What if My Parent Is Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol?
“Dad said he’d be away working on the van, but we hadn’t heard from him all day. Mom tried calling him on the phone. No answer. A little while later, I noticed that Mom had a worried look on her face and that she was getting ready to leave. ‘I’m going to check on your dad,’ she told me.
“Later, Mom returned—alone. ‘Dad wasn’t there, was he?’ I asked. ‘No,’ she replied.
“At that moment I knew that Dad was up to his old tricks. It was just like the last time. You see, my dad’s a drug addict. And by the time he came home, my Mom and I were nervous wrecks. I basically ignored him all the next day—which I feel absolutely horrible about.”—Karen, 14.
MILLIONS of youths endure the daily turmoil of living with a parent who’s hooked on drugs or alcohol. If one of your parents is enslaved to such an addiction, he or she may embarrass, frustrate, and even anger you.
Mary, for example, was raised by a dad who seemed to be a nice person when in public. But he was a closet alcoholic, and at home he subjected his family to profanity and abuse. “People would come up to us children and tell us what a wonderful father we had and how fortunate we were,” Mary recalls bitterly.*
If one of your parents is addicted to alcohol or drugs, how can you cope?
Behind the Addiction
First of all, it helps to gain some insight into your parent’s problem. “A man of understanding is the one who acquires skillful direction,” says Proverbs 1:5. So it would be good for you to learn something about what addiction is, who gets addicted to alcohol or drugs, and why.
For instance, an alcoholic isn’t simply someone who overdrinks on occasion. On the contrary, he has a chronic drinking disorder.* He’s preoccupied—even obsessed—with alcohol and cannot control his consumption of it once he starts drinking. His addiction causes painful problems affecting his family, work, and health.
While certain people may be physically prone to alcohol addiction, emotional factors also appear to be involved. In fact, many alcoholics often harbor negative feelings about themselves. (Proverbs 14:13) Some of them, in fact, grew up in families where their own parents were alcoholics. For such people, drinking may numb the pain of childhood emotional scars. The same factors might be involved when a person is addicted to drugs.
Of course, drinking or taking drugs only compounds a person’s problems; his thinking and emotions now become even more warped. That’s why your parent may need considerable help from a trained professional to break free from his addiction.
Modifying Your Expectations
Granted, understanding why your parent behaves so badly doesn’t make the problem disappear. Still, having some insight into his addiction might allow you to view your parent with a measure of compassion.
For example, would you expect a parent with a broken leg to play a game of soccer with you? What if you knew that the injury was the result of your parent’s own foolish actions? No doubt, you’d be disappointed. Nevertheless, you would realize that until the injury heals, your parent’s ability to play ball with you would be severely limited. Grasping that fact would help you to adjust your expectations.
Similarly, an alcoholic parent or one who is addicted to drugs is emotionally and mentally crippled. True, the “injury” is self-inflicted. And you may rightly resent your parent’s foolish conduct. However, until your parent seeks help to heal his addiction, he’ll be severely limited in his ability to care for you. Viewing his addiction as an incapacitating injury may help you to modify your expectations.
What You Can Do
The fact remains that until your parent straightens out his life, you must live with the consequences of his behavior. In the meantime, what can you do about it?
Don’t take responsibility for your parent’s addiction. Your parent—and your parent alone—is responsible for his addiction. “Each one will carry his own load,” says Galatians 6:5. It’s not your job, then, to cure your parent, nor are you obliged to shield him from the consequences of his addiction. For example, you don’t have to lie for him to his boss or drag him off the front porch when he’s fallen into a drunken stupor there.
Encourage your parent to get help. Your parent’s biggest problem may be admitting that he has a problem. When he’s sober and calm, perhaps the nonaddicted parent along with the older siblings can tell him how his behavior is affecting the family and what he needs to do about it.
In addition, your addicted parent might do well to write down the answers to the following questions: What will happen to me and my family if I keep drinking or taking drugs? What will happen if I give up my habit? What must I do to get help?
If trouble is brewing, leave the scene. “Before the quarrel has burst forth, take your leave,” says Proverbs 17:14. Don’t put yourself at risk by getting in the middle of a quarrel. If possible, retire to your room or go to a friend’s house. When the threat of violence exists, outside help may be needed.
Acknowledge your feelings. Some youths feel guilty because they resent an addicted parent. It’s only normal to feel a degree of resentment, especially if your parent’s addiction prevents him from giving you the love and support you need. True, the Bible obligates you to honor your parent. (Ephesians 6:2, 3) But “honor” means to respect his authority, in much the same way as you are to respect that of a police officer or a judge. It doesn’t mean that you approve of your parent’s addiction. (Romans 12:9) Nor are you a bad person because you’re repulsed by his drinking or drug abuse; after all, substance abuse is repulsive!—Proverbs 23:29-35.
Find upbuilding association. When life at home is chaotic, you can lose sight of what’s normal. It’s important, therefore, that you enjoy the association of people who are spiritually and emotionally healthy. Members of the Christian congregation can provide much nurturing and support as well as an occasional break from family stress. (Proverbs 17:17) Association with Christian families can give you a healthy model of family life to counteract the distorted model you observe at home.
Seek help for yourself. Having a mature, trusted adult with whom you can share your feelings really helps. Congregation elders are willing to help you when you need them. The Bible says that these men can be “like a hiding place from the wind and a place of concealment from the rainstorm, like streams of water in a waterless country, like the shadow of a heavy crag in an exhausted land.” (Isaiah 32:2) So don’t be afraid or ashamed to go to them for comfort and advice.
Write here which of the above six steps you will try to apply first. ․․․․․
You may not be able to change the situation at home, but you can change the way you’re affected by it. Rather than trying to control your parent, focus on the one person you can control—you. “Keep working out your own salvation,” wrote the apostle Paul. (Philippians 2:12) Doing so will help you maintain a positive outlook, and it might even prod your parent to seek help for his addiction.
What if your parents seem to argue all the time? How can you cope with the emotional turmoil?
If you’re being mistreated by an alcoholic parent, you would do well to seek help. Confide in an adult you trust. If you’re one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, you could approach a congregation elder or another mature Christian.
Although we refer to the alcoholic or addict as a male, the principles discussed also apply to females.
“The insight of a man certainly slows down his anger.”—Proverbs 19:11.
DID YOU KNOW . . . ?
In the Bible “honor” can simply mean recognizing legitimate authority. (Ephesians 6:1, 2) Hence, honoring a parent doesn’t require that you always approve of his course of behavior.
If my parent becomes verbally or physically abusive, I will ․․․․․
I can encourage my parent to get help by ․․․․․
What I would like to ask my parent(s) about this subject is ․․․․․
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
● What causes some people to become addicted to alcohol or drugs?
● Why are you not responsible for your parent’s addiction?
● What aspects of your situation can you control, and how can you do so?
[Blurb on page 192]
“I know that I may still have to face embarrassment from my parents in the future, but I also know that if I rely on Jehovah, he will give me strength to endure.”—Maxwell
[Box on page 198]
If a Parent Stops Serving Jehovah
If one of your parents stops living by Bible standards—perhaps even makes known that he no longer wants to be part of the Christian congregation—what can you do?
● Realize that Jehovah doesn’t hold you accountable for your parent’s conduct. The Bible states: “Each of us will render an account for himself to God.”—Romans 14:12.
● Avoid the tendency to compare yourself with other youths whose circumstances are better. (Galatians 5:26) One young man whose father abandoned his family says, “Rather than dwelling on such thoughts, it is more helpful to concentrate on ways of coping with the situation.”
● Continue to show respect for a wayward parent, and if his orders don’t conflict with God’s standards, obey them. Jehovah’s command that children honor their parents isn’t dependent on whether the parent is a believer. (Ephesians 6:1-3) When you honor and obey your parents despite their failings, you prove your love for Jehovah.—1 John 5:3.
● Associate closely with the Christian congregation. There you can find the comfort of a large spiritual family. (Mark 10:30) A young man named David feared that members of the congregation might avoid him and others in his family because his father had stopped serving Jehovah. But David found that his fears were unjustified. “We weren’t made to feel like outcasts,” he says. “This convinced me that the congregation really cared.”
[Picture on page 194]
Viewing your parent’s addiction as an incapacitating injury can help you to adjust your expectations