Does my adult child have a drug or alcohol problem?
Do you have an alcoholic daughter living at home and don’t know how what to do? Are you concerned about your son or daughter’s drug abuse? Do you wonder how to deal with a drug addict daughter? Knowing how to support an addicted adult child in healthy ways can be especially challenging for parents, as you want to help rather than hinder their recovery process. However, this problem is not an uncommon one, as addiction affects a significant number of Americans.
If you’ve thought, “my daughter is on drugs. how can I help her?”, you are not alone. According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), approximately 19.7 million people aged 12 or over reported having a substance use disorder. In recent years, there has been significant growth in opioid abuse, including heroin abuse, fentanyl abuse, and other prescription painkillers abuse. Overdoses of the potentially deadly class of drugs have increased nearly fourfold since 1999, killing approximately 47,000 people in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
While substance use disorders do not discriminate–affecting individuals across generational, geographic, socio-economic, and racial lines–there are several factors that can increase one’s risk of addiction. Risk factors include:
- Genetic predisposition to addiction
- Lack of parental supervision during childhood and adolescence
- History of addiction in the family
- Mental health disorders
- Poor social skills
- Alcohol and drug use initiation at an early age
If you are worried that your adult child may be abusing opioids, abusing meth, crack cocaine, or having an alcoholism problem, and don’t know what to do, now is the time to inform yourself. Learn about the signs and symptoms of drug addiction and alcoholism as well as what you can do as a parent to support your adult son or daughter during and following treatment without enabling his or her addiction.
What is the difference between substance abuse and addiction?
In many countries and cultures, experimentation with drugs and alcohol is considered a rite of passage, occurring recreationally in social settings. As a parent, you may be unsure whether your adult child is using recreationally, abusing substances, or has a full-blown drug addiction.
Many wonder what the difference is between addiction and substance abuse. While both can be harmful, substance abuse occurs when a person consumes alcohol, illegal or legal drugs in ways and amounts they should not. This might mean using drugs or alcohol to ease stress or taking pills without a prescription, for example.
Addiction, on the other hand, may result from or follow as one’s substance abuse escalates. For some, drug and alcohol use can turn to substance abuse, and finally to dependency and addiction. Addiction is a disease that differs from substance abuse in its intensity, physical and mental impacts, as well the ways in which it affects an individual’s life.
Drug addiction affects both one’s behavior as well as the brain. The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.” Considered to be a mental illness, addiction is the most severe on the spectrum of substance use disorders.
Addictive drugs target the brain’s reward system by providing increases in dopamine. As one’s brain gets used to the increased dopamine, it can become difficult to achieve similar levels of pleasure without the drug. Long-term drug use and addiction can also result in changes to the brain and damage one’s judgment, decision-making, learning, and memory. Other long-term impacts of dependence on heroin, cocaine, crack and opioid painkillers, such as fentanyl, may vary depending on the specific drug being abused.
How to deal with a drug addict daughter? Identifying the signs and symptoms of substance use disorders
As the parent of an adult child, there are a number of behavioral and physical indicators your son or daughter may exhibit if they are dealing with a substance use disorder, be it full-blown addiction or a lesser form. The following 4 warning signs and symptoms can help you identify whether your adult child is suffering from alcoholism or a drug problem.
1. Physical issues and changes to appearance
Substance use disorders can manifest in many ways, including through changes physically and to one’s appearance, such as:
- Red eyes, pupils appear larger or smaller than usual
- Significant weight loss or gain
- Lack of proper grooming
- Unusual odors on breath, body, or clothing
2. Changes in behavior
Is your son or daughter behaving differently? Have you seen significant changes to their personality? Common behavioral indicators include:
- Secretive and suspicious behavior regarding where he or she is going
- Barring family or friends from entering his or her room
- Drastic changes in friendships or relationships with family members
- Lying about activities and whereabouts
- Mood swings and extreme irritability
- Extreme hyperactivity or lethargy
- Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination
3. School and work problems
Drug addiction and alcoholism can cause one’s primary focus to be feeding his or her habit rather than meeting personal and professional responsibilities. Take a closer look at your adult child’s current educational or labor situation. Has he or she demonstrated any of the following behaviors?:
- Frequently missing school or work
- Drop in a work performance or grades
- Lack of interest in school, work or other activities
- Inability to maintain jobs
4. Money issues
Drug and alcohol habits can be quite expensive to maintain. The financial cost of regular consumption can be steep. Moreover, drug addiction can make it challenging to continue to earn money, as one’s focus becomes procuring and using, rather than meeting work responsibilities. Have you noticed any of the following issues?:
- A sudden lack of money
- Sudden or increased requests for money without reasonable explanation
- Missing money or other valuables
If the warning signs of addiction ring true for your adult child’s behavior, you are probably wondering, what now? What can I do to stop my child from abusing drugs or alcohol? Know that their addiction is not your fault and you alone can not make them be sober. Rather, sobriety can only be achieved if he or she is an active and willing participant in the process. However, there are steps you can take to help them and yourself.
Parenting an adult addict
My daughter is on drugs. How can I help her?
Do you wonder how to handle a drug addict child? First, it is probably time to take a closer look at your relationship with your child. Being the father or mother of an addict is not an enviable situation, and it can be difficult to know the correct things to do and say when you see your child suffering. But oftentimes, parents play a role in enabling their children’s addiction.
Am I enabling my adult child’s addiction?
As parents, we seek to protect our children, even when they are adults. But in some cases, “helping” may actually be harming. By protecting your adult child from the consequences of their addiction, you may also be enabling them to continue using drugs and alcohol, as they never have to fully face the negative results of their substance use disorder. Essentially, by cleaning up their mess, you are lightening their motivation to seek help. The first step in figuring out how to stop enabling your grown child is recognizing unhealthy behaviors. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you ignore or excuse unacceptable behavior?
- Is “helping” your child preventing them from feeling the consequences of their actions?
- Do you give your adult child money for food or rent?
- Do you avoid expressing your feelings or creating boundaries with your adult child for fear of conflict?
- Is your drug addict son living at him? How might you be supporting his continued use?
- Have you offered your child a place to stay when they are using it because you believe it is “safer” for them?
- Have you lied or covered for them because they couldn’t meet work, school or other responsibilities?
- Have you bailed your child out of jail or paid for other legal expenses related to his or her addiction?
- Do you care for your adult child when they are sick as a result of a hangover or drug use?
If you have answered yes to some or all of these questions, you are likely enabling your child’s addiction.
Admitting its time to learn how to stop enabling your grown child
Taking care of your loved one might seem like an act of kindness. However, it is actually detrimental to their wellbeing in the long run, as you are removing the negative consequences of their behaviors. Thus, you are unintentionally reinforcing your adult child’s drug use.
Breaking enabling behavior can be especially difficult for a mother or father, as it can be quite hard to see your child in pain. Nonetheless, by continuing to “support” your adult child, you are both reinforcing negative conduct and inhibiting his or her independence. This may be especially true if, as a parent, your relationship with your son or daughter is one of a codependent nature.
What is codependency?
Codependency, as defined by the Cambridge dictionary, means “being involved in a relationship in which one person helps to cause another person’s alcohol problem, drug addiction, etc. because they have a strong emotional need themselves.” In other words, by sacrificing and ignoring your own needs and well-being to support your addicted adult child, you might be unintentionally fueling their addiction.
In many codependent relationships, one person’s identity is built around helping others even at the cost of addressing their own desires and feelings. A codependent individual may rely on others to validate their self-worth and feel gratified by playing the caregiver role. Characteristics of a codependent relationship include:
- Issues with boundaries in the relationship. You may feel responsible for your child’s wellbeing and happiness, negate your true thoughts or feelings to avoid upsetting your son or daughter, or have difficulty saying no.
- A lack of self-esteem. Low self esteem may mean feelings of worthlessness, a lack of feeling important, or relying on others to feel valued. Being needed may provide you with a sense of internal gratification, whether your child expresses gratitude or not.
- A need to “save” your child. As a mother or father, you may feel like it is your duty or purpose to protect your child from harm, even fixing problems for them. This prevents your son or daughter from building the confidence or capacity to solve his or her own issues.
- Prioritizing others well-being over your own. You might be inadvertently engaging in self-denial by ignoring your own physical, emotional, or financial needs and also feeling guilty when you do try to assert your own needs.
- Control issues. These issues may manifest as over involvement in another’s life and linking your own self-worth with your child’s successes and failures.
- Perfectionism. This may appear as taking on more than you can handle and feeling insecure when you can’t meet responsibilities or when you receive criticism.
This dynamic may have been going on for several years, however, it is not a healthy one. It results in a lopsided relationship where one individual is constantly prioritized and the other’s needs are not met. Codependency can allow addiction to flourish.
Moreover, it may be negatively affecting other relationships and hurting other family members emotionally and financially. Nonetheless, there are steps you can take to stop enabling your grown child addiction and change your codependent relationship into a healthier one, thus supporting your son or daughter on their road to recovery, even if it means they must first suffer the consequences of addiction.
How to deal with a drug addict daughter?
If the thought “my daughter is on drugs. How can I help her without enabling?” has crossed your mind or you’ve wondered how to deal with a drug addict daughter who continues to use substances, you likely realize that something has gone to give. Here are 6 steps you can take to stop enabling your grown child:
- Open up the lines of communication
As a parent, it can be hard communicating with your son or daughter about their addiction. You may have tried in the past and been unsuccessful. You may even feel as if you are constantly pestering or nagging them to change. “But my daughter is killing herself with alcohol! What can I do to help my alcoholic daughter live at home?” you may wonder. If you want to find a better way of how to deal with a drug addict caught or daughter, try a different approach. Have a sit-down conversation.
But before approaching your child, take some time to think about what you would like to communicate. While you shouldn’t expect to convince your child to admit his or her drug problem and seek help immediately, you can open up a dialogue for future conversations. Find an appropriate time when you can both sit down and talk without interruptions. Start by telling your adult son or adult daughter that you care about them deeply and understand that addiction is a disease, not a moral failure.
Communicate what you have seen and how their addiction is affecting you in a non-accusatory manner. Be specific. Let them know that you are concerned about them, but avoid being judgmental or lecturing. Ask your child questions and give them space to respond honestly. Listen and avoid condemning their responses or cutting them off. Remind your child that they are loved and you are here to offer them help for their addiction when they are ready.
- Set boundaries and follow through
Learning about effective boundaries is key if you want to know how to stop enabling your grown child. Changing the dynamic of your relationship between you and your addicted son or addicted daughter will require setting clear boundaries around yourself, your finances and your home. Take a hard look at your current relationship. Consider the ways that you may be enabling your child’s addiction and reinforcing codependency. Are you giving them money, shelter, or resolving other problems for them? Let your son or daughter know that you will no longer be continuing to engage in behaviors that support their addiction. Create a list of personal boundaries, rules around your home, your finances and yourself, as well as consequences for breaking these rules. Maybe this means telling your alcoholic son who is living at home that he must find his own place to live if he continues to drink. During your conversation with your child, make sure you clearly and kindly communicate these boundaries and the consequences for not respecting them. Let them know that these rules are coming from a place of love and out of concern for their safety and your own. You may have previously tried to enforce boundaries and failed. This may have been because you were unable to follow through, as addicts can be especially convincing and manipulative when they are in need. Your child may become angry with you when you explain the new boundaries. Fight the urge to give in and remember these rules are for your and their own good. Once the rules and boundaries are put in place, if broken, they should be enforced, otherwise, they are meaningless.
- Present treatment options
When you sit down and speak to your son or daughter, let them know that help is available. Do some research and provide them with real options for drug and alcohol addiction treatment centers, rather than speaking in general terms. Although they may not be prepared to listen or take in what you are saying, it is good to have something concrete available or, at the least, to let them know there are real options out there for when they are ready. You might consider contacting a treatment center, to find out more about the programs they offer. We Level Up California offers free consultations where you can learn more about their treatment services.
- Acknowledge that your child is an adult
As the mother or father of an addict, it is important to recognize that your son or daughter is an adult and to encourage their independence. By continuing to rescue your child every time they are in crisis, you are also subconsciously letting them know that you don’t believe they are capable or competent enough to make it on their own. Let them solve their own financial and emotional problems. You can listen, but avoid jumping in and solving these issues for them. If your child is currently living at home or you are paying for their expenses, now is the time to encourage them to assert their independence in a collaborative, caring and supportive way. For instance, come up with a gradual plan where they can start paying a portion of housing costs until they can fully become independent. Agree on a time limit and follow through. Do not continue providing money that can be spent on drugs. But also, don’t forget to call out progress and provide positive reinforcement when they do make changes or meet new goals.
- Inform yourself and seek support
Addiction is a complicated disease, and you are not responsible for your son or daughter’s substance use disorder. However, there are some proactive steps you can take to learn more about the disease and how to cope with its impacts. Start by educating yourself about addiction. There are several reports available that offer detail on how and why addiction occurs and the recovery process. Look for group therapy for family members of addicts, such as Al-Anon and Nar-Anon. Having an outlet such as a peer support group can allow you the space to share your experience while learning from others going through similar experiences.
- Take care of yourself
There is no better time than now to prioritize your well-being. Being the mother or father of an addict can be physically and mentally draining. Substance use disorders don’t just hurt the addict or alcoholic, they also damage the lives of those around them. Try and be aware of your feelings and emotions and know when you have to disengage and take a step back. Self care is not selfishness. It is necessary and important. Remember, you can not save your child from themselves or repair their lives. Seeking treatment and achieving sobriety is something that they have to want and do for themselves.
 National Institute on Drug Abuse. The Science of Drug Use and Addiction: The Basics.
 SAMHSA. 2017 NSDUH Annual National Report.
 CDC. The Drug Overdose Epidemic: Behind the Numbers.
 National Institute on Drug Abuse. Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction. Drug Misuse and Addiction.