How Parents of Adult Alcoholics Can Overcome Guilt

Drug and alcohol addiction does not discriminate. People of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds and races are susceptible to developing chemical dependency if there are certain factors present, such as influential social circles, job-related stress, adverse childhood experiences, toxic relationships and mental illness. The addiction stigma attached to people with substance use disorder shames them into silence, so even if your adult son or daughter was struggling with drinking or drug use, you probably wouldn’t know it because they’ve become experts at hiding it. They avoid being labeled at all costs and want to believe that it’s business as usual and they’ve still got everything under control.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. Unnecessary parental guilt is a normal response. As a parent, it’s natural to feel guilty about your loved one’s addiction. You’ve done your best raising your kids, so what went wrong? One of the biggest fears of parenting is releasing one’s children out into the scary world where they may get hurt. They take off to college, or perhaps take an awesome job promotion, in another state far away from your nest of protection and provision. And then your worst fears become real life. A million thoughts race through your head, most of them questions, asking, “Why? How?!” It’s very normal to feel this way, and your feelings are valid and real, but it doesn’t mean you’re the culprit for your child’s problems.

[See: 11 Strategies for Staying Sober While Traveling.]

Before you approach a loved one with alcohol use disorder, practice self-compassion. Acknowledge that you’ve done the best you could with the resources you had, and you’re taking steps to be more involved in your loved one’s life. What does it mean to practice self-compassion?

Allow yourself to feel what you feel but give yourself a time limit. It’s OK to feel angry, resentful, confused, guilty or a host of other emotions in response to the realization that your son or daughter may be struggling with addiction. It’s not OK to repress these emotions, but instead give yourself a time limit to grieve (e.g., one or two hours).

Focus on what you can do now instead of what you could’ve done better. Beating yourself up over circumstances that already happened isn’t going to improve your loved one’s current situation, especially situations over which you had no control. What can you do right now? If your loved one is unwilling to get help, you can call for help from an expert who will guide you and your loved ones to receive the necessary care.

[See: 7 Ways to Build Resilience for Crises and Everyday Life Challenges.]

Stop blaming yourself and imposing misplaced guilt where it doesn’t belong. It’s heart-wrenching enough to see your loved one struggling, so why put extra pressure on yourself? The burden of regret and shame will only drain your energy and focus, and misplaced guilt will rob you of the physical strength you could use toward helping your loved ones overcome addiction.

Find out all you can about alcohol and drug addiction. Education is one of the best tools we can use toward our own advantage. Knowledge is power. Engage yourself in advocacy and support groups, especially with other parents who are going through the same things you are.

[Read: The Psychological Impact of Victim-Blaming — and How to Stop It.]

Speak from a place of vulnerability. When approaching your son or daughter about their addiction, speak from a place of love and vulnerability. They’ll be more responsive to your intervention if they sense love, compassion and understanding from you. If for some reason you’re unable to approach them without feeling angry, seek assistance; we often need help from an objective third party to process our emotions before we talk to loved ones with alcohol use disorder or substance use disorder. Talk to an expert who has plenty of experience guiding families as they motivate their adult children to seek substance abuse treatment.

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