I’m the Mother of an Addict: What Should I Do?

Seeing a loved one wrestle with opiate addiction is a confusing and frustrating experience, but it’s particularly painful when that person is your child. As a mother, your instincts are to nurture and care for your child. But if your loving support is actually promoting your child’s continued drug abuse, what then?

Perhaps you wrestle with feelings of responsibility or failure. The bottom line is that, as the mother of an addict, you likely need some professional help – as does your child – in order to deal with this crisis situation.

Recognizing and Avoiding Codependency and Enabling

Addiction is a problem that affects not only the drug user, but the entire family involved. Loved ones can actually find themselves encouraging drug use, if they aren’t careful, despite their best intentions.

Two types of unhealthy behavior, codependency and enabling behavior, can contribute to a person’s continued abuse of drugs.

Codependency occurs when another individual, perhaps the addict’s spouse or family member, is controlled by the addict’s addictive behavior. Codependents become codependent because they have learned to believe that love, acceptance, security and approval are contingent upon taking care of the addict in the way the addict wishes. In their decision-making process, they allow the addict to define reality. Unfortunately, this excessive caregiving behavior tends to foster even more dependency on the part of the addict. Some codependents are adult children of alcoholics or addicts and their codependent behavior is the result of growing up in the environment of addiction.

Enabling behavior occurs when another person, often a codependent, helps or encourages the addict to continue using drugs, either directly or indirectly.1

What Does Codependency and Enabling Look Like in Real Life?

The following are symptomatic of people who inadvertently encourage loved ones to stay on drugs:

  • Making excuses for the addict’s behavior.
  • Providing an addict with money, food or shelter.
  • Making demands of the addict, but then not following through in enforcing those demands.
  • Becoming emotional about a loved one’s addiction.
  • Using alcohol or other drugs to medicate the pain of your child’s addiction.
  • Denying that your child has a problem.
  • Blaming others for your child’s substance abuse.
  • Lying to protect your child.
  • Protecting your child from the full consequences of substance abuse or addiction.
  • Trying to “fix” your child.

Whether out of ignorance or sympathy, many parents unintentionally make their children’s drug dependence worse through their misguided ideas, words and actions. As stated earlier, everyone involved needs some professional advice and support.2

How Can You Find Appropriate Help for Your Son or Daughter?

No one loves your child the way you do, but love is simply not enough when it comes to addiction recovery. Your child needs professional help, and highly effective treatment programs are available across the country. Ending your codependent and enabling roles are critical to your child’s recovery.

Most parents think of their own needs long after those of their kids, particularly when their children are struggling or in pain. However, in order to be the best you to support your children, you need to care for yourself as well. As a parent, your children need your understanding, confidence, compassion and patience. These require a clear mind and a strong body, especially if you need to draw some “lines in the sand” that require you to back up your words with “tough love” actions.3

When you call our 24/7 toll-free line, one of our friendly, knowledgeable coordinators can provide you with some straight answers to your burning questions, as well as offer some real, evidence-based solutions to your child’s problems.

1 “Maintaining Abstinence”, Archives, National Institute on Drug Abuse.

2 Lancer, Darlene, J.D., M.F.T., “Are You an Enabler?”, PsychCentral, http://psychcentral.com/lib/are-you-an-enabler/ , (Last checked May 8, 2016).

3 “Impact of Substance Abuse on Families”, National Center for Biotechnology Information, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64258/ .