How to Help an Addicted Parent

Adult Daughter Helping Addicted Parent
No matter your age, if you have a father or a mother who is addicted to drugs and alcohol, you may experience unique challenges in trying to help them get better. Photo:  FatCamera/iStock by Getty Images

It’s not at all uncommon for people who struggle with addiction to be surrounded by family members and loved ones who want nothing but the best for them. In fact, when addicts do get help, it is often as a direct result of consistent and diligent efforts on the part of those close to them.

But what about when an adult son or daughter has a parent who is addicted to drugs and alcohol? When the traditional roles are reversed and, in a way, the child has to step up and be the parent? In a situation like that, how does a son or daughter navigate that situation in a way that gets their parent into treatment?

Children of Addicted Parents, You are Not Alone

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, approximately 25 percent of children are exposed to family alcohol abuse or drug abuse. That equates to millions of children who had to grow up in households where at least one family member was using drugs.

Without a doubt, children of addicted parents are not alone. This is, sadly, a very common problem in the United States, one that must be addressed as soon as possible. And while very young children may feel helpless in their efforts to get their parents to change, the older a child gets, the more confident and courageous they may feel in their ability to address their parent's substance abuse problem. Furthermore, the older they get, the more resources they'll have to confront the issue with their parent and attempt to get them help.

What Can You Do to Help?

No matter your age, if you have a father or a mother who is addicted to drugs and alcohol, you may experience unique challenges in trying to help them get better. For example, even if you are an adult, there is often still an unspoken sense of seniority between parents and their children, regardless of their children’s age. There can be this sense that the kids, even now full-grown, still can’t tell their parents what to do (e.g., get help for a drug problem).

Because of factors like that and other potential barriers, it helps to have some advice and tools at hand as one prepares to approach a parent about their drinking or drug use.

Here are some ideas, tools, and things to know:

Get educated on the subject of drug and alcohol addiction. First and foremost, the more you know about drugs and alcohol, the better equipped you’ll be in tackling the issue with your parent. It’s essential to get on “common ground,” one could say, with an addict. You should know something of the drugs they are using, the effects those substances are having on them physically and mentally, and what the long-term consequences of their continued use of those substances might look like. The more you know about addiction and drugs in general, the better equipped you’ll be when you sit down to discuss the matter with your parent.

Prescription Drugs Can Lead to Addiction
Prescription drugs can lead to addiction. Know the signs so you can discuss addiction if you are concerned about a parent. Photo: LumiNola/iStock by Getty Images

Open the discussion with the parent by talking with them, not at them. Establish communication by asking what they think about how they’re doing. Try to get to the bottom of the addiction through communication by asking what underlying problem they may be trying to avoid with drug use or heavy drinking. Good communication and assisting the parent to understand why they’re using drugs and alcohol is one of the first steps towards helping them get better.

Help them see how their addiction is hurting them. Talking to an addict can often be tricky. They may be unwilling to hear anything you have to say. But if they are willing to discuss their drug use, try getting them to see how their addiction is harming them. It could be the onset of health problems, missing work, neglecting family obligations, letting hobbies and interests go by the wayside, experiencing severe dangers and risks such as car accidents and legal issues, etc.

Assist them in understanding how their addiction is harming others. Talking to a loved one about their drug problem and encouraging them to get help often takes a few different approaches. Some individuals who struggle with addiction will respond differently to different angles of approach. An addict who is not receptive to a discussion about their drug problem from the perspective of what the addiction is doing to them personally may yet be receptive to discussing what the addiction is doing to those around them. In this context, discuss how the addiction has harmed the close loved ones of the individual.

Get them to see what their life will look like in the future if they continue to use drugs. This is another tactic that can work, one of simply getting the parent to see what their life will look like in a few months or years if they continue to use drugs. Drug abuse is a highly debilitating affliction, relentless in the negative impacts it has on users. Try to get your parent to see that they are not going to be around much longer if they continue on their projected course.

Seek help and support from those who have been through a similar situation. If your parent is particularly unwilling to get help after you have discussed the matter with them several times, it may be wise to seek the advice and counsel of someone who has been through something similar. They may have ideas on what worked for them that could also work in your circumstance. At the very least, they can offer support and solidarity.

An intervention may be necessary. If you have tried multiple times to get your parent to seek help, and they have repeatedly shown themselves to be unwilling to do so, it may be time to call in an interventionist. Interventionists are trained professionals, highly knowledgeable, and skilled in convincing someone who does not want help to get help.

Addiction Treatment – The Ultimate Goal in Helping an Addicted Parent

Having a mother or a father who is addicted to substances can be a real challenge for any son or daughter, no matter their age. But the benefit of getting the parent into rehab is worth all of the turmoil and struggle it takes to get them there. Remember, addiction treatment is life-saving, and you want your parents around for as long as possible. If you require assistance in getting your parent to seek help or you would like to take the first step towards treatment for them, please call Narconon today.


Reviewed and Edited by Claire Pinelli ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.