never do drugs, you can’t become addicted to them, so simply choose to say, “No” to them. Now, in life, of course most people drink or gamble at some point or get injured or have a procedure that makes them need pain killers. You just have to be aware of these behaviors because addiction sneaks up on you and definitely runs in families.

ADDICTION BLOG: Do kids of addicts usually try to compensate for addiction? How?

BRIA RILEY: Sadly, I find that more children of addicts get caught up in the depression of their difficult lives that come with having addicted parents, so they may:

  • turn to drugs or alcohol
  • drop out of school
  • perform poorly academically
  • have an unwanted/unplanned pregnancy
  • or even commit suicide

There is a statistic I once read saying that children of alcoholics are 85% more likely to commit suicide. On the other hand, there are also many children of addicts – like myself – who want to rise above their difficult lives that come with having addicted parents by making positive decisions such as:

  • befriending the right people getting an education that will lead to a career
  • getting a steady job
  • becoming independent
  • eventually having a loving, healthy, and stable family of their own

So, I believe that it all depends on the kid of the addict and what is going on up in their own head.

ADDICTION BLOG: What are some of the common ways that kids become adults in order to cope with addiction?  

BRIA RILEY: There are two directions they can really go in order to cope with addiction. As I’ve mentioned in the previous question, they either go down the negative or the positive path. Some of the negative ways they cope are to get caught up in their own addiction, promiscuity, crime, etc. Some of the positive ways they cope are doing well in school and making other positive decisions that will help them climb out of the unfortunate hole their parents’ addiction has put them in.

Just a side note: there are scholarships for children of addicted and/or incarcerated parents.

ADDICTION BLOG: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

BRIA RILEY: If you are a child of an addict or someone who is deeply affected by a loved one’s addiction, I want you to know that I feel your pain and I am writing this advice from my own experiences. I know that you feel a lot of pain and sadness because addiction destroys lives, but it does not have to consume you. You CAN OVERCOME your adversity. Anyone is strong enough and is capable of having the right mindset to do so.

I have learned that healing is not when the trauma no longer hurts; it is when you have overcame it and can make something good and beautiful out of it. Even though I have accomplished many great things, I still feel the hurt and brokenness and sometimes have tears streaming down my face in bed at night.

If you are an addict, I beseech you to get help. Using is just a symptom to a deeper emotional problem, and you can be set free of your demons if you just seek help. Not only what you are doing is hurting you, but it is hurting your loved ones as well. Life in recovery is beautiful and can be full of greatness if you just give it a chance. I would also like to tell you that the best way to heal a broken heart is to give God all of the pieces. If you do not believe in God, at least have a higher power because that is what will help you put things in perspective and keep you sane. God Bless.

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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