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How to Tell Your Parents You're an Addict

a mother listening to her son who suffers from substance abuseIf you’re struggling with drugs or alcohol, you’re certainly not alone. Today, some 40.3 million people aged 12 or older qualify as having a substance use disorder in the U.S. alone. But, no matter what age you are, you’ll often have to tell your parents you’re struggling, for emotional support, financial support, and to ensure that they know what’s going on in your life.

Unfortunately, taking that step can be intensely difficult. Most of us feel shame and guilt or even disgust when faced with our own inability to stop using. While that’s prompted by a culture that doesn’t understand substance use disorders as a behavioral health problem, it’s still a serious hurdle and something that may be difficult. In other cases, telling your parents will be difficult because of how they’ll react. If you want love and support, having angry parents can be intensely hurtful. And, if you’re reaching out because you’re falling apart, the last thing you want is to have your parents practice tough love.

How do you balance those wants and needs? How do you actually say “Mom, dad, I’m addicted”. This article will offer some pointers that should help you get the conversation started.

Get the Timing Right

Telling your parents you’re struggling is big news. They will likely have significant emotions about it, even if they already have a strong idea that something is wrong or even if they already know what is wrong. So, it’s important not to jump into it in the middle of something where that might be upsetting. E.g., at a restaurant or a family gathering – unless you need that space to feel safe yourself.

Here, the best approach is often to sit down at home, somewhere comfortable, and ask for attention. You’ll also want to avoid throwing big news at your parents when they’re going through other difficult things. E.g., if you’re seeing your parents because of a party or a family gathering, wait until after everything is over to tell them. Making those sorts of considerate decisions will make it easier to sit down and have a real conversation.

Stay Calm

Many people react to bad news with shock and with anger. Your parents may take your addiction as a sign of their personal failing. That’s not fair to you, but it is how many people are taught to view addiction, as a moral failing. If you can stay calm and redirect the conversation to stay on track, you can get what you want out of the conversation.

Be Honest

It’s important to be honest about your addiction when you share it. E.g., be honest about what you’re using, how long, and how much. If people ask if X time they caught you with something was an instance of that, be honest.

While you may want to try to avoid overly hurting anyone’s feelings, taking an approach of honesty and coming clean can greatly help with your conversation and your relationship. If you’re honest you can be trusted and if you can be trusted, they can have a relationship with you.

Obviously, that will be difficult and it may be hurtful to both sides. Admitting things you’re ashamed of to the people you most want to be proud of you is difficult. But, it’s an important part of healing your relationship and maybe of getting help.

Get Your Questions Answered

Avoid Blame

father and son discussing options for addiction treatmentIt’s often incredibly easy to fall into habits pushed by addiction. When people are angry at you or going “how could you” or even blaming you and saying things like “we raised you better” it can be difficult to keep your cool. You might start throwing blame, bringing up times you might think they drove you to using, etc.

This kind of behavior is never helpful. In fact, it actively harms your relationship and might push you into making worse decisions. In fact, it’s a normal manifestation of substance use disorder, because you are as inclined to look for someone else to blame as they are. Actively avoiding this kind of behavior will greatly improve your conversation.

Do Some Research

It’s important to go into a conversation with some idea of what you want to get out of it. If you can communicate that and early on, you can avoid a lot of miscommunication. For example, if you’ve been to treatment and you are in recovery, you should say that. If you need help moving into rehab, you should say that too. Then, you can start off with that.

  • “I’m struggling with drinking and I don’t know how to stop, I know it’s a lot but I would really like your help. I think I need to go to rehab, can you help me”
  • “I’ve been using opioids for the last four years and it got out of control, I was really addicted. I know I made a lot of bad decisions while addicted but I’ve been to treatment and I want nothing more than to rebuild my life and that includes with you”.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to get that far on your own. Even “I’m struggling with substance abuse and I don’t know what to do, please help”, is enough.

At the same time, looking into research for how addiction works, what kind of treatment you want, etc., might be a good idea. If you’ve already been to treatment, you obviously don’t need that, but having the vocabulary to share with your parents can be extremely helpful.

Getting Help

Your parents might not be willing or ready to get you help, you may not need it. However, you should leave your discussion with an idea of what you’ll do next. That might be sitting down with your family and having a longer talk, it might be going to rehab, it might be sharing with your parents how you’ll be accountable and stay clean or sober, and it might be going to relationship or family therapy.

Whatever you walk away with, it’s important that you make it a discussion with your parents, that they have input where they can, and that you clearly communicate what you want and listen to them doing the same.

Eventually, sharing that you have an addiction is hard, but if you approach it in the right way, you can make it a proactive conversation about healing, you, them, and the relationship.

Asana Recovery offers detoxresidential, and outpatient addiction treatment services at our center located in Orange County, California. Please contact us today to speak with one of our experienced addiction treatment team if you have any questions about our programs.