How Should a Christian Parent Handle an Addicted Child?

Photo of Mother with her adult son against nature backgroundRaising a child to follow the Lord is the self-appointed task of nearly any Christian parent. Discovering that has gone wrong and that your child has gone astray can be devastating. If your child is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it can feel like you have to take drastic actions. It can be difficult to respond with the grace, dignity, and respect that you and your child deserve.

It’s okay to be angry, upset, to feel lost. Your child is struggling with a disorder, one that’s medically qualified as a temporary disability, and they are very, very sick. Your reaction, interaction, and help could be critical in helping them to recover. Importantly, your choices here should depend on how your child responds. You should take steps to protect yourself and to ensure our own mental health is minimally impacted – rather than sacrificing everything for your child. The latter is not healthy for you or for them. Instead, you should step back, assess how you feel, and take careful steps that benefit everyone involved.

Talk to God

Chances are, you’re an emotional wreck. You might feel angry that your child has gone so far astray. That might be directed at yourself. You might feel guilty for whatever part you’ve played in the decisions that led your child to this point. And, the younger you are, the worse that likely feels. You are definitely feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and uncertain. Taking those feelings to God should be your first step.

Why do you feel that way? Most of us see addiction as a thing to be ashamed of, a personal failing. It’s not. Instead, addiction is a mental health disorder with overlaps into chemical dependence and being physically sick. You wouldn’t be ashamed of your child developing a disorder such as schizophrenia, you’d accept it, figure out treatment, and move on. And, that’s exactly what you should be doing with an addiction in the family.

Ask Others for Help

Your friends, family, church, and community are there for you and they want to be there for you. You shouldn’t ever have to try to get through everything alone – especially not when it’s something traumatic and deeply stressful. Communicating your child’s addiction can be incredibly difficult, no matter how old they are. Those feelings of guilt and shame might resurface. But, putting the ego aside and reinforcing the message that addiction is a disorder, not a personal failing in your family, is important.

You can also choose to start out smaller than asking the people you know for help. Go to a Christian-based support group. Al-Anon is a 12-step group based on helping the family members of addicts to get help, to protect their own mental health, and to find support in each other. It’s largely Christian based, although some organizations try to move the messaging away from God. Nearly all will start meetings with prayers and will be more than happy to allow you to pray.

When you do take things to your friends and family, make sure you impress on them that this is a private and personal matter. That you want your child to be treated with respect, and that they are sick. You might talk to your pastor who might choose to bring it before congregation. You might ask your friends for support. You might ask your wider family for support. The important thing is that you ask for help and get it.

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Take Time to Learn About Addiction

photo of a middle aged woman reading about addictionNo Christian should ever go into anything blind. Addiction is complicated and you’ll likely never know enough about it as a layman. But, you can get a good understanding of how addiction works, how it impacts your child, and how recovery works. Books like “Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction” can be valuable resources as you navigate your child’s addiction. Groups like Al-Anon can as well. In addition, most crisis centers hand out basic information pamphlets to get you caught up on the basics.

The end-goal is to build a vocabulary and basic understanding of addiction and its impacts. This will allow you to make better-informed decisions, to react from a place of knowledge and understanding, and to share the right information to get your child into treatment.

Try to Get Your Child into Treatment

Finding a Christian-based substance use disorder treatment program is the best way to recover from a drug or alcohol use disorder. In most cases, treatment centers use a combination of medicine, behavioral therapy, and prayer and socializing to help patients rediscover themselves, to find motivation to recover, and to build the skills they need to recover.

Few people can simply quit a substance and not relapse. Instead, therapy exists to build the motivations and coping skills to make that possible. And, with most addiction treatment built around helping people to live a happy life without needing drugs or alcohol, treatment can help them to live a better life.

Of course, the options available to you will vary significantly depending on their age. If your child is still a minor, you can simply take them to treatment. But, it’s also important that they have motivation, continued input from you, and are willing to invest into recovery.

Drug and alcohol addiction change people. Your once loving child may now be angry, manipulative, bitter, and difficult to deal with. You might be sucked into a cycle of endlessly caring for their needs and enabling their addiction. You might be pulled into angry conversations and bitter words. It’s important to step out of that. That is your child being addicted, not your child. Getting them into help and then helping to build them back up as they return to their life will allow your child to recover, to build a new life for themselves, and to reconnect with God.

While none of us want addiction to be part of God’s plan for us, sometimes, that’s the case. God is here, to help you navigate that trial, but he’s also offered resources and tools to help you do so. If you can respond with grace, separate the addiction from your child, and care for them in a non-judgmental fashion as you work to get them into treatment, you’re already going a long way towards helping them to recover.

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