Whatever brought you here, chances are good that like many other parents, you’re wondering about treatment for someone you care about. And while you might be wondering if he’s ready for treatment, we’d like you to also consider if you are.
Your son might look and live like an adult, but if he is struggling with a substance use disorder he is likely not equipped to make a decision about treatment. His focus is going to be on self- medicating, avoiding consequences, and flying under the radar—and that’s totally normal. Meanwhile, as a parent, your focus is on helping him get back on track to a healthy and meaningful life.
Many of the parents we speak to tell us that one of the greatest obstacles to getting him help is timing—specifically, that now isn’t the right time. Maybe when he finishes the semester? Or maybe when he finishes his program? Or maybe he’ll tell us when he’s ready?
But time and time again we’ve seen the greatest motivating factor for a young man to get treatment isn’t his own urge to recover—it’s yours.
Most of the men we work with walk through our doors because their parents have brought them that far. As a parent, it’s an important question to ask of yourself and your partner: are you able to accept that he needs more help than you can give him on your own?
For families of a young man who’s struggling, it can be hard to identify the point when it all became too much. The parents we talk to go to great lengths to make it all work, to keep life flowing. They live in circumstances that many people would find unimaginable. If you’ve read this far, we know you’re not giving up on your loved one.
But are you stuck in a holding pattern, or are you ready to take action?
You feel like a stranger in your own life
Some parents go through their days on autopilot, struggling to focus their attention at work, letting calls and texts from close friends go unanswered, and feeling like they’re not tuned in to their spouse or other children. You’re there in body, but not in spirit because your attention is hyper-focused on your struggling child.
It’s important for us to prioritize self-care, like proper eating and sleeping habits, exercise and relaxation, and time with friends and family. Life should feel full and rich! But our ability to care for ourselves and others suffers when someone we love is struggling with addiction. So much physical and emotional bandwidth goes into caring for him, there's little left over for anything else.
If you feel like you’re spending too much of your spare time wondering and worrying about your son, you might need some help getting back on track.
You’re moonlighting as a detective
Where is he now? Where has he been? Who is he with? What is he doing?
So many parents struggle to find peace and relaxation at home, some even lay awake all night long with worry. And it’s not unusual for parents to search his room, car, computer, phone and even his social media accounts to look for clues of what’s really going on. You might also know his favorite hiding spots, and have his friends and girlfriend on speed dial.
It’s exhausting to monitor him this way. You may even cringe inwardly at your invasion of a
young adult's privacy, even if you’re doing it to keep him safe. For some parents, it’s the only way they can sleep at night. But if it doesn’t change his behavior, what’s it all for?
You’re an expert-level Googler
Turning to the internet for answers is a truly modern way of coping with uncertainty. Questions we're afraid to ask the family doctor or our friends become queries we bring to Google. Those rabbit holes go deep when you’re googling symptoms and remedies (and WebMD can only tell us so much).
Doing your own research on substance abuse disorders or mental health issues is normal—it helps you feel like you're doing something. But can you trust the information you’re finding, and does it accurately reflect your own situation at home?
There’s some irony here if you found this article thanks to a search engine, but we want to reassure you that the real answers come from clinicians and certified addictions professionals. Unlike the search engine you type your question into, they’ll ask you their own list of questions, and together can help you discover the best course of action to take care of your family.
An Alumni Parent we asked told us: “If you’re on the internet looking for answers, you need more help than you’ll find online.” Her advice? Get the biggest and best help available.
Your emotions don’t reflect your environment
One of the toughest things about living with someone who’s struggling is that your emotions are no longer calibrated. The constant stress of trying to parent a young person who is struggling sends families into a spin.
You might feel anxious when everything is quiet in the house. You might feel angry when he’s having a good day. You might feel resentful when you see him at ease. And in the middle of chaos, you might feel eerily calm.
You’re probably also experiencing some emotions you’ve haven’t put a name to yet like grief, sorrow, shame, and fear. With the compass of your emotions spinning, it can be hard to find the way forward.
You’re trying to bubble-wrap his whole world
Lots of parents find that the key to teaching small children is to give them a safe space to try and fail, to make mistakes, and to feel consequences. But as a young adult, the safe spaces you’re creating for him may be cushioning him from too many of the consequences of his own actions. And you may be absorbing the impact yourself.
Is there trouble at school, at work or with the law? Intervening in those issues is natural and normal for you as a parent, but is it becoming more than you can handle, especially with behavior that never seems to change?
As he’s been struggling, what feels “normal” at home can become a revolving pattern of bad situations he needs your help getting out of. Do you minimize or even normalize his unpredictable behavior, even when it’s risky, self-destructive or impossible to hide?
We help so many parents learn how to create and hold important, healthy boundaries and communicate effectively with immersive and ongoing family support.
You’re a storyteller devoted to fiction
When he was little, he loved your bedtime stories. Now you tell stories to yourself as you stare at the ceiling each night, reframing his behavior to justify his actions. “He’s just having a bad day. He’s under so much pressure. This isn’t who he really is.”
The most common story we hear parents tell themselves is that what's happening is their own fault.
You may believe that his behavior stems from something you did or didn't do, something you said or didn’t say. You may feel that you’re to blame for whatever has happened because you failed him in some way. This is the hardest thing we hear from parents, because it’s every parent's greatest fear: instead of protecting him you might have caused the hurt he’s feeling.
Is your family ready to consider treatment?
Here's the truth about family that no one writes in the parenting books: kids can be selfish, moody manipulators who will break the bank and their parents’ hearts. And some of them will also struggle with addiction and mental health.
It's absolutely natural and normal for you to worry about your family member, no matter how grown he is, to check up on him in ways that might make you cringe, and to go toe-to-toe with him like it’s a heavyweight title fight. But if you've read the list above and feel like these examples ring true, it might be time to consider getting help.
If you’re thinking about treatment (and if you’ve read this far it must be on your radar), the most important thing we want you to know is that you no longer have to go it alone. You’ve done so much for him—kept him safe, tried your best to teach him how to be his best, have been an adaptable, creative, innovative and deeply caring parent. But you don’t have to do it all on your own anymore.
Hard truths and deep personal discoveries come with the journey, and we'll help you get there. The road to recovery is long and winding, but it's paved with enlightenment. Your path will have pit stops of perspective, forks of hopes and fears, and panoramic views of happiness and healing. Together, we can create a new roadmap to his future. The destination might start with where you want him to be, then shift to where he needs to be.