When Your Adult Child Has a Drinking Problem
When your son or daughter was a newborn, you may have imagined that things would get easier over time. Now that they’re an adult, you realize that a parent’s work is never done.
When your adult child has a drinking problem, it’s normal to feel helpless, angry, and worried about what the future may hold. You can’t swoop in to “save the day” like you did when they were a toddler with a skinned knee, but that doesn’t mean that your actions don’t matter. If you respond in a loving way while continuing to stress the need for effective treatment, you can help guide your child towards more positive choices.
Do Not Allow Your Adult Child to Blame You for Their Actions
Often, adult children will attempt to deflect responsibility for their actions by blaming their parents for their current situation. For example, your child may claim that the trauma from your divorce was what started them down the path of alcohol abuse or try to argue that you’re being overly critical because you’ve always preferred their sibling.
Addiction is a biologically based illness with both genetic and environmental triggers. However, you are not responsible for your child’s drinking. All parents make mistakes, but any missteps from your past are not the cause of your child’s current situation. Ultimately, your child is an adult with the power to make their own choices.
Blaming others, whether it’s a parent or a spouse, is a classic sign of an addiction. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that this behavior is a sign of their illness—not a reflection of your parenting. Do not escalate the situation with further name-calling, judgment, or blame. Stress that they have an illness, you care about their future, and you want to see them get the help they need.
Set Firm Boundaries
When your adult child has a drinking problem, there’s a fine line between being a loving parent and enabling the addiction to continue.
Some examples of ways parents enable their adult children include:
- Giving them money for living expenses
- Letting them live with you rent-free
- Lying to others to cover up their addiction-related behavior
- Hiring an attorney for them when they’ve been arrested for drunk driving or other addiction-related offenses
Your adult child needs to accept that actions have consequences—and that these consequences can sometimes be painful. Here are some examples of boundaries you may choose to set:
- They are not welcome in your home when they are under the influence.
- Drinking is not allowed in your home.
- They are not allowed to speak disrespectfully to you or other family members—or to attempt to blame others for their problems.
- You will provide support when they choose to seek treatment, but you will not continue to pay their living expenses while they are actively feeding their addiction.
- You will not provide assistance if they are arrested or lose their license due to their drinking.
Recovery requires personal accountability. When your child has an untreated addiction, the best thing you can do is to show them the consequences of their actions while continuing to urge them to seek treatment.
Make the Safety of Your Grandchildren Your First Priority
Watching your grandchildren suffer because of your adult child’s behavior is heartbreaking. You may be tempted to continue to give your adult child money or provide unpaid child care while they’re out partying with friends simply because it helps keep your grandchildren safe. Your adult child knows this—and they’re using your grandchildren as leverage to keep you enabling their addiction.
In this situation, the well-being of your grandchildren needs to be your top priority. A parent who is drinking heavily may not be able to ensure that a child’s basic needs are met. They may not be ensuring that your grandchildren attend school regularly; they may be failing to provide nutritious meals; they may be leaving the children unsupervised for extended periods of time; or they may be fostering an unsafe living environment. In more extreme cases, your grandchildren may be suffering emotional and/or physical abuse while their parents are under the influence.
If your adult child’s behavior is putting your grandchildren in danger, you have a duty to report the abuse or neglect to the authorities. You may be worried this will prevent you from having an ongoing relationship with your grandchildren, but the South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS) allows kinship care arrangements as an alternative to foster care with an unrelated individual. This means that a child’s grandparent, aunt, uncle, or another qualified adult family member can apply to become their temporary guardian. If the family caregiver completes the requirements to be a licensed foster parent, they can then receive monthly board payments, Medicaid eligibility, vouchers for child care, training, and case management support. If kinship care is not possible, you can still request that the court allow you regular visits with your grandchildren.
Learn About Available Treatment Options
At Waypoint Recovery Center, we offer a full continuum of care for men and women struggling with substance use disorders. This includes detox as well as individual, group, and family therapy. Instead of focusing on simple abstinence, our program helps clients build the skills they need for successful sober living.
If your adult child has a drinking problem, our blog and resource page can help answer questions you may have about treatment options that can help. You can also fill out our contact form to be contacted by one of our admissions representatives.