Help for Families of Addicts

Having a child who struggles with addiction can be an incredibly life-draining existence. The impact of drug abuse or alcohol addiction creates a complex web of emotions and uncertainties while wreaking havoc on both the mental and physical health of family members in the process.

You may want to support your child but you may feel ill-equipped to do so. You might feel desperate to make the addiction stop but find yourself seemingly making things worse. You may even find yourself turning to overspending, binge-eating, or over-sleeping to distract from the stress. These are all normal responses, but as common as these reactions are, they may not be the healthiest options to manage the tremendous pressure.

This article aims to provide a roadmap for family members seeking to overcome the challenges posed when a child is struggling with substance abuse and drug addiction.

Skills to Learn


When we feel prepared and knowledgeable, we feel a sense of control. A significant amount of distress can manifest within ourselves when we feel helpless about a situation and an easy way to combat that is through education about drug or alcohol addiction.

You can begin your education journey through learning the science of addiction. There are countless articles, videos, and infographics available for you to begin to understand the chemical and physical changes taking place in your child or relative’s body and brain. Resources are available in many languages and at many skill levels, starting at a child’s level of understanding. The science of it all does not have to be a barrier.

Practically speaking, you should also learn how to identify signs of intoxication, being high, and withdrawal symptoms. Focus on your loved one’s drug of choice to be effective with your energy. First aid and overdose responses are also crucial to know, as you never know when the addicted person might take too much. 

Open Communication

Open communication with your family should be a two-way street. Many parents struggle with being open with their children as they fear it will disrupt the power dynamic or that their children will see them as weak. Children struggle to be open because they fear criticism or judgment from their parents. This creates an environment where no one feels safe to be authentic and vulnerable about their struggles. 

Maintaining these emotional walls prevents meaningful breakthroughs. By pretending that your child’s addiction doesn’t hurt you, you communicate to the child that you don’t care. This makes it extremely difficult for your addicted loved one to be honest and speak about their triggers, fear of change, or habits. Speak openly about how their addiction affects your physical and mental health and encourage other family members, including your addicted loved one, to do the same. 


When people hear that they should set boundaries, they often respond adversely. They fear that boundaries will make people not like them anymore or that they are being mean or unfair to the people that love them. This is not the case. Boundaries protect both you and the other person by setting expectations and limits. 

When you set boundaries, you take an actionable step towards preventing enabling and enabling behaviors. These are any actions that you take that maintain the status quo of your loved one’s substance issues. If you bail your child out of jail every time they get arrested, legal trouble no longer becomes a deterrent from using drugs, for example, since they figure that you’ll save them from the consequences. Your child’s addiction gets to continue at your expense. 

Boundaries are similar to a contract in that the terms can be adjusted when they are first being negotiated, but cannot change once put into action. If you expect your child to be home by a certain curfew time, your child may negotiate a later time, but once agreed upon, that becomes the time you use to see if your child has met the expectation of being home or not. Be strict about following through with consequences. This accountability will benefit both you and your loved one.

Boundaries give a taste of consequences in a clear-cut manner, which can help your child see consequences in situations where the outcomes may be less obvious or clear. This can help them improve their decision-making skills and make better choices for themselves.  

Coping Skills

Many adults struggle to teach children coping skills because they, themselves, were not taught how to cope with stress. Sometimes, the only guidance a person receives is a suggestion to not hit anyone. This lack of ability to cope effectively is often the gateway to addiction.

However, if you are a non-addicted family member, that is, a family member who doesn’t use alcohol or drugs to cope with their problems, you may have a tendency to displace that stress through other outlets. Overspending, oversleeping, dissociation, overeating, undereating, working, and gambling can all be avenues that you take to cope with the stress of having an addicted child. And, while they may be helpful at the moment, they can compound into much larger problems over time.

Healthy coping skills can help get you out of your mind and negative emotions while improving your general well-being. They do not have to be complex or expensive, but they should have a benefit to your brain and body. Binge-watching TV while scrolling through your phone might keep you from thinking about your child, but those actions simply let the bad emotions marinate through your body and brain and don’t actually help you process what’s happening. Find the practices that actively work best for you.

Professional Help

Support Groups and Al-Anon

Support groups, including Al-Anon, are a place for families of addicts to process and voice their struggles. These groups can help family members feel less isolated in their distress and hear stories of success and breakthroughs. These groups can help you share your perspective and encourage feelings of hope for change in your loved one. These groups are often free and build a community network of support.

Individual Therapy

If you need help developing any of the skills we’ve previously discussed or want to dig deeper into your actions, personality, or feelings of worth, working with an individual therapist can be helpful. During your sessions, the therapist is completely devoted to you, your needs, and helping you process and cope with the difficulties that you’re facing. Many family members of addicts feel selfish in asking for help for themselves since they are seemingly coping better than their addicted loved ones. However, this is an unfair belief and puts an undue burden on one’s self. In individual therapy, you can develop personal insights that will make you better equipped to handle your family’s stress.

Family Therapy

Family therapy is often performed by a marriage and family therapist, who has been specifically trained to balance a family’s different personalities and make connections to shared feelings across the family. Family therapists can help individuals, but individual therapists may struggle to deal with families. 

In family therapy, the family therapist will look at the presenting problem and figure out how each person’s actions are maintaining the status quo of the problem. In a family with substance abuse issues, for example, the family therapist will see the drug problem as the manifestation of the discord within the family. They will then help the family see how they keep making an environment for the addiction to bloom, and teach them how to change so that their loved one has a better chance of recovery.

Sober Living

One of the most effective options available to families of addicts seeking help for their addicted loved ones is a sober living house. A sober living house is a transitional residence that provides a supportive and substance-free environment for individuals recovering from addiction. For young men struggling with addiction, a sober living house with structured programming can be particularly transformative. Such houses offer a comprehensive approach to recovery by combining structured routines, therapy sessions, life skills training, and peer support. This environment not only helps young men overcome the grip of addiction but also equips them with essential life skills, responsibility, and accountability. Through commitment to sobriety, individuals can rebuild broken relationships and bridge the gap between them and their families.

If your loved one is struggling with an addiction, we can help. New Life House in Los Angeles, California is a sober living home for young men. We offer individualized help for our residents as well as family services to help promote long-lasting change.

Last Updated on September 12, 2023


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