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Loving a Substance Use Disorder Survivor: 5 Mistakes You Should Stop Making


When your loved one struggles with substance addiction, it’s easy to feel powerless or unsure of how to cope with their substance abuse. Adult children of alcoholics, in particular, are known to feel the sting of emotional wounds inflicted by years of exposure to alcoholic behaviors. 

Whether your parents have coerced you into enabling their drinking disorder or your caretakers neglected you, it’s natural to feel angry and hurt by their addiction. You might not be sure how to continue to support your loved ones as they battle their addictions. 

If you’re wondering how you can continue maintaining a healthy relationship with your parent, here are five tips for helping the substance abuse survivor in your family while also taking care of yourself.

Don’t blame yourself

Alcoholics often deny responsibility for their drinking by blaming their behavior on their circumstances and the people around them. If your parents ever accused you of being the reason they drink, you mustn’t give their accusations any weight. 

Remember, if your loved one exhibits alcoholic behaviors, talking your way out of their addiction will prove unsuccessful time and time again. Regardless of what you say or do, your parents will likely still succumb to their cravings. Though assigning blame and stew in guilt may come as second nature, your loved one’s substance dependency is not your fault.

Stop trying to control them

It’s natural to want to control your loved one’s substance abuse. You might think there’s undoubtedly something you could do to prevent your parents from drinking or using drugs, but this way of thinking will only leave you feeling frustrated and helpless. 

Your parents will only heal if they willingly reach out, so rushing to their rescue may only delay their decision to ask for help. It can be excruciating to watch your loved one fall deeper and deeper into a crisis, but the best method of helping your parents is to allow the situation to play out fully. 

To cope in the face of crisis, learn detachment to let go of your need for control—for the sake of your mental health and their healing process.

Don’t brush off unacceptable behavior

Inevitably, your family member will have an incident when drinking, whether it’s a small verbal argument or a significant physical altercation. Brushing off their behavior by blaming it on their drunken state will allow you to continue to accept their behavior, even as incidents begin to escalate. 

The longer you tolerate their behavior, the more likely it is that you’ll find yourself in a full-blown abusive relationship. Regardless of your loved one’s addiction, you should never have to suffer abuse. Instead of simply accepting unacceptable behavior, set boundaries for yourself with your parents, and don’t be afraid to protect yourself.

Stop your enabling behaviors in their tracks 

While it may seem right to make excuses for your loved one’s behavior and protect them from the consequences of their actions, these instincts enable your family member’s addiction. It’s vital to be aware of your behaviors surrounding your loved one’s substance abuse. If you’re paying bills and doing chores for your parents that they could otherwise do when they’re sober, you’re allowing them to escape the consequences of their addiction. 

That said, don’t loan your family member money. Avoid reacting to their misbehavior, and don’t drink with them. Instead, set boundaries, and allow them to face the ramifications of their actions on their own.

Don’t hesitate to reach out for help

Though your loved one may be struggling with addiction, the pain you feel at seeing your family member succumb to their disease is genuine. It’s easy to push aside your own needs to focus on your parents, but neglecting yourself will only make it more difficult to cope. Reach out for help from a support group like Al-Anon Family Groups or pursue therapy if you feel you need support. Your loved one’s addiction affects everyone around them, and there’s no shame in seeking help.

The bottom line

While it may be challenging to accept that your parent’s willingness to heal isn’t within your control, detaching from your loved one’s addiction can help you nurse the wounds of wrongdoings past. Prioritizing your healing and health will allow you to better cope with the challenges that come with loving someone who struggles with substance abuse. Ultimately, you should never be afraid to seek out support for yourself and make choices that keep you healthy, both in mind and body.