Mental Health Relationships

How To Set Boundaries When Your Parent Has An Addiction

While there is extensive information available to parents who have children struggling with addiction, there is scant advice for when the situation is reversed. If you are an adult with a parent facing addiction, you may feel angry, helpless, and alone. Read More

While there is extensive information available to parents who have children struggling with addiction, there is scant advice for when the situation is reversed. If you are an adult with a parent facing addiction, you may feel angry, helpless, and alone. You may have threatened your parent in hopes of change, tried to ‘fix’ your parent, or even tried to shut them out completely.

Boundaries can help you restore your peace and sanity. If you love someone with an addiction, they are necessary for maintaining a sense of structure and maturity within the dynamic.

Refuse To Hold Their Secrets

When someone struggles with addiction, they often manipulate, bargain, or sweet talk their way into getting their needs met. It is only natural for us to wish to protect the people we care about. However, this protection often enables the behavior, which can worsen the situation.

Some examples of holding secrets include:

  • Making excuses for your parent’s absence
  • Hiding substances in the home or from others
  • Lying to employers or law enforcement officials
  • Withholding/minimizing/rationalizing the addiction when people ask

Again, it’s normal to want to hold these secrets. You don’t want your loved one suffering. However, you risk getting yourself into trouble and coming across us untrustworthy among other family members of peers. You also risk creating an unfair dynamic where you ‘rescue’ your parent from illicit or immoral behavior.

Remind Yourself That You Don’t Owe Them X, Y, or Z

Some parents, whether directly or indirectly, try to convince their children that they “owe” them certain favors. The reasons for this may be as arbitrary as, “I raised you” or “I sacrificed so much for you, so this is the least you can do for me.”

Often, these reasons evoke a sense of guilt and shame. You may feel indebted to your parent simply for the fact that he or she supported you as a child. While you are allowed to be grateful for your upbringing, you are not obligated to “make it up to them” in their addiction.

Addiction is an individual responsibility. You do not owe your parent money, housing, or even attention. Remind yourself that often.

Remember That You Are The Child & Not The Parent

Addiction naturally encompasses selfish and childish behavior. Your parent may have neglected serious responsibilities to obtain the next fix. He or she may have a long litany of legal issues or financial burdens to untangle. Your parent may desperately run to you for relief and answers.

You must remind yourself that you are not your parent’s parent. You did not “cause” this addiction. Moreover, you do not have to “fix” it. Yes, you can provide support and unconditional love, but you are on a fast track towards burnout if you think that you can “solve the problem.”

Parents often lean on their children when they have damaged other social relationships. Instead of seeking appropriate and healthy support, they may dump all their stress and problems on you.

Again, you are allowed to listen (if you want to listen). You are allowed to provide general feedback. However, you should never pressure yourself to work harder than your parent is working.

Get Your Own Support

There is no doubt that setting boundaries is challenging. You may feel cruel and heartless when. You may worry that you are abandoning your parent in a desperate time of need. Moreover, some parents will react with hostility and anger when you discuss your boundaries.

Seeking your own support via psychotherapy, 12-step groups like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon, or through peers and other family members, can help you navigate these complicated feelings. You deserve to have your own recovery process regardless of your parent’s condition.