What is Tough Love with an Addicted Child Who Has Relapsed?
Parents never want to see their children suffer in any way, and this is never more true than when a child is struggling with drug addiction. The appearance of addictive behaviors is often a result of the choices that children have made, which have a negative impact on family, friends, school, work and intimate relationships. It is a parent’s first instinct to lend a helping hand, but this is not always the right course of action.
It is estimated that one-fifth of adults aged 18 to 25 have an alcohol or drug addiction. This age group is often still living at home and may not have the emotional skills to navigate the grown-up world. Parents who have addicted adult children in the household often cannot decide whether to let them stay or force them to go. It is very difficult to ask a child to move out when that person does not have a job, money or positive support system. Homelessness, living in shelters and sleeping on sofas quickly becomes a way of life. This is made more problematic when the child has been through rehab and has relapsed back into drug addiction.
Parents dealing with children with drug addiction problems often feel a strong urge to help and protect. This can come in the form of housing, paying the child’s bills, bailing the child out of jail and rescuing the child from dangerous or unsavory situations. This behavior, while well-intentioned, is called “enabling.” While it may seem like the right thing to do, it does not benefit the parent or the child.
Parents who want to help a child recover from drug addiction and the reckless behavior that often accompanies it must take a “tough love” stance. What this means is continuing to offer love and support within strict boundaries on behavior. Tough love is especially important in homes where there are younger siblings, grandparents or others who could also suffer harm from the addicted child’s actions.
The first step in tough love for a person with drug addiction is setting the rules and making it clear what the consequences are if they are broken. These rules can include getting a part-time job, performing chores and helping other family members. It is essential that the child observes a curfew and does not bring drugs, alcohol, weapons or shady people into the house. If any of the rules are violated, the child will be asked to leave.
Going the tough love route is not easy. People with drug addiction do not like restrictions on their behavior, so parents must prepare themselves for resistance. If a child cannot or will not adhere to the rules of living at home, parents must be firm and tell the child to move out. At that point, it is more important to protect themselves and other vulnerable family members than it is to continue to support the child.
The harshest reality of drug addiction is that a person will need to reach a personal “rock bottom” before truly understanding how destructive their behavior is. This is heartbreaking for parents, but it is often necessary for any progress to be made, especially in cases in which the child has relapsed one or more times.
Those who are struggling with an addicted child and tough love can find compassion and support by calling a local rehab center or seeking out a support group. Talking with other people going through the same experience can bolster the courage to follow through and have the chance of a better relationship on the other side.