The pain of parenting an addict

Apr 7, 2014 at 12:00 p.m. ET

It's almost unbearable to watch your children make choices that you know may harm them. Here is how one woman found the strength to hold her child's future loosely.

One mom's story
Teen girl with marijuana |
Photo credit: Arthur Tilley/Creatas/360/Getty Images

The start of an addiction

Prior to high school, Sandra's son Chase** was a creative thinker who was picked on mercilessly by his peers. "I first realized my son was using drugs and alcohol when he was 15," Sandra says. "I watched it happen in front of my very eyes." Sandra reports that Chase grew weary of the teasing, and one day she noticed he came home from school with a strangely peaceful look on his face. "He started to disappear for long periods of time," she says. "Then the money began to go missing from his sisters' rooms and our wallets."

Sandra states that Chase was quickly caught up in the world of alcohol, marijuana and ecstasy. Of course, drug and alcohol use by teenagers does not necessitate an addiction. But for those teens that go down the path of addiction and substance abuse, like Chase, the journey back is a long and painful one for the entire family.

Attempts to fix the problem

As is normal, Sandra and her then-husband attempted to mediate the problem with logic and pleading. "We did the typical thing by trying to talk with him. Then when it continued, we would ground him. We took away every privilege he had. Nothing worked," she says. "It was as if a beast had awoken and there was no stopping it."

It wasn't long before the entire family was in a tailspin, as they each had different perspectives on the problem. "Each time Chase would get in trouble, I would hope for a stern consequence but his father would bail him out. His sisters, meanwhile, were fed up with him and resented him."

Sandra and the family didn't agree on how to deal with Chase's addiction, and when they did agree, it was usually an emotional response to a new development in the drama that actually took Chase further away from recovery. "We enrolled him in a religious day school. We signed him up for Outward Bound. Finally, we had an intervention and sent him to a 30-day residential treatment center. Once he finished his treatment, he was back in the addiction within a week."

A turning point toward recovery

Surprisingly, Chase's situation only changed when Sandra sought help for herself. "A friend suggested I go to Al Anon. I shared about my problem and heard about detaching with love, that it wasn't my fault, that I didn't cause it and that I can't control it or cure it. It was as though a weight had been lifted," Sandra says.

After attending Al Anon, Sandra was approached by a stern but kind woman who gave her the number for a drug treatment aftercare center called New Life House. "I packed Chase's bags, tricked him into getting in the car and drove to the treatment center. I told him that if he didn't stay, he could go live under the pier, but that he wasn't going to live with me anymore," Sandra says.

Chase responded to Sandra's firm boundary and completed treatment. It was a long road to recovery, but Sandra is happy to report that Chase is doing well. "My son has since graduated from college and is working in his chosen field," she says. "He is happy and living every day taking care of himself financially, emotionally and physically. What more can a parent ask?"

Advice on how to cope

Martha Lockie, Director of Community Outreach for New Life House in Los Angeles where Chase received services, adds that the best thing for parents to do is become educated about alcohol and drug abuse. "I can't tell you how many parents act irrationally in a state of panic over their child's drugs abuse," she says. "Parents tend to make decisions about treatment based on emotions rather than research." According to Lockie, parents are best prepared to face the challenges of recovery if they understand what their kids are going through while receiving their own support through therapy, Alcoholics Anonymous or church groups.

**Names have been changed to protect anonymity.

More from Tweens, Teens & College

Are co-ed slumber parties a good idea?
Entitled teenager sues parents for college tuition
Dangerous tween trend: Snorting Smarties