Parents’ Role in Addiction Treatment

Helping Adolescents or Young Adults

Once the parents admit their child into a treatment program, they automatically become an important part of the treatment process.  Parents’ support is highly valued by the treatment team. However, to make this support count, you need to understand the process of chemical dependency and how it affects your family and your child.  Its not enough to just be involved in treatment- you need to be meaningfully involved.

 The first step in understand your child’s treatment is to understand what is happening to you. Parents may sometimes experience rational and irrational emotions throughout the treatment process. Some of the feelings you may experience are:

Parents' Role in Addiction Treatment

 ·         Anger: Anger may be directed towards the teen or towards yourself. The use of alcohol and drugs may have caused him or her to behave in unacceptable ways such as stealing, lying, being abusive, manipulating and so on. This also means that the trust you had in your child was shaken and your efforts to help and control failed, leading to anger and frustration.

 ·         Relief: People usually approach treatment centres under a crisis situation. Once the child has entered treatment the family usually feels an immense sense of relief that he or she is safe and that help is here.

 ·         Guilt: It is very common to feel guilty during treatment. Guilt may stem from leaving your child in treatment, especially when they argue that they do not need to be there. Guilt may also stem from a twisted sense of responsibility for the addiction and at times this feeling may be overwhelming. Parents may hunt for reasons why their child developed addiction, and if they don’t find any clear reason they may blame themselves or others.  Guilt usually manifests itself like ‘If only I had spent more time with my child…If only I was a better parent…..its my fault.’

 ·         Doubt: Once the initial crises subsides and the child is in treatment, some parents doubt their decision to bring their child to treatment. They may feel ‘was it really that bad?...was treatment really necessary? we have to keep our child for the entire duration?’. In times like these, families turn to other family members or friends who also have a limited understanding of addiction, thus compounding their fears and irrationality. Ultimately, this goes against the very thing they want- healthy recovery for their child.

 ·         Fear: Anxiety or fear of the unknown is very common in families. Questions like ‘what will happen once he is back?...Should I behave differently with him now?...what if he uses again?’ are common manifestations of their fears.

 It is important to support the treatment process of your child. However, denial is an important roadblock which delays or prevents recovery.

 Denial: Denial is a defense mechanism that addicts develop. Most importantly, we must realize that it is not only the addict but also their family members who develop this form of irrational, almost delusional thinking. By not admitting a problem, they try to shield themselves from the pain caused by admitting the reality. However denial prevents recovery in both the addict and the family. It can be vastly damaging. Denial can take many forms, some of which are:

 Minimizing (child): ‘I only drink beer; I only get high on weekends’

Minimizing (family): ‘He’s only drinking beer. It could be worse - he could be doing ‘heavy drugs’.


Rationalizing (child): ‘If I don’t drink at parties people will think I’m weird’

Rationalizing (family): ‘Oh, she’s just going through a phase. She’ll grow out of it’


Intellectualizing (child): ‘Marijuana is legal in some states’

Intellectualizing (family): We are doctors and we know what’s best for our child’


Typically, families with the above forms of denial tend to be non-cooperative with treatment teams, don’t trust their clinical judgment or are always in doubt and tend to consult multiple doctors as well. Obviously, this tends to dilute the treatment team’s efforts and go against the child’s recovery.

Some of the ways parents can help the treatment process are:

Listen: Children often become frustrated with the structured lifestyle that they find in treatment centres. They may voice their unhappiness. You are encouraged to listen without taking sides. Try to get specific information and if you find that the problem is simply the child’s inability to follow rules, encourage them to talk to their therapist who is trained to process these feelings.

Use Tough Love: When children want to leave treatment, parents may become overwhelmed by a need to ‘rescue’ their child from the distress. At this point you need to set boundaries clearly and support their child to stay in treatment. Learning about the principles of detachment and codependency is a part of the recovery process.

Act: The key is to act, rather than react. In case you are upset with your child’s anger and frustration (which will pass) call and talk to the therapist or someone in your support group. Attend Al-anon meetings so you can ‘walk the talk’ and work on your own recovery as well.

Hope Trust rehab in India has vast experience of treatment of young adults struggling with addiction. It has inpatient and outpatient options and provides significant support and guidance to parents.


-          Raisa Luther is an Addiction Therapist at Hope Trust