Compassion, Not Judgement: Parenting a Child With a Substance Abuse Disorder
There are few things a parent can hear about their child that would break their hearts more than a confession of substance abuse and addiction. And though we cannot help our reactions sometimes, the fear of disappointment, rejection, or punishment is what often keeps our children hiding these potentially lethal secrets.
When our children are in pain and need our help, but also afraid of our responses, it makes it difficult for them to come forth. That leaves it up to us as parents to pave a path of understanding, compassion, and support in order to help facilitate healing.
The effects of substance abuse are far reaching, affecting members of your inner circle, family members, and communities- but it’s important to understand this is not the fault of those afflicted with substance abuse disorders. These disorders are so effective in taking over our lives because it quite literally takes over the brain, changing the chemical composition, which affects personality, thought processes, and priorities. Living with substance abuse can be debilitating- but it doesn’t have to be.
When we love someone living with addiction, especially our child, the most important thing we can do is separate the person from the disease. We must understand that though we love our children, we cannot empower their disorder through inaction or enabling behaviors. Those things are not compassion; they only serve to perpetuate suffering, not alleviate it.
Don’t ignore the money missing from your wallet, or the clear signs of intoxication out of guilt. Guilt is a powerful tool for people active in their use of illicit substances. It allows for manipulation, which helps their disease feed itself. Though it may seem contrary to your instincts as a parent, enabling their addiction will never lead to healing. Instead, you must stand firm in your convictions. There will be anger. There will be attempts at coercion, actions done in spite, and strains in your relationship.
Standing in your convictions does not mean being judgmental. That will do nothing more than force a larger gap and beget more tension, which contradicts the goal of healing and recovery. We must understand that substance abuse is not a moral judgement: not on your child, or your parenting. Even when addiction appears to be a hereditary condition, perpetuated even more so by a childhood surrounded by active drug use, the reality is that is simply addiction begetting addiction.
When the mind is under the control of a substance abuse disorder, our actions are not driven by logic, but rather the overwhelming need to feed the disease.
Judging and criticizing your child or anyone living with addiction is a fruitless practice; it does nothing more than exacerbate the situation.
Though you cannot force true recovery on anyone, having the proper tools to approach the topic can help to convince your child to begin their path to sobriety. Through your own understanding of addiction of the mind, you can help your child understand what’s happening to cause their urges and the other changes they experience due to prolonged use of drugs and alcohol.
While it’s been proven that fear tactics are less than effective, true understanding of what the consequences are and can be is a powerful tool in changing your child’s future. Above all else, we must endeavor to ensure our children understand we are a source of love and support, even when things go wrong. Therapists and counselors trained in addiction recovery can aid in the healing process, but above all else, your child needs your support through the process.
What advice would you give a parent whose child is living with a substance abuse disorder? Comment below!
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About the Author
Alexandrea Holder is a South Florida native working toward double Master’s degrees in Psychology and English. She finds the psychological aspects of addiction and mental illness fascinating, as both are prevalent in her family’s history. When not researching and spreading addiction awareness, Alexandrea enjoys sparring, artistic pursuits, and admiring puppies online.