Why Shouldn’t I Let My Child Choose Their Own Recovery Plan

Getting a loved one sober can be an extremely emotional affair – hope, fear and anticipation are often all felt simultaneously. There can be a fear that if one thing is said or done incorrectly, the chance at helping your son or daughter will disappear and this fragile and hopeful opportunity for a new life could be lost.

Because of this, it can be tempting to try and make the process as attractive and painless for the addict as possible. Working in recovery, one of the unfortunate trends I have been seeing a lot of is a parent allowing their children to choose their own recovery plans. This is a dangerous approach to take for a variety of reasons. The real question is, does it make sense to expect mentally unhealthy people to choose a reasonable course of action towards getting themselves healthy?


Healthy Decisions can’t be made Through Unhealthy Thinking


There is an implicit acknowledgement when getting someone sober that there is a problem with his or her thinking and lifestyle choices. If the individual had effective decision making abilities that weren’t clouded by addiction, they wouldn’t be in a situation where a residential treatment program or recovery community was on the table. So it is safe to say, that when someone is first attempting to get sober, they aren’t as equipped to make important, life altering decisions, as a caring and clear-thinking loved one is. Many times though, well meaning loved ones want to put the power in the hands of the addict.

The unspoken expectation here is that somehow, the addict is going to make a healthy decision for himself or herself, even though their behavior up until this point has proven their inability to do so. This doesn’t mean that the addict is a bad person or unintelligent – just that living in active addiction affects the judgment and priorities of someone. Unhealthy thinking does not lead to healthy choices.


The Easier Softer Way Doesn’t Work for Addicts


I experienced making this decision for myself the first time I attempted to get sober. My family meant well and could not have loved me more, but they were still learning the ins and outs of dealing with someone’s addiction. I was given the ability to choose my recovery plan, and I chose what appeared to be the easiest, softest, least uncomfortable option.

As a result, I spent the next 2 years continuing to drink and use while unsuccessfully going through outpatient and pharmaceutical maintenance programs. Inevitably, if given the ability to choose, most addicts will select the choice that appears to be the most painless and require the smallest amount of work (especially those that haven’t recieved prior drug and alcohol treatment). I was definitely not going to choose any options that appeared to require a dramatic change in lifestyle, community or surroundings, or that interfered with all of the important things I felt I had going on in my life. The ironic thing about this is that all of those things were what ultimately had to change for me to have any chance at staying sober.

I was given the ability to choose my recovery plan, and I  chose what appeared to be the easiest, softest, least uncomfortable option.

When an addict has the ability to choose their own recovery plan, they are going to look primarily at whether or not the plan will allow them to remain comfortable. This aversion to discomfort and hard work is pretty much hard-wired into the brain of addicts and is one of the things that have to be changed in order for someone to achieve successful and long-term recovery. Because of this, your child is set up for failure from the gate when they are the ones calling the shots in terms of what their recovery is going to look like. For addicts, the easier, softer way is not going to lead to real sobriety.

Education is Crucial


As a parent, one of the most important things you can do is to educate yourself about the different things that play a role in successful recovery and continued sobriety. Things like a sober community, a sustainable and healthy lifestyle, personal growth and remaining excited are all important for young people trying to get sober. If you are aware of and able to differentiate between recovery plans that do and don’t offer these types of scenarios, you have much more solid ground to stand on when making the important decisions surrounding your child’s recovery plan. Leaving choices like this to an unhealthy addict can have dangerous consequences. Let us know if you have experience with either side of the fence and how it turned out!


  • pete
    Posted at 15:44h, 09 January Reply

    Very informative. Going thru a trying period in my life with a loved one. Don’t quite know how to cope with
    the pain & anger I have over this dilemma.

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