Parenting the Addict: 5 Key Strategies to Help Parents Thrive

man with child

Parents need support. An epidemic of drug addiction with our kids today is scarier then ever. Every day on national and local news, more and more stories keep pointing to the opiate epidemic, overdoses, and addiction of our young people. These kids have parents whose hearts are breaking and need ongoing support and strategies to take back their parenting from the addiction of their teens and young adults.

I believe no parent ever intentionally wakes up each day and decides to harm their kids. Yet, with the affects of addiction on their parenting, most of these parents find it difficult to believe that their kids really care about them and they feel overwhelmed and powerless. Many of these teens and young adults have the following in common that parents need to know: 1) remorse for what they have done to their families; 2) loneliness, sadness, rage, fear, and shame, and; 3) love for their parents. How do I know? I surveyed 300 teens and young adults newly sober from a recovery high school and sober living programs with young adults in recovery during the past four years. Their responses were heart felt, wise, and important to share with parents. They want you and need you in their lives even if they show otherwise. One of the questions asked to the teens and young adults was to finish the following phrase:

“Dear Parents, I wish you knew this about me…”

• I did my best and tried to be stable, but couldn’t
• How much I have suffered. Sometimes I feel that they only saw my maladaptive behavior as an attack against them rather than a cry for help or an act of desperation.
• I’m trapped in a vicious cycle of using because I can’t gain trust and I’ve given up
• I have really struggled
• I deeply regret hurting them
• I love them and never wanted to hurt them with my addiction.

Who are these kids?

Many of these teens and young adults have been through treatment anywhere from one to nine times. Drugs of choice range from alcohol to marijuana to street drugs, prescription drugs, designer drugs, opiates, and heroin. Many of them have been bullied in grade school, middle school, and high school. Quite a few of them have been sexually, emotionally, or physically abused. Developmentally, many experience delays socially, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.

Through the years, I have worked directly and indirectly with thousands of adolescents and young adults all over the country. Their stories are genuine and telling. Many are children of addicts, many are in recovery, and many have co-occurring mental health challenges. Most of them don’t know how to step out from active addiction and remain sober. Many of these children have mental health challenges that went untreated or were unsuccessfully treated. These include depression, anxiety, severe mood disorders, and learning disabilities. Many of these children mask untreated mental health issues with addiction to ease their pain. Most of the teenagers and young adults have dual diagnoses of chemical dependency with coexisting mental health challenges. Butthese kids want their parents to be on their side even if they have disappeared from that relationship due to addiction and mental health challenges.

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“How did addiction affect your relationship with your parents?”

• When I was depressed, I totally shut down and blocked my parents out, which caused them to try harder.
• They lost trust in me, and I’m not sure when it will ever be back.
• They were scared I would kill myself.
• I completely disappointed them.

Different Children, Similar Messages No matter where these children come from, no matter their substances of choice, and no matter their ages, the message to their parents is the same:

• Be present with me physically and emotionally
• Build a relationship with me
• Console me if I am having a problem
• Do absolutely everything to stay together and not get divorced.
• Don’t let your mental health problems wreck your family’s life.
• Don’t try to buy me with things or trips.
• Give me more attention
• Have family dinners and get to know me
• Help me know I’m not a bad person
• Listen to my point of view. Make sure I know that I can tell you anything without judgment
• Show me that you love me
• Take time to learn how I think and feel.

Addiction/mental health challenges often suck the life out of parents due to their enmeshment, and inability to know how to detach and make difficult decisions. To take charge again in their families, parents need support during that first year of recovery when there are so many new challenges. Family programs only begin the journey. Parents have years of habits of parenting that maintained an addicted family system. The following five steps teach parents how to shift their family, empower their parenting and not let addiction be in charge again. There are very few ongoing programs after treatment that support parents directly.

From my research and interviews with parents, the following steps of foundational parenting were instrumental in teaching parents to regain their parenting, and restructure their relationships with their kids. Parents who were part of groups, weekend programs, coaching, regained hope and strength to heal their parenting and in turn their families. Identifying concrete action steps or strategies that can be used in their relationship with their kids, gives parents something tangible that can be practiced at home daily.

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The following Five Steps of Foundational Parenting are:

• Practice being present
• Develop emotional attunement
• Act and respond non-judgmentally
• Create sacred family time and recreate rituals
• Clarify values, rules and boundaries-natural/ logical consequences

Healthy parenting is vital for a child’s continued sobriety. A healthy parenting approach does not allow for a child’s moods or actions to cause reactions that escalate into a destructive situation. The addiction or threat of a relapse is no longer permitted to rule the home, depleting the parents’ energy and power. When parents are clear about their values and expectations and adhere to them, children can push and test, but healthy parenting doesn’t allow this to influence them into bending the rules. In this way, children know that parents “mean what they say and say what they mean.”

One parent so eloquently shared this message after a year of working on these five steps, “I can finally own my emotions, our family values and create a family where addiction no longer rules our life.” Recovering teens and young adults need parents on board to provide a healthy family to help them sustain their recovery and deal more effectively with the ongoing high rate of relapse. Parents also need support during the first year of their loved ones recovery to help them maintain healthy parenting and healthy family. Professionals need to figure out how to support parents during the first year of their kid’s recovery journey. Join the PAK (parenting addicted kids) and support parents at a higher level through mentoring, coaching, group work. Healthy families support healthier kids.

Barbara Krovitz-Neren, M.A, coaches parents of teens and young adults who are chemically dependent or have mental health challenges. The 5-Step Foundational Parenting Program is the culmination of her life’s work in her new book, “Parenting the Addicted Teen, a 5 Step Foundational Program.” For information go to website

Last Updated on March 6, 2020

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