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Posted: Feb 21, 2008 09:18


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Why should parents detach with love when dealing with their addicted child?

By Ann Bruno, Med

When I work with parents of an addicted child, I spend time helping them see that their behavior is not only part of the problem but part of the solution. Getting the young person to a program is the first step and keeping him/her there is the second step. I remember taking my puppy to puppy training classes and the instructor saying to me that this is about changing MY behavior, not only the puppy's behavior. And that definitely proved to be the case for me.

In my work in the addiction treatment field, I found that working with the family is the key to a person's success in the recovery process. When a resident wanted to leave a program, a call went out to the parents and a process called "circling the wagons" went into action. This included boundaries from the parents like "you cannot come home," "don't call us," "don't email us," etc. "until you have successfully completed the program." The parents have to be supported in not caving to the demands of their child, and frequently, that is not easy.

I did an intervention on a 19-year-old male last year and sent him to a structured sober living program. He lasted about six weeks and took off having never even done a first step on his addictions, which meant he had not acknowledged that he had a problem with drugs or alcohol. He came back to Tucson and has not been sober, was assaulted, broke his collar bone, mom took him back in and the story goes on. I received a call from mom this week saying he is in jail, charged with six counts, including several felonies, so he is in serious trouble. I said I was so happy to hear he went to jail. She stopped crying and listened. I told her he won't be able to use and, maybe, he will see how his use has impacted his life. He wanted her to post bail, and I and everyone else in her life said NO. She agonized over it and did not do it but with much guilt.

She called yesterday to say that her son now admits to being an alcoholic and drug addict, so her next step is to get him back into the program in lieu of any legal actions and to do it soon.

The importance of the mother not posting bail gave her son the quiet time needed in a confined environment, allowing him to come to the conclusion that he was an addict and to get honest with himself and others. When the consequences became significant enough, this young man became willing to be open for a change in his life.

I recommended to mom that she get into therapy to uncover why she feels the need to be an enabler and to detach herself from the problem with love. This recommendation plus participating in Alanon is a winning formula.

Fortunately, there was not a tragic event such as the death of this young man. "Circling the wagons" with the parent earlier would have created a quicker outcome by enabling him to stay in the program and get on with recovery. In any event, the family still can recover and get their son back.

About the Author:
Ann Bruno, MEd, is an Associate Member of the IECA, that works as an Educational Consultant specializing in addictions. She worked in the private addiction treatment field, including with nationally recognized facilities in Tucson, AZ. Ann shares her strengths from both her personal and professional experience with recovery and now helps families secure treatment options for their sons and daughters. For more information, call 520-370-9020 or visit

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