How to Educate Yourself about Your Child’s Addiction

Contributor: Liza Piekarsky, LMHC, CAP and Diana Sullivan, LMHC, CAP

iraq-80381_640Recovery is a “Family Process.” Families are an extremely important component of their child’s recovery, therefore, their roles are complex. Learning how to meaningfully participate in recovery and gain acceptance will positively impact how a loved one responds.

If you are a parent or caregiver of a child who is suffering from addiction, it is not too late to help them in their journey through recovery. You may have already noticed that your child is not the only one suffering, as it often absorbs the whole family. The thoughts, feelings, and actions of everyone in the family becomes ruled by the addict’s behavior.

To begin this journey, viewing addiction as a disease is instrumental in eliminating blame and helping to increase awareness that they did not cause their child’s addiction and therefore will be unable to fix it. Family members cannot control the addict and their behaviors; however, they can control their response and how it affects their own life.

Education Is Key

Educating yourself on your child’s addiction is the first step in restoring hope. Studies show that addiction recovery is more powerful when the family is educated and involved in the process.

Learn to recognize signs that your child or loved one is flirting with danger. Receiving psycho education will assist the family in gaining an understanding of the stages of dependency. It helps them to identify family roles as well as the physical and psychological effects of substances.

Warning Signs

Warning signs can include, but are not limited to:


people-400818_640Is you’re your child spending more time alone in their room and refusing to attend family functions that they would have typically enjoyed participating in? A change in sleeping patterns in which your child is often awake all hours of the night and sleeping throughout the day.

Changes in appetite-

Different drugs have different culinary signatures. While certain drug classifications like uppers (Cocaine, Adderall, and Speed) suppress and inhibit one’s appetite, drugs such as marijuana can surge an appetite. The active ingredient in marijuana called Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), increases our sensitivity to scents and flavors which increases appetite.

Balancing Freedom and Security

Adolescence is considered a time for exploring identity in which teenagers are focusing on discovering independence and developing a sense of self.

Personal exploration must be encouraged; however, drastic changes can be a red flag that they have adopted a peer groups values that no longer emulate their own. Be mindful of those they are surrounding and associating themselves with.

How to React to a Change in Behavior

If your child is uncharacteristically challenging you or saying things they normally would not, do not minimize their behaviors, rather continue to explore patterns of behaviors and interactions that are not typical. It is common for teenagers to say hurtful things they do not mean in attempt to distract us from what is really going on.

Explore and understand family roles. Without apparent knowledge family members can enable their child’s drug use to continue. Recognize the difference between supporting and enabling. If your child is clever enough to obtain drugs on a daily basis, they are clever enough to get food as well, therefore rescuing them only reinstates the cycle of addiction.

The Roles Children of Addicts Play

bicycles-405779_640The addict, hero, scapegoat, mascot, lost child, and the caretaker are roles often assumed by children of addicts or alcoholics, but the codependent nature of the family relationship can persist until the children are adults.

By recognizing which role you or a loved one plays in the family that is struggling with addiction, you can take steps to stop enabling the behavior.

Over time, these roles may become a typical way of living. It is very difficult to break away from these habitual thoughts and actions. You may find that you or your children may need professional help to make important changes in codependent behavior. Family members are highly encouraged to seek help and support for themselves.

Secrets Can Hurt

Some advice for parents of addicts: Don’t keep it a secret, share your struggles with others in order to receive the support needed to promote recovery. Realize that you are not alone. Join a support group and enroll in counseling.

Stop rescuing/enabling your loved one, it gives them fewer reasons they have to get sober. You do not want to be contributing to their addictive cycle. Take care of yourself-often times the stress of an addict can run you into the ground. Lastly, recognize when to let go, you cannot fix what does not want to be repaired.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 27th, 2014
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About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.