An Open Letter to the Parents of Adult Alcoholics and Addicts

It is an unbelievably difficult transition.

Your teenaged child who has an extensive personal history of substance abuse has just turned 18, and everything has changed.

They are now adults in the eyes of the law, and you can no longer legally control what they choose to do. As adults, they can do whatever they want, but then they must face the consequences of their actions.

On the other hand, nothing has changed. Adult or not, this is still your child – your flesh and blood. The paltry, arbitrary one-day distinction between 18 years and 17 years and 364 days means nothing to you.

You still feel the same love for them, and consequently, you still feel the pain and heartbreak every time they drink or use. You lose sleep worrying about what will happen to them, and you still feel the need to provide protection.

In some ways, it seems like the pain has gotten worse now that they have moved out of your house. Because they are no longer living at home, you are even more preoccupied about who they are hanging around with, how they are earning their living, and what is going to happen next.

And, if they have been away from home for any appreciable length, you are probably hearing the same old worn out a list of demands that always guilt you into helping them –

“Give me some money because I don’t have any food at my place…no gas…no electricity, etc.”

They’ll throw me out if you don’t help me.”

“You don’t understand – I’m sick! I’m really hurting. I need the cash or I’ll kill myself.”

Sometimes, the only time you interact with your child is when they want money. You are terrified that if you do not give them what they want, they’ll vanish, go to jail, or maybe even end up dead.

So, you continue to pay for their apartment, you keep on bailing them out, and you keep on writing checks to their lawyers, their therapists, and to the Court, all in a vain attempt to protect them. You almost bankrupt yourself sending them to a treatment program after treatment program, and in return, they drop out before the rehab plan is finished. Even when they complete the program, they turn right back around and relapse immediately.

You continue to give until everyone else in the family suffers. Your nest egg is depleted, funds you set aside for the future of your other children have been frittered away, and your own fiscal stability is gone forever.

Worst of all, all of your sacrifices have been for naught. Your child isn’t improving, you’re arguing with the rest of the family because of all that you have done, and all of your money is going towards drinking and drugging.

Now that you are about to lose your mind, what can you do?


Ask that question of anyone in recovery, and you will invariably get the same answer ––

Admit to yourself and one other person that you are powerless over alcohol and drugs, and as a result, your life has become unmanageable.”

When you truthfully and sincerely, you will immediately feel as if a crushing weight has been lifted from your shoulders.

Look at it this way–for so very long, you have been waging war against an invincible enemy– addiction – over which you have no power at all. All of your attempts to have destroyed your peace of mind, your personal harmony, and your sanity.

By admitting that you are powerless when it comes to addiction –especially an addiction that belongs to another– you instantly become free from the terrifying responsibility of beating it.

That admission’s second part– that your life has become unmanageable – are you giving yourself permission to seek professional help.

Once you ask for help, you will discover that there are concrete actions that you can take that will help you restore balance to your life.

From this point on, you should concentrate on YOUR life. YOUR sense of peace. YOUR serenity. YOUR sanity. YOUR well-being. YOUR money. The rest of YOUR family. YOUR happiness.

You are not abandoning your child. You simply cannot help another person before you help yourself. You are absolving yourself of any blame for their addiction. You no longer have to shoulder the weight of their substance-abuse problems.

Those are the attitude adjustments that you have to make, personally. When you can do this, you can begin doing those practical things that demonstrate those realizations.

First, QUIT ENABLING your child’s addiction.

Stop giving money to your alcoholic/addict and quit shielding them from the natural repercussions of their behaviors. Consider this–

As long as they suffer no consequences, why should they ever change?

People can only change themselves. In this instance, that just might be sufficient.

When you alter the dynamic of the toxic relationship that you have created with your child, they, also, will be forced to alter their behaviors. What happens as a result is not your responsibility.

At first, they will almost always resist strongly. They may cuss you, weep, bargain, and beg, all in an attempt to get you to return to your old way of interaction. If they have children of their own, they may even try to use them as bargaining chips.

The next thing that you have to do is stand up to your addicted offspring. This is called “tough love”. You have to be firm, for both your sake and theirs.

It will be hard. Because you have stopped the money, you will have to listen to any number of frantic promises and even more guilt trips. Naturally, the part of you that loves them wants to believe those promises and wants to assuage your self-perceived guilt.

If you acquiesce now, you only strengthen their addictive behavior and teach them that there are no consequences resulting from their actions.


FIRST, your child will never stop siphoning off your financial resources and destroying your sanity. Your love for them will be exploited and they will never admit to any personal responsibility for their actions. Worse, they will have no reason to ever seek help.

Quid pro quo should be your watchword. Refuse to give any support without first receiving some sort of provable progress showing how they are getting their life together – treatment program reports, 12-step meeting attendance, counseling sessions, Jim on struggle sobriety, etc.

Any support should be conditional upon their dedication to their own sobriety and recovery. It is permissible to help them find appropriate facilities and programs.

Do not forget – the responsibility for attending, complying, and making progress is completely theirs. The most typical trigger of relapse is an individual’s own mistaken self-image that they are undeserving or incapable of sobering up. They can gain that belief in their self-worth by actually working hard in a drug rehab program

If they have kids, think of the children’s welfare, rather than subjecting yourself to the epithets and insults coming from an addict. Steel yourself to committing to take in your grandchildren yourself or discuss with other members of your family their ability and willingness to do so. It may even be necessary to contact Child Protective Services.

SECONDLY, you need to realize that your adult child can defeat their demons– if they have the right kind of motivation, and if the right alcohol/drug rehab program is chosen.

THIRDLY, don’t forget that you have to concentrate on your own recovery from codependency. Your own actions when you were enabling their addiction have damaged your life and the lives of the rest of your family. You can affect positive healing by focusing on each step in your recovery.

FINALLY, remember that you do not have to go through this alone. There are innumerable 12-step support groups and recovery programs for the loved ones of alcoholics/addicts. The more you use their services, the more you will discover that the sharing your own experiences will reduce the pain and distress that you feel

It is a scary truth that your child is now an adult and can make their own choices. For better or worse, one of those choices might be to continue using and drinking.

In this case, you may not be able to keep them from ruining their life, but the rest of your family doesn’t have to go down as well.

An Open Letter to the Parents of Adult Alcoholics and Addicts

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