What to do if your grown-up child is an addict or has mental health problems

Teenager mental health - Tikvah Lake Florida

Every family is different – and so too are ways to help if a parent has an adult child with addiction or mental health issues. But there are certain ways that have proven to be the most helpful over the years.

What is absolutely certain is that family support can make all the difference. In fact, by being there to help a grown-up child recover from an addiction problem or mental health condition can bring a family closer together, sometimes in a way they have never been.

But obviously, it is extremely difficult on first suspecting, being told or realizing that an adult son or daughter has a mental health problem or an addiction issue, including alcoholism. So it’s also important to take care of yourself.

Sick and tired of feeling sick and tired

Perhaps the first thing to know is that a parent with a grown-up child who’s struggling with a mental health condition or addiction is certainly not alone. A great percentage of problems arise during the teen years and throughout people’s twenties.

In fact, it’s most likely that most addictions and mental health issues are certainly at least forming in these early decades. But the fact is that to the person struggling with them very frequently it’s not until their later decades that they have finally had enough of their suffering. 

It is very common that people only seek help in their thirties and onwards. By this time they are ready to admit that they’ve finally run out of ideas of how to fix themselves.

They are sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. They are also most likely terrified of their life continuing as it presently is, which feels like survival rather than living.

Parental powerlessness

As the cliché goes, no one knows you better than your mother. This can usually be said for fathers too, and this is why parents can see when something is askew with a child of theirs – no matter the age of their son or daughter.

Often they are the first to notice. It means they are also in the position to be the first to be able to offer support, as well as connect their grown-up child in need of help with resources and treatment to start their recovery.

But as much as a grown-up son or daughter might feel powerless over their addiction or mental health condition, so too can a parent about being in a position to help them. In fact, frequently it leaves the parents feeling utterly helpless.

This parental powerlessness is often compounded because the parents feel that their adult child is old enough to make their own choices. They may think that their adult son or daughter just wants them to stay out of it.

Helping an adult child who has mental health or addiction issues

Helping an adult child who has mental health issues - Tikvah Lake Florida

So knowing the best ways to help a grown-up daughter or son is vitally important. Here are some things that can definitely help.

Do not hide it away or make excuses

Sometimes parents do not want to admit there’s a problem, or they might choose to ignore it because they feel ashamed. They may think it will give the family a bad name.

Perhaps they are seeking to protect their children and themselves from outside judgment. However, just because someone is not looking at a problem doesn’t mean the problem will go away.

In fact, mental health conditions and addictions, including behavioral addictions, most nearly always get progressively worse unless they are addressed. It may also give the message to the grown-up child that they do not really need the help they desperately do need.

Learn about their problem

It helps before you start talking with a grown-up child with problems to learn about what their issues are really about and what could be behind them. Do this with an open mind.

There are plenty of online resources now. Or find a therapist with knowledge about the particular matter and spend some time talking with them.

They will be able to let you know about the issue. As well, they can give their suggestions on how to best support the adult child.

Create open communication

Always keeping in mind to speak and behave with kindness and compassion, ask the adult son or daughter how best you can support them. Talk about how you can put that support into action.

Ensure to address their problem and not them as a person.  Making judgment, shaming or scolding them will not help – and could even drive them away.

Remind them that you love them and are seeking to help. Tell them this is so that they can be happy and have the best life possible.

It’s okay to talk about your feelings – such as when you see how much they have drunk, for instance, you feel very worried about the consequences. Be honest and open about any family history of addiction or mental health conditions.

It may help them gain some understanding of where they are. This can make them feel less isolated.

Ask them for their input. Make sure to listen to them carefully and with respect.

Set boundaries

Remember that you are looking to help them and not enable their problematic issues to carry on. Healthy boundaries need to be set and adhered to at all times.

If there have been unreasonable situations or behaviors, then these need addressing. Tell them there will be consequences otherwise.

For instance, a grown-up son or daughter might have lied to you to get money for drug addiction or stolen some money or something of value to sell while at the family home. Put down boundaries – and consequences for stepping over these boundaries. Ask yourself about anything you are doing for them, including giving or lending money: does it help or is it enabling?

Ensure to give them sufficient space too. Find the balance between helping but not suffocating them.

Encourage Treatment

People are often resistant to getting help. Perhaps this is even more so for teenagers and people in their twenties.

If alcohol or substance addiction is the problem it can take some time for them to realize they have an issue with it, that their use is excessive compared to their peers. When we are younger as well we still have ideas to use up regarding how we can solve any problem our way, on our own terms.

As a parent of an adult child, you can be useful by finding what’s available to help them. If it costs money and you can afford it, you could offer to pay – but make sure there are clear boundaries around this, that the adult child must take the treatment seriously.

One strong way to convince anyone that they do need some form of treatment is by getting them to speak with someone who’s been where they are at the present moment. That person can tell them how it is and what might happen if they don’t get help now.

Your grown-up son or daughter may need encouragement but always do this lovingly. After they start treatment they will most likely still need your loving support and encouragement.

Don’t ignore your own needs

Being a caregiver in any way can be emotionally exhausting. Try not to worry though, as this will just steal your positive energy.

As well, make time to relax and to do some things you enjoy. Make sure to eat and sleep well too.

It might be that you can take this as an opportunity to learn more about yourself. Many people caring for someone with an addiction or mental health problem discover that therapy is extremely beneficial for themselves as well.

Others find great help at 12 Steps meeting groups such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. These are groups where people affected by someone else’s alcoholism or addiction meet to talk and offer solutions.

Self-care is extremely important. This is for yourself but for others around you too.

As a parent, you can always play a unique and vital role in encouraging your children, no matter their age, to become their greatest ideal.

Tikvah Lake’s friendly experienced team at our family-run center has treated people with all types of mental health problems. Call us today to hear how we can help one of your children or anyone else you care about.

David Hurst - Tikvah Lake Recovery

About David Hurst

David Hurst has four books published on mental health recovery, including 12 Steps To 1 Hero, The Anxiety Conversation and Words To Change Your Life. He has written for national newspapers and magazines around the world for 30 years including The Guardian, Psychologies, GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire and The Times. He has been in successful continual recovery since January 2002.

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