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How to Help a Child with Drug Addiction

picture of Joe Gilmore
Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

April 22, 2024

Table of Contents

With one in four 18 to 20-year-olds in the United States abusing substances according to NIDA data, learning how to help a child with drug addiction is more important than ever before.

SAMHSA data shows that 20 million people in the US have substance use disorder, with 24 million currently using illicit drugs, and a further 16.5 million people classified as heavy drinkers.

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If your child is one of the millions struggling with substance abuse at a young age, and your internet search history is studded with things like “I need help with my son’s drug addiction”, what’s next? If you need help there are tons of resources and treatment options, including our Orange County rehab available to take your call night or day. If you need help, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Let’s take a closer look at getting help for a son or daughter that is dealing with drug or alcohol addiction.

My Son is a Drug Addict, Now What?

Often, teens abusing substances become secretive and deceitful as they try to conceal their behavior and to continue using more of the substance, regardless of adverse outcomes. This, along with dishonest and often destructive behavior can put a great strain on your relationship.

Before attempting to address your child’s drug addiction, then, it’s a smart move to try strengthening and rebuilding your relationship with your son or daughter.

One of the most effective ways you can achieve this is by communicating honestly, openly, and assertively. Assertive communication involves a balancing act of actively listening and also asking questions.

Try asking some open-ended questions to promote better communication than your child stonewalling a close question with a one-word response. Ask these questions with one clear goal in mind: learning more about your child, but at the same time encouraging them to express their hopes, concerns, fears, and struggles.

Communicating assertively does not involve being overly emotional. Any time you find yourself feeling upset or angry, and any time you find sarcasm creeping into your conversation, take a step away. Consider the conversation with your child an ongoing dialogue. Return to the issue at hand, though, as taking the ostrich approach doesn’t pay dividends.

How to Deal with a Drug Addict Son

If you are now in the position where you have opened channels of communication with your child, you may be asking yourself, how do I help someone addicted to drugs?

There are several things you can do before you start communicating with your child about their substance abuse:

  • Be positive and be an example
  • Become an expert on addiction and recovery
  • Leave blame out of the equation

Be positive and be an example

If you chisel away at your child, focusing on the mistakes they are making and the poor judgment you feel they are showing, you’ll diminish their self-esteem and self-confidence. This is likely to lead to more substance abuse.

Instead, target the areas where your child is doing well and firmly encourage desirable behaviors, incentivizing them if necessary.

The more positive and optimistic you can keep the atmosphere, the easier you’ll find it to cooperate with your son or daughter while keeping conflict and negativity to a minimum.

Show your child how they can:

  • Engage in healthier hobbies and activities
  • Build superior coping skills for life’s stressors
  • Focus on appropriate peer relationships
  • Face up to life’s challenges head-on

Become an expert on addiction and recovery

Sustained substance abuse leads to changes in brain structure and functioning. This means your son or daughter’s primary focus might be obtaining and using substances, even if they are aware of the negative consequences.

The more you learn about the concept of addiction as a disease, the easier it will be to accept your child has a problem, and the more effectively you can help them solve that problem – more on that below.

Leave blame out of the equation

If you have dived deep into the world of addiction and recovery, you’ll understand that addiction is a chronic and relapsing disease, with at least half of your child’s susceptibility for addiction due to genetic factors.

Addiction, then, is not a choice, even if your son or daughter started by voluntarily using substances. If your child has a physical disease, you wouldn’t consider blaming them. Don’t do this if your child is grappling with drug addiction. Instead, talk to them and help them get the treatment they need.

How to Talk to a Drug-Addicted Son

When you initiate a dialogue with your drug addict child, you should first establish guidelines and then establish boundaries. What’s the difference between the two, then?

Well, the guidelines you lay out will show your child what behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable.

The most effective way to set about creating workable and fair guidelines is to view the process as collaborative. This should apply to your whole mission to get your child the treatment they need. Teamwork will get you to your destination much more seamlessly than locking horns with your child or barking orders.

If you’re stuck here, try listing some simple, appropriate cause and effect statements, where if something happens, there is a corresponding consequence, for example:

  • If you drive your car after smoking marijuana, you lose the use of the car for a week.

While you won’t be able to hedge your bets against every conceivable contingency, you should find it easy to create some basic guidelines. Consider these a work-in-progress, and edit them as required.

With the guidelines in place, consistency is key. Make sure you uphold these at all costs, or you’ll undermine the whole process.

Guidelines, then, are behavior-based rules. Boundaries, on the other hand, represent those things you will and won’t do for your son or daughter.

For best results, work up these boundaries when you’re feeling calm and collected. This should streamline consistency, as you won’t be setting unrealistic boundaries in the aftermath of a stressful exchange with your child.

Ask yourself if you are prepared to accept any level of substance use at all, or whether you have zero tolerance in this regard.  Are you prepared to lie for your child?

Everyone’s situation is different, so everyone will need to set appropriate boundaries. Just like with your guidelines for your child, make sure you stick to your guns and do not accept the unacceptable.

With communication open and ongoing, how can you get down to fixing the issue of your son abusing substances?

How to Help a Drug Addict Son or Daughter

If you’re still asking yourself, “How can I help my drug-addicted daughter?”, you should make certain you’re not enabling them.

Enabling is detrimental to the recovery process and the result of poor boundaries, boundaries that see you taking on far too much responsibility for the actions of your child.

If you find yourself doing the following, you could be enabling your son’s drug addiction:

  • Making excuses for your son
  • Blaming yourself for his drug addiction
  • Adopting a short-term strategy of minimizing short-term pain rather than focusing on the underlying causes and a workable solution
  • Reinforcing your son’s substance use, even if unintentionally

Assuming you have clear and appropriate boundaries in place, the onus is now on your child, and this will increase the chances of them engaging with the treatment they need.

You should make sure you don’t overlook your self-care. It can be all-consuming to deal with a drug addict in the family, so make sure you eat healthily, sleep sufficiently, and exercise daily. Attend support groups for the loved ones of addicts if you feel you need external help yourself.

As far as your son or daughter goes, your overarching goal should be to get them into rehab.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily need to mean a month or more in an inpatient treatment center.

For many mild and moderate substance use disorders, research shows intensive outpatient programs are just as effective as inpatient rehab.

We specialize in offering a variety of outpatient programs here at Renaissance Recovery Center, and we’ll help your teen move beyond substance abuse and into ongoing recovery.

Get Help at Renaissance Recovery

What can your child expect from treatment for substance use disorder or alcohol use disorder, then?

Well, our outpatient treatment programs offer varying levels of structure and support, including IOPs (intensive outpatient programs) and PHPs (partial hospitalization programs). Your teen will attend sessions of psychotherapy and counseling during the day, and they’ll return home after sessions. Medication-assisted treatment is available if appropriate, and your child will also have access to a variety of holistic therapies and vocational development programs.

We also ensure your child leaves Renaissance with a robust aftercare plan in place to minimize the chances of relapse. All you need to do is reach out to admissions and help your child to break the chains of addiction. Call us today at 844.912.2284.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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