Exploiting Guilt From My Parents

Manipulation and exploiting guilt is the key component to an addict’s survival while in active addiction. Whenever I felt the slightest form of pressure from my parents, I would literally do or say anything I could to smooth over the situation as quickly as possible.

This utter disregard for any minute inclination of integrity was my main defense mechanism for protecting my using. I spent hours, even days forging plans to divert the attention off of myself in order to manipulate whatever was going on in my favor. Deceitfulness, rationalizing, and justifying were just the start to the web of lies I created in order to pull the wool over my parent’s eyes.

One of the most shameful aspects of my manipulation was my ability to play on my parent’s guilt. Addiction has a ripple effect that causes emotional pain and disruption in far more people than just the individual who is struggling. Unfortunately, this affects the people closest to us the most: our parents. The emotional turmoil that landed on my parents as a result of my actions created a weakness in them that I could exploit. I recognized this weakness as an opportunity that I could systematically exploit and play into my favor. Like a cat with a ball of yarn, I found the end of the string and pulled on it until I unraveled the entire ball and got what I wanted.


Financial Guilt Trip


“I don’t have enough money for food/gas/work/rent, are you just going to let me starve/not be able to have a social life/get to work/or be homeless?”

As I couldn’t blatantly ask them for money for drugs, I figured I would utilize common expenses and exploit them with “worst case scenario” issues that could arise as a result of me not getting the money.



“If you and Dad didn’t get divorced we would not be in this situation.”

“I learned these bad behaviors from you; remember than one time you did this____.”

“You used to have a problem with drugs/alcohol, so it’s my fault I have the same problem.”

“How could you be suspicious of this, are you crazy?”

“You just don’t understand.”

It doesn’t matter what aspect of life I blamed them for; it didn’t matter. Whatever mistake, weakness, or fault I could play on would surely put me on the offensive. It was an emotional error that they had made, so why do they want me to be so perfect?


Favoring Siblings


“My sister got to do this, why can’t I?”

“You give her money, what’s so wrong with me that I can’t have any?”

“She has always been the golden child, I’m sorry I can’t match up to her positive qualities.”

Although it is impossible to compare the two of us, that was my goal. I wanted to be treated the same as my sister. I would carefully observe the juxtaposition of treatment between my sister and I and if there was the slightest discrepancy, I would exploit it.


Splitting Parents


“You better not tell dad about this.”

“You better not tell mom about this.”

In creating a contract between with an individual parent, we now had a secret. That meant that in the future since we already had a secret, it would be easier for me to get what I wanted with that parent, because of the unsaid threat of blackmail in revealing that secret.

Exploitation of my parent’s guilt was one of the most disgraceful experiences of my using career. This is just one facet of many of the lengths that an addict will go to in order to safeguard their using. Although disgraceful at the time, it was effective. My parents did not have an understanding of the tactics I was using. Therefore, I could capitalize on it at any moment. This is why it is so important for parents of struggling alcoholics/addicts to submerge themselves into their own recovery. Knowledge is power. With a better understanding of how and why an addict acts, a parent is now armed with their own skillset in handling them.

Do you have questions about a loved one who may be using guilt as a means to control a situation?

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  • Martha
    Posted at 10:00h, 30 October Reply


    This is a great article! Parents will really identify with it. Thanks for sharing honestly.

  • Lora
    Posted at 18:56h, 30 October Reply

    Thanks for writing this, as it is a good reminder for me to stay strong. It’s just as easy to be manipulated by our children when they are in recovery (if not easier) because we are wanting to be even MORE supportive of their sobriety. There is a fine line between being supportive and being manipulated (old habits die hard for both the addict and the parent.)

  • Leslie Kelley
    Posted at 14:40h, 01 November Reply

    I very much appreciate this article and the honesty. I recognize some of those excuses! The fraternity made me pay for all the BBQ meat but they will reimburse me later, so don’t worry about the cash withdrawal. Sure honey, okay! 🙂

  • Robyn
    Posted at 12:07h, 04 November Reply

    Thanks for the article. Makes me realize I need to keep working on my own program and stay strong.

  • Scott Dohren
    Posted at 12:29h, 04 November Reply

    Robyn, Leslie, and Lora, Thank you for reading the article! It can bring light to the depths our disease can take us. I had a significant amount of shame and guilt surrounded by the the manipulation of my parents when I was early in sobriety. Only after making an amends to them and owning my past behaviors, did i make a commitment to myself that I would never act in this way again. Our relationship has changed immensely! We now have a mutual respect for each other and our relationship is now give-take, rather than just take.

  • cherilyn
    Posted at 13:59h, 19 November Reply

    My son is an addict. I just found this site and it seems it could be very helpful for me. I would love some insight on how to love and support an addict from a distance. Any references, books, articles etc. He knows through my increased “knowledge of addiction” that he cant manipulate me so much but now he has pretty much isolated himself from me. Yes its not necessarily a bad thing I dont want to see him when he’s actively using. And I know he would rather hide it from me. So my question would be how do I keep him in my life, continue to try to help him get help, but from a distance. (haven’t seen him in 6 months) We communicate through texts.

    • Martha
      Posted at 15:55h, 19 November Reply


      Wow, you are telling my story! I have very similar situation. My son had almost six years of sobriety and relapsed 20 months ago. Needless to say, he can’t stand me. So I have learned how to love him regardless and it has softened the tension – even though we barely see each other. I have some things that are helpful that I’d be happy to share with you but they’re too long to list here. Maybe you could e-mail me and we can connect? Also, i recently wrote an article on detaching https://newlifehouse.com/detaching-childs-sobriety/ and another where I gave book suggestions https://newlifehouse.com/recovery-books-parents/. The list includes many different genres of addiction subject matter. Thanks for reaching out. Martha

    • Martha
      Posted at 18:01h, 20 November Reply


      Also, the books Parallel Process and Fearless Parent!

  • Cherilyn
    Posted at 02:31h, 21 November Reply

    HI Martha. Thank you so much for responding to my post. It is very appreciated. and I will definately read up on the references you have given me. And I would love to connect through email and receive any and all things that may be helpful. I am truly at a loss at this point. He makes my heart sad. We have attempted an hour and half drive plus a ferry ride 3 days a week to IOP for 3 months, (he was kicked out for dirty UA’s). I’ve made sure he attended NA\AA meetings by taking him there myself, I’ve taken him to therapy, psychiatrists, tried multiple prescribed meds etc.. He’s done a stint in jail, where I visited him every week, sent him a couple books a week on the challenges of addiction and recovery, etc. (as well as some light reading to give the brain a break). I truly thought we reached a point where his enlightenment would take himself forward towards soberiety and recovery. This isn’t the case and I truly don’t know where else to turn, or how else to help him especially now that he has isolated himself and won’t even come see me. I think my first read may need to be detaching. Thanks once again for the helpful information. Cherilyn

    • Martha
      Posted at 10:20h, 21 November Reply

      Cherilyn, I feel what you are going through. Get in touch with me through and I’ll send you my phone number. I can be reached at [email protected]. Al Anon will be really helpful to you. I don’t know what town you are in but they can be found easily by searching on the internet. Looking forward to connecting, Martha

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