When Do I Give Up on My Drug Addict Son?

Loving a person who struggles with alcohol or drug addiction can come with a myriad of frustrating and painful emotions. Naturally, you want to ensure your loved one’s safety and happiness, but the emotional toll of that support can be heavy. Over time, your mental health, finances, safety, and peace of mind will all be affected by your son’s addiction.

When confronted with the agonizing question, “When do I give up on my drug addict son?” it becomes crucial to navigate the complexities of their addiction with empathy and knowledge. In this article, we explore the daunting reality of a child’s addiction and the immense strain it places on parents. We will delve into the importance of seeking treatment, finding emotional support through support groups, and the possibilities that lie within the path to addiction recovery. Together, we will navigate the intricate web of emotions and challenges that arise when a parent’s love coexists with their child’s struggle with drug abuse and the hope for a brighter future beyond addiction.

Addiction and Its Impact on Families

The chemical processes that contribute to substance use disorder fundamentally change the brain through conditioning and changing the brain’s neural pathways. An addicted person’s brain has reduced sensitivity to the pleasure chemical dopamine, which causes them to seek more substances to get the same high. Because of this disruption, the person does not get the same fulfillment from anything other than the substance.

A person with substance abuse issues also conditions their brain to associate certain cues with the pleasure of being high. These cues can come in many forms with many emotions attached. For example, someone might seek substances at a party to relax but may also use substances to escape feelings of depression. This means that the person has not only associated drug use with numerous emotions, it also means they’ve subconsciously associated drug use with every person, place, and thing in that environment. The more stimuli associated with drug use, the easier it is for the brain to be triggered into desiring it. 

The combination of this conditioning and the brain’s new way of functioning is what we recognize as addiction. This involves the person being high, but also the rest of the cycle, including their come down, withdrawal, craving, and seeking the drug. Family members are intimately familiar with their loved one’s behaviors and moods associated with each stage. 

What is Enabling and How Does It Cause Damage?

Frequently, in a family where addiction is present, one member tries to do damage control with the consequences of the addiction and help the addicted person. This is done in support of their loved one with addiction, however, the fine line between support and enablement often becomes blurry. 


Enabling is the act of maintaining your loved one’s addiction through actions that prevent your loved one from taking accountability and facing the reality of their substance use. This can look like frequently bailing your loved one out of jail, calling out of work for them, or outright ignoring their behavior. 

Enabling also excuses boundary violations. For example, if you and your spouse tell your child that they will be kicked out of your home if you find evidence of their heroin use, but you make sure to toss their needles before your spouse sees them, you’re enabling the behavior. 

Another example of enabling is blaming your loved one’s behavior on something outside of the addiction and beyond your loved one’s control. If your addicted child has a spouse with whom they frequently fight, and you blame the spouse and conflictual relationship for your child relapsing, this is enabling.

How Does Enabling Cause Damage?

Enabling differs from healthy supportiveness because it maintains the addiction behaviors. By preventing your loved one from experiencing the natural consequences of the behavior, they do not see the full extent of the damage that their behavior causes. If they do not see that their substance use causes strained relationships, debt, bodily harm, or any sort of meaningful loss, they do not have an incentive to pursue sobriety.

How to Tell When It’s Time to Set Boundaries

Setting and enforcing boundaries with your addicted child is crucial to helping them on their journey to a clean life. Parents may feel cruel or mean-spirited when they set a boundary with their child and extraordinarily guilty when their child fights back against or violates the boundaries. It is painful to see your child experience the consequences of their actions, but it is important for them to learn, especially for an addicted adult son. Boundaries cannot control someone’s behavior. Rather, they exist to give the other person expectations for what you will or will not accept in your life.

The ideal time to set boundaries is when you first learn about your child’s substance abuse issue. If you have found drugs in your child’s room, or if you have discovered their involvement in illegal activities, it’s time to set boundaries.

“The sooner the better” is the best attitude when setting boundaries with your addicted child. Be cognizant of your own reactions to how they are behaving and how their actions are impacting you and the rest of the family. It may not bother you that your child abuses painkillers, but eventually, the strain of that problem will show up in other ways. Prevent further issues by taking a resolute stance early.

Unfortunately, the possibility of relapse exists and it should be understood that boundaries apply to the relapse period as well. Many find it appropriate to return to the boundaries communicated during the active addiction phase. Some find it tempting to give leeway to the person who relapsed in an effort to help them practice decision-making skills. However, this subconsciously reinforces that the boundaries you had initially set were not serious and can be violated without consequence.  

Please note that even when your loved one enters recovery, you must still maintain appropriate boundaries with them. Their efforts to maintain sobriety are commendable and should be given the best chance of success by following through on accountability.  During their recovery journey, they may ask you to adhere to boundaries that they set regarding toxic family members or engaging in triggering behavior. To improve your relationship, respect for boundaries must be reciprocal. 

How to Set a Boundary with Your Addicted Child

Be sure to set boundaries with your addicted child in a clear and compelling manner. Do not try to set a boundary with your loved one when they are high or drunk, as they will not be able to fully grasp the seriousness of your request. Use simple and plain language that cannot be misinterpreted. Keep emotionality low and state your boundary without rage or tearfulness. 

Boundaries to Set with Your Addicted Child

A successful strategy to describe your boundaries is to follow an “If-Then” structure. If your child does something that is not a health-promoting behavior, what can they then expect from you? You do not have to explain your rationale or emotion behind stating the boundary, although it may be helpful for the other person to empathize and understand you. Boundaries are personal, but here are some common examples of boundaries for parents with addicted children:

Active Addiction

  • If you are using drugs while you live in this house, then I will have to ask you to leave.
  • If you get arrested, I will not provide the funds to bail you out.
  • If you hang out with your friends past 10 PM, I will lock you out of the house. 

Recovery and Sobriety 

  • If you stay sober for one month, I will let you see your children.
  • If you stay at our house while you recover, I expect you to stay sober and seek treatment.
  • If I don’t hear from you for three days, I will call your parole officer. 

Seeking Help

Healthy detachment will prevent you from completely giving up on your child with addiction. Setting and enforcing boundaries keeps resentment and avoidance of the substance abuse issue from building. Your child needs your love and support, but they also must understand the consequences of their actions. You do not ever have to give up on your addicted child, but you must help them grow and face their issues. It is important to seek the guidance of a family counselor to help you identify the boundaries you’d like to establish and practice setting those boundaries. Addiction treatment can also help your family address the underlying issues that may have contributed to your loved one’s addiction. 

New Life House is a structured sober living house for young men in recovery. We help families practice effective communication regarding boundaries and expectations for a life after addiction. We have experience changing young men’s lives for over 35 years. We incorporate a comprehensive approach toward recovery, utilizing detoxification, drug or alcohol rehabilitation, peer accountability, structure, clinical services, and behavioral modification to bring about long-term sobriety 

Last Updated on September 12, 2023


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