Why Parents Can’t Save an Addict

24. May 2016

Addiction is a very devastating disease that destroys everything and everyone it touches. There’s a common assumption that people who are addicted to alcohol and drugs are bad people who are deserving of the suffering they’ve brought unto themselves; however, many of those who are addicted to mind-altering, chemical substances were good people who simply lost control of their substance use. In fact, a number of addicts simply became addicted to drugs they were prescribed for legitimate conditions, and in some cases, they were even taking the medications as they had been directed.

After becoming addicted, the deterioration begins. They first begin to lose their physical health, causing damage to many bodily systems and organs, weakening the immune system and making them more susceptible to illness. Being a brain disease, addiction also causes profound changes in neurology. The brain’s structure and many functions are dramatically altered, accounting for the changes in psychology that addict’s exhibit. These psychological changes are why addicts behave so differently when they’re on drugs, quickly resorting criminal behavior if that’s what it takes to sustain their substance abuse problems.

But this disease affects more than just the individual. After becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs, addicts inevitably affect all the people in their lives. Their romantic partners, parents, children, siblings, close friends, extended family members, and oftentimes their colleagues are all affected by an addict’s alcohol or drug problem in some way, which often leads to interventions where an addict’s loved ones appeal to his or her better judgment.

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to get an addict to go to rehab. It’s estimated that only one in ten addicts are receiving treatment with the remaining 90 percent on track to remain in active addiction until they either change their minds or lose their lives. There are many situations in which it can be a struggle to encourage an addict’s recovery. In particular, the parents of addicts often struggle with helping their children overcome addiction, especially when they’re less than receptive to the perspective of recovery. It’s important for parents to remember that it’s not possible—and it’s not necessarily their duties—to force their addicted children into recovery, and the following and some important considerations that help to explain why.

Many Addicted Children Want To Rebel

Although some adults certainly maintain a rebellious streak, it’s extremely common for adolescents to have a period during which they insist on rebelling against their parents’ wishes and rules. There have been numerous studies conducted to examine and identify possible reasons why adolescents often rebel against their parents or buck against authority in general. According to the available evidence, those who are younger or in mid-adolescence—the 13-to-15 age range—tend to rebel as a way of distinguishing or differentiating themselves from their peers and a means of experimenting with their identities. Rebelling also helps them to feel self-actualized and gives them a sense of self-determination as if they’re assuming control of their own lives. In later adolescence, which is the 15-to-18 age range, rebellion occasionally occurs as a form of late-stage experimentation with their identities as is most common of the mid-adolescence group; however, rebellion at this age is often more symbolic than anything, representing their liberation from childhood and the rejection of their need for parental approval.

In short, this means that many of the adolescents who turn to substance abuse aren’t actually interested in alcohol or drugs, but rather in disobeying their parents so as to establish their solidarity and independence. However, this is quite a delicate situation since ongoing substance abuse quickly turns into addiction, resulting in adolescents who unintentionally developed addictions and now have a much more pressing issue to address.

girl smoking and drinking

Forced Recovery Has Proven Largely Unsuccessful

There are many states that allow involuntary commitment in cases of addiction, which is particularly easy to do when the addict has not yet reached adulthood. However, there’s mounting evidence showing that forced recovery doesn’t work. For one thing, people forced to go to rehab frequently pick right up where they left off once they get out. Additionally, experts have found that the techniques and treatments most rehabs offer aren’t actually based on current knowledge and methods, which means there’s the potential for these programs to do more harm than help. Although these programs still help many people, much of the success is due to these individuals actually wanting treatment and enrolling in these programs voluntarily.

Parents Often Enable Unknowingly

One of the greatest dangers that an addict’s loved ones sometimes pose is the tendency the have to enable the addict’s substance abuse. In many cases, the enabling behavior is unknowing and unintentional, but that doesn’t make it any less detrimental. The most common enabling behaviors include continuing to give the addicts money—that they immediately spend on alcohol or drugs—or helping them out of bad situations that directly result from their substance abuse. It’s important that parents aren’t unwitting accomplices to the addict’s chemical problem and, instead, offer incentives for recovery.

Protecting Them From Consequences Makes The Situation Worse

Finally, protecting addicted children from the consequences of their addictions can only make the situation worse. As parents, people want to help their children as much as they can, protecting them from suffering and any other hardships; however, this can only make a child’s addiction worse as it mitigates any resistance and hardship that results from alcohol and drug abuse. It may feel like this is protecting the individual, but this is actually just protecting his or her addiction, which is why parents can’t save an addict this way. Instead, let the addict experience the full force of the consequences that result from his or her substance abuse; this is the most help a parent can offer.

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