When an emerging adult has an alcohol or drug abuse problem or addiction, parents are on the front lines trying to intervene and offer support. It can feel like an emotional roller-coaster trying to address actions and behaviors that are both worrisome and unacceptable. The stress is even greater when the young adult is away at college. Developing healthy boundaries will help bring sanity to what seems like an insane situation.
Often parents feel out of control and perplexed about what to do with continual unacceptable behaviors from a young adult they love, who is abusing or addicted to drugs or alcohol. The first step is to set boundaries: clearly articulate limits of what is and is not acceptable and then specify the consequences of going beyond these limits.
Boundaries are important to keep parents from going beyond loving support into the realm of enabling an addiction. With clearly set boundaries, parents no longer need to yell, be frustrated, or feel conflicted and they can maintain sanity in their lives.
1. Identify and discuss your boundaries regarding drugs and alcohol, particularly once your son/daughter is in high school
For the best chance of success, first identify your own boundaries with drugs and alcohol. What is and is not acceptable to you? Once that is clear, sit down and discuss these boundaries with your son/daughter. This will likely be an ongoing discussion through high school and certainly before college. Be firm and respectful. Take time to listen and process any reactions you hear. Before you finish, let your son/daughter know that it is always acceptable to reach out for help without consequence. This is also the time to clarify that consequences will happen if your son/daughter is dishonest and you learn of a problem after the fact. The goal is to have open and honest communication and to provide your son/daughter with an inner compass about what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
2. Be clear about the consequences of unacceptable behavior
Knowing the potential consequences is a big motivating factor for emerging adults to avoid problematic behaviors. Explain the consequences that will follow unacceptable drug or alcohol use. Have your son/daughter discuss how those consequences could affect his or her life. Point out and discuss that there are alternatives choices to avoid these situations. Going through this process will help to strengthen the voice in your son/daughter’s head to mindfully make the right decisions. At the same time, knowing the consequences will help motivate choosing the best options.
3. Develop a plan for how to respond when boundaries are crossed
This is perhaps the most important step. Plan ahead what you will do if your son/daughter does cross a set boundary with drug and alcohol issues. Make sure your partner or spouse agrees. If helpful, speak with other parents or a counselor for some assistance. You will obviously hope for the best, but you must be ready if a boundary is crossed. By planning ahead, you can act decisively without letting emotions affect your thinking or discussions with your son/daughter. Letting emotions overrule your plans may lead to consequences you do not intend. Calmly and clearly restating the consequences and the result will help your son/daughter learn that you are there to help but that there are limits that must be respected. This is one of the most loving things you can teach your son/daughter.
4. Seek support for YOU
As your son/daughter transitions into adulthood, expect that there will be bumps along the way. It is normal to want to protect your family, but it is important that you recognize the difference between support and enabling or rescuing. This is a challenge every parent faces when struggling with how to hold an emerging adult accountable while loving him or her at the same time. If you feel uncomfortable setting and enforcing boundaries, seek out support. Family, friends or a professional can help. It is important to take care of yourself and get guidance if you feel unsure. You will want to be firm in maintaining your boundaries, even when it is hard.
For parents who are the front line responders to drug and alcohol issues, there is hope. Use these tips to develop healthy boundaries and seek out support as you work on making new changes. Setting and enforcing boundaries will clear away the chaos and allow peacefulness and calm to return to your life.
If you become concerned over your son/daughter’s alcohol or drug use, know that professional addiction treatment is usually the best way to get your child’s life (and your own) back on track. New Hope Recovery Center has extensive experience treating Emerging Adults with alcohol and drug addictions and can help you and your family. For more information call 773-883-3916 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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