How Can Parents and Caregivers Help?
An addiction counselor once told me: “You didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, you can’t cure it”. As I listened to those unsettling words I thought to myself: “Then what the hell can I do?”
It turns out, a lot.
Almost every addiction counselor will advise parents and caregivers that they are critical to the recovery process and that there are four primary things that they can and should do to help their loved one:
Get educated about the disease. These short stories are a good start but they should be viewed as only the beginning. This is a complicated and vexing disease, particularly in the way that the symptoms manifest themselves within relationships and within the family. Without a doubt, the more that you know the higher the likelihood that you will be helpful to the recovery process. Early on, I was detrimental to my son’s recovery. I didn’t know that. Then I learned and made the necessary adjustments.
Get professional help for your child. We know that addiction is a brain disease. And we know that active addiction is a life-altering and many times a life-threatening health issue. The science shows that professional treatment increases the chances for recovery. Given all that, seeking professional help seems like a no-brainer, just like for any other health issue. The recovery roadmap is also fraught with twists and turns, difficult messages to deliver, and complicated situations. Professionals are able to deliver much needed wisdom, judgement, and tactics. In my view, professionals saved my son’s life. I will be forever grateful.
The #1 recommendation that I hear from experienced parents, and my #1 recommendation, is to work with professional clinicians.
If you do not have access to professional treatment, Story 12 discusses an excellent alternative.
Get support. The idea that I would need to join a parent support group as part of the process for my son’s recovery was a ridiculous concept to me. No way! Yet, today, after spending years attending these groups for myself and years attending groups as a Parent Peer Volunteer, I am convinced that these groups are life-changing assets for parents.
Nearly all of us that attend these meetings attended our first meeting completely skeptical about the value of the meeting and most of us were certain that our situation was unique. We all felt alone and isolated. Within two or three meetings, almost everyone remarks that they no longer feel alone, that they feel supported, that their situation is far less unique than they thought, and that they are learning critical things about how to handle their loved one within the household. Invaluable! The secret sauce is that under the guidance from a clinical moderator, participants share stories, information and strategies that resonate. A clinician might talk about a concept, but there is something exceptionally powerful that happens when a parent talks about their experiences with their addicted child. The impact is extraordinary.
Attending parent group meetings moderated by a professional is my #2 recommendation.
Take Care of Yourself. I didn’t do it. I could not justify focusing on myself when my son’s life was on the line. I lost weight, and not in a good way, and I was on edge constantly. At one point, I was so frustrated and strung out that I threw my Blackberry and it literally stuck in our den wall, half in half out. We had a Blackberry sized slice in our wall for years – I am not proud of that at all. But, it came to symbolize something important: this process is a marathon and not a sprint and that if you do not take care of yourself then you will not be at your best when called upon to handle tough circumstances.
Dealing with a child’s addiction is a massive ask. It is a powerful and complicated health issue. As a Parent Peer Volunteer, I often tell parents, when they are strung out and frustrated, that their kids are the lucky ones. Many parents turn a blind eye to the problem. The parents that dig in are heroes to their kids, whether their kids appreciate it or not.
The bottom line is that to best help your child, it is important to access resources and get involved in the process. If quality resources are difficult to find, go to the Resources section of the site for trusted suggestions.