Young adult children who have a substance abuse problem can be especially challenging for their parents. At the age of eighteen, long before the brain has finished developing, children are entitled to the privileges of adulthood. Parents frequently find themselves caught in a bind between their concern for their child's safety and their child's legal right to mess up their lives as much as they want to. When it comes to drugs and alcohol parents are sometimes uncertain what to do. There is good treatment available but how should parents adjust their parenting?
One of the biggest barriers to parenting during this difficult age is guilt. Parents may feel they have caused the substance abuse because they were working a lot when their children were younger or they were distracted by their own personal issues. The psychology field has to accept a fair share of the responsibility for this type of thinking because it promoted “parent blaming” for many years.
The majority of parents I see are doing the very best they can to raise healthy children and it is extremely important for parents to recognize this. While a good dose of guilt may help us learn from our mistakes, dwelling on guilt stops growth and creative problem solving. Getting past the guilt can help parents refocus on the present in order to more effectively address the problems at hand. While parents played a huge role in their child's development they did not cause the addiction problem. By the time children enter adolescence they are well equipped to know what is right and what is wrong and they should be held accountable for their choices.
Another major obstacle to effective parenting comes in the form of splitting or playing one parent against another. This shows up frequently around house rules and expectations. Parents may never have sat down together and put together a set of house rules and associated consequences. This leaves a lot of loopholes for children who become master manipulators of mom and dad's differences in disciplining. This is especially true in families of divorce.
A strong parental alliance becomes extremely important when adult children raise the stakes by staying out all night without making prior arrangements, taking the car without permission, using drugs and alcohol, and become verbally or physically abusive. A pattern of dangerous behavior puts the adult child and siblings at risk and shouldn't be tolerated indefinitely. It may be necessary to have the adult child leave the home if he or she cannot behave responsibly. This is obviously not the first choice and consequences should be incrementally increased to fit the infraction. However, it may be impossible to live together with your adult child and he or she should not be allowed to break up the marriage. This means he or she may need to move out.
Although, this may sound harsh, I am not promoting withholding love and attention from your child. It is critical to maintain a relationship with your child throughout the process. Find time to spend with them on a regular basis without any specific agenda. Adult children want to have good relationships with their parents. Keep the door open for that.
Let go of the guilt and set some clear guidelines for your adult child. Back them up with consequences you can enforce. You can't control the addiction or your child but you can control whether or not he drives your car and respects your spouse. Work on a relationship with your child, love them and hold them accountable.