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Acceptance Doesn’t Mean Condoning a Loved One’s Addiction


It is difficult to recognize what acceptance is in this context. I went through this with my family for the past two decades – going back and forth about what it mean to accept that my child has a problem with drugs.

The initial reaction to drug abuse is often resistance and disgust. Parents and teens can dance a pattern of cause, effect and reaction; again and again, not realizing what they are dealing with until it is too late. In doing this, we lose opportunities for early intervention. We are too eager to believe our kid’s half-hearted contrition’s and resume the illusion of “normalcy.”

That’s the trap.  It is important to notice behavior in a teen and consider drug tests(Note: While home drug tests can be unreliable, having a doctor perform a drug test can be a helpful tool; Although be aware that teens find all sorts of ways to beat these tests and even professional tests can be inaccurate) to determine if a positive result should lead to intervention. If the result is oxy’s, heroin, meth, or anything like that, then, YES!  Accept it and map out some solutions. And in the process, don’t forget to take care of yourself.

Unfortunately, our communities offer too little assistance and are quick to toss young addicts in jail for their petty drug-related crimes. Drug addiction in anyone’s family is a big cross to bear and helping an addict is not an easy path. Acceptance helps.

Acceptance and courage are old attributes. In life, we all get a chance to test these qualities; like the farmer watching his crops flood alongside an overflowing river.  His first reaction is denial! After accepting the urgency of the condition, the farmer would build sandbag levees. That is acceptance and transformation of agony into  courage and action. A parent building the levees of preparation for intervention or treatment for a teen bitten by addiction is like stepping into a vision that recovery and redemption are entirely possible. Acceptance in that context does not mean condoning drug addiction.

A parent can be tempted to believe that their child has ruined his life, but that person still needs to be accepted and feel hope. Addiction has a path of its own, and can trump what you do, so be prepared.

Have a plan without feeling a need to force it. Look hard into the condition you are faced with. Be intentional, but don’t try and be God. When an opportunity arises, you will be ready to take action.

Even with all the money or support in the world, it simply is not a parent’s sole responsibility to solve this problem for their child; your loved one has to choose recovery and believe they can succeed.  At the end of the day, we are often left feeling powerless, but that doesn’t equal “giving up” or “rejecting an ugly condition”; it is a stark recognition of what one does not control. That is what acceptance feels like.

16 Responses to this article

  1. Bill Ford / March 30, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    You are right. I meant to say Nar-Anon ( Narcotics Anonymous ) Narconon is a rehab program administered by the Church of Scientology and when I last priced it out was about $25K for one month, basically out of reach for 90% of addicts. In fact, all private rehab is out of reach for 90% of addicts. Heroin and meth addicts, as well as addicts of other hard drugs and narcotics actually, need to be sequestered for a long period of time if they can not do it themselves. A private setting with staff and counselors is far too expensive for most. That’s why in desperation, some say jail is all that is available for the worst cases. State funding is steading diminishing. The cheapest way to accomplish this is with AA and NA. It is free and fills the need to form new associations. Having said that, it requires self discipline to walk away from an addiction, which many addicts do not have, not the least the ability to live with chronic anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, and so on that hard core addicts endure for sometimes a year or more. No small wonder failure is the norm. So, if you are not rich, your chances are unfortunately, small. Kicking without financial backing takes guts.

    Now, having heard good things about Narconon, it may be worth 25K to try it out for those fortunate enough to afford it, at your own risk of course. See this link for information about Narconon –

  2. Avatar of brian
    brian / March 29, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    Hi Bill Ford. I would like to clear something up on one of your posts. You lumped Narconon along with Alanon. I think you should research a little further. I think what you mean is Narcotics Anonymous. Narcon is not an abbreviation for that. Narconon is THE most effective drug rehab program on planet earth and it is definitely not a 12 step program. I think you would be impressed by the actual Narconon program. No I have not done it but I did a shorter version of it that is simply the body detox program to get rid of old toxic residues and stuff.

  3. Avatar of Rose Y
    Rose Y / March 8, 2011 at 5:18 am

    I know just how Pam feels. If I even think my 22 yr. old Son is coming over my whole insides start shaking, and I just can’t even function. We suspected he was using drugs, and tried to talk to him about it, and he went so crazy that his Father called the Police. This had happened a few times, so we put a order against him, so he can’t come around for awhile. We have a very young teen age Daughter that tried to run away because of all the stress he caused, so that’s why I was willing to sign the order. Right now, I’ve been told that he’s hold up in some crummy hotel that’s a known druggie place. After reading the drug intervention info. on this site, I know I need to do something. I want all members of my Family to be healthy physically and mentally. I know he’s suffering greatly since the loss of his Brother just a little over a year ago. He died so unexpectedly. We are all having our ups and downs dealing with this. I told him about counseling, but he said that’s just stupid, and so are they. How do I deal with that? My Daughter has talked with the counselors at school whenever she needed to, and that has helped her a lot. I know I need to do something to help my Son, because drugs are like a disease, they control you. I see past all his threats and insults, and love him no matter what, because I know that’s not him talking, it’s the drugs. I have found a lot of strength in reading all your blogs. I just wish I could open my Husband’s eyes, and make him see that there is hope. He’s consumed with his anger about getting his stuff stolen by our Son. I’m so tired of feeling like I’m all alone in this. My heart is in pieces.

  4. Avatar of Pam R.
    Pam R. / March 6, 2011 at 9:17 am

    I have been allowing my 23yr.old son to live with me for 11 months,after he lost his apt. due to drug use and all his money that he spent useing instead of paying his bills.I had to come to terms with his future and his refusal to go to treatment,that he could do it on his own.[which for any addict is inpossible].that my future was over,the everyday battle and mindgames are exhausting,and the constant chaous.The merry-go-round that never stops.I’ve been in this battle by myself,his dad only gets concerned whrn it effects his lifestyle.The suffering and heartache my son has put me thru,has taken its toll. I had to put him out,because I am headed for a Mental Breakdown {my3rd one}. Ihave to survive I have to live,I want my life back,that was taken by my sons addiction.He said he would never give up drugs totally, that will live with me forever.

  5. Avatar of Lou
    Lou / December 8, 2010 at 12:41 am

    Patti H’s comment is the most helpful, knowledgeable, and useful advice I have ever read on any of the addiction sites or blogs.

    It took many years of painful denial and maintaining “homeostasis” in our family to get to the point of either change or disintegrate as a family. I know exactly what she is talking about.

    Even though I had read what Patti says early in our own family’s addiction battle, I didn’t listen until we were backed to the wall with exhaustion.

    Keep banging your drum, Patti H. It’s the only path to recovery for everyone involved.

  6. Avatar of sue
    sue / December 2, 2010 at 4:29 am

    This is a wonderful site. I have been involved in a recovery group and now alanon for almost 4 years. It has changed my life. I’m so grateful for the 12 steps. I work them to keep me from enabling. My qualifier was 17 when we started. Still sober thank God. I about, and been surrounded, by addiction. I will stick with working a program the remainder of my life. I hope my qualifier does too. I’ve learned I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it. I can however change my actions. Thanks for the site!

  7. Bill Ford / November 30, 2010 at 7:47 am

    Dear Mo – I would keep reading the Intervene site and others like it. Your issues are very common to many of us. The answers are not easily stated for any one situation, as each one has a unique condition too varied for a simple solution to be stated. It is important to stayed tuned in with some kind of a 12 step program like Alanon or Narconon or something similar to construct appropriate boundaries. Many of our hearts have been broken by our addicted child. You never have to give up your ability to support that person when the time is best, but guidance is critical to not channel your precious life energy ineffectively and inadvertently enable your loved one to continue with self destructive behavior. We all have developed our own means and methods through painful trial and error. The point of the Intervene site is to share, keep thinking and moving in a positive direction where our efforts mean something to ourselves and to our loved one. God bless. Stay positive.

  8. mo / November 28, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    I am stuck and confused as to what to do or how to even talk to my son who is an addict. He no longer lives in the same state so I don’t physically see him. I read and hear conflicting things about how to approach it or let it go. I have been trying very hard to take care of myself and when I talk to him, which has tapered off, I am upbeat and positive so as to model that I am moving on with my life. He doesn’t seem to care. Its there a point when you say they have to choose, the drug or family? Dealing with this for the the past 7 years, all of my enabling, has left me exhausted. Now i just don’t know what to do. I don’t want him to think i don’t care, but it doesn’t do any good to bring up what hes doing with his life. My heart is broken and addiction has changed my whole outlook on life.

  9. Patti Herndon / November 17, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    Links didnt show up on posted comment. So, to access information on family systems’ dynamics and how it works to support addiction, google “the facts about addiction and the family” and click the fourth header.

    To learn how to map your own family genogram and increase recovery in your family system, google “what is a genogram” and choose the fifth header. Search and discover…

    Addiction is the journey. Recovery is the destination.

    Travel well…Be well

  10. Patti Herndon / November 17, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    All family members are victims in the addictive family system -The substance-dependent family member(s), the parent of the addiction-challenged member, the sibling(s), the grandchildren born into the system where addictions live. Every family member is stalled and, as a result, suffers, in his or her own way to varying degrees in their role within the addicted family system.

    The addiction-challenged member is often the symptomatic individual, the more visible, identifiable marker of an ailing collective -often the one who carries the bulk of emotional weight of a system that is functioning to maintain status quo despite its woeful impact on the individual members. Interestingly, the “addict” in the family is often times the most “emotionally” honest individual in the ailing system. Their acting out behaviorally in choosing to cope via substances is essentially a cry out for a family systems’ overhaul -Not exactly the preferred method to illicit change, but probably the only way they know to disrupt the system and force some kind of change. When we are consistently supported to interact, communicate and respond in healthy ways…we do.

    It’s complex but not hard to understand when you begin to learn about “why” addiction and addictive behaviors tend to perpetuate in families. Genetic/biological/biochemical patterns emerge. Addiction: “Chicken or the egg” stuff…”Nature/Nurture” stuff -”all” valid, very studied theory concerning: “Why” does this happen”?

    One of the things that all family members have in common in our family systems is that we are all innocent and unaware of the role the system ushers us into, initially.

    “You can’t know what you never knew until you know it”.

    There is suffering in addicted family systems because the system has rooted itself over generations to function with the goal of maintaining status quo. It’s important to make it crystal clear that recognizing the patterns in an addicted family system is not to say that any one of us in the system CONSCIOUSLY wills/allows/chooses/causes for self, or other loved ones in the family, an existence in a state of unhappiness, anxiety, lack of sense of well being, diminished coping capacity, or stalled individual growth/self-differentiation. But, this “status quo”, this system, be it healthy or unhealthy will work very hard to maintain – “be” just as it is. It functions via its established momentum- Momentum gained through repetition… The power of the pattern.

    Ever been on one of those rides at a carnival designed to support, yet, also “lock” the weight of your body against its circular wall? You’re literally held in place by a system of centrifugal force. We can initiate “some” movement as the system spins. However, our movement is restricted to the boundaries the centrifugal force allows and maintains. It’s quite literally “the power of the pattern”…(Thank you, Debby, for that terminology).

    Lots of power in the pattern. We tend to stay put where the system placed us. Not much choice. However, when the force/pattern is recognized and disrupted, we figure out that we can move ourselves, separate ourselves, from the system. It is then that we have a chance to “choose” change. It’s only when we recognize the pattern we are sucked into that we can begin to strategize for ways to disrupt it. The system doesn’t want to be disrupted and will work very hard to keep it’s “cogs” in place. Power of the Pattern.

    That pattern is what makes the addicted family system so challenging to deconstruct and rebuild, then get growing and moving in a healthier way. Development of a new pattern that fosters each members’ “individual” growth within the collective -This takes the effort of all individuals in the system because “all” the members have been stuck, or, are being groomed to be stuck in a role that will serve to “maintainence”.

    When we recognize the pattern, we can change it…gaining ground and momentum, step by step, little by little. The old pattern has existed for a good, long while. It won’t change willingly overnight.

    It’s difficult to get every family member to participate in change. We don’t like change. It’s uncomfortable. It’s not status quo. It’s not our comfort zone -a zone, a boundary relegated by the system. What we need are new zones and boundaries…better ones. But, it’s our nature to tend toward coming up with reasons why it’s not “our” place to change. That’s the responsibility of the one in the family that is “causing all the problems”, right? No. Participation by all should be the focus, and is necessary to the goal of a collective systems change. Can’t accomplish that without all the parts working toward that goal… Gotta’ shake up and disrupt the old systems fuel source…
    Deconstruct and rebuild the system to run healthy and to maintain the new, healthier status quo. And, do it all the while disallowing our anger and blame and guilt (oh my) to sabotage the change process. Yikes…That’s a tough order! But, this will be the kind of maintaining/status quo that strengthens guides and nurtures the growth and well being of the individuals within the system…thus, a stronger, happier collective develops.

    Self-sufficient + satisfied, regarded, respected individuals = Better running collective/system…for generations to come -Addiction cycle broken. Peace and confidence in our days is entirely probable with learning and support, the right spirit of acceptance and expectation -one that denies blame and shame and anger to continue to fuel the old pattern keeping it alive and unwell.

    We all deserve to exist in a state of peace, well being and growth. The family systems’ best exemplification of this state will come as we learn how to best support ourselves in tandem with supporting those in our family system in discovery and utilization of the innate strengths and potential we possess.

    The new, improved system will not tolerate its individual members being slated to roles that fuel and maintain an ailing status quo. It builds its individuals to define their own purpose and give back to the collective.

    It takes time and good support for each individual family member to recognize, acknowledge, understand, and then change the nature of the role they have been assigned by the system. Emotional honesty – a willingness to allow ourselves to be emotionally vulnerable as it serves to remove barriers to change…this kind of emotional vulnerability is utilized to strengthen what has, in generations past, served to maintain systems’ weakness.

    It’s hard work. It can be done. The system shifts for the better and maintains when all the family members collectively agree and then implement change. The increasing result: Status quo never felt so good and so much like “home”.

    “Homeostasis”. Learn about its “personality” in the family system and how it can foster and perpetuate addictions of all kinds. It’s no cost, life-changing help and support to learn about how family systems work. You will be digging toward the root of the problem with this kind of approach, this kind of learning. Google it, click it, read, absorb and begin to courageously apply what you learn to your own family system. You will learn what to do next the more you invest in learning ;0).

    Recovery Discovery: As a result of what you learn, if there is something you begin to recognize as a “systems failure” issue that serves to maintain “individual” stall within your system; keep learning and then seek more and more learning resources. Don’t stop disrupting the system until the system is functioning to serve “all” its members individual health. Disrupt the hell out of the system…in a purposeful, loving way. Some resources will be a good fit, some won’t. One size will not ever fit all. The more you understand about family systems and then apply what you learn to “your” system the more you will begin to increasingly recognize those strategies that complement the natural strengths and abilities of your family. There is help and support. There are resources.

    You have a wonderful family system waiting to more fully emerge, because its components are individually worthy and full of promise and potential. We are designed to work that way as individuals. Those attributes are there in abundance…just, maybe, under-utilized/ under-developed…but still, very much there. Know it. Have faith in it.

    Here are a couple of links to get you started on learning about your family’s system, its mapping, its “genogram”.

    Addiction is the journey. Recovery is the destination.

  11. Bill Ford / November 15, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    Kris – Many of us have this legacy and it doesn’t help that co-dependency is also part of it. Your grandkids deserve more than they are probably getting in the situation you describe, but there is not much you can do except love them. Definitely protect the innocent ones if you feel a compelling reason to intervene. Hopefully, it won’t come to calling child protection and taking responsibility for the kids yourself. I don’t know what your dealing with or how bad it is, but unfortunately, your options are limited to the CPS since, you son is maybe over 18 and legally accountable for his own mistakes including the possibility of hurting his own children by raising them around his addictive behavior. An immediate option could be to request that your son gave you temporary custody of the children. Probably not what your want? That would be some tough love for him that he could agree to. Another would be an intervention on your son first, with change of custody as a possibility. I think I would try intervention first. Have you thought about working with a interventionist or drug counselor in your area on this one and with someone who knows child protection issues. “Rescuing” can be both a good thing if it actually protects someone from further harm, but is is very much also part of a destructive pattern that yields nothing tangible but heartache for yourself when part of un-yielding actions driven by emotion. I would also recommend getting involved with a local alanon group for immediate “free” help and guidance. That’s the easiest thing to do first. They might tell you to take care of your self first and seek outside advice for the other issues, but it doesn’t hurt to check. You never know. Good luck with this.

  12. Avatar of Kris Self
    Kris Self / November 15, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    I come from a family of addiction. My dad was an alcoholic, my brother a heroine addict, our oldest son in adulthood, married with 3 kids chose to use meth, (now recovered) and now our youngest son is acting very much like he’s under the influence of something,he too is married with 2 kids, his behavior has become very alarming, very unlike his normal self. I am tired of being the rescuer of addictive behavior am tired of feeling sad and am constantly worried about our grand kids who are the real victims here. What can I do to protect the innocent ones in this new mess.I have seen first hand the destruction that comes from living and loving someone with addiction. We’ve not confronted our son, not sure how to proceed.

  13. Avatar of Wade
    Wade / October 29, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    It is always difficult for the families of young people. I have to speak with the parents of teens on a daily basis struggling with their child using drugs or alcohol. Of all the people I talk to in a day it is the mothers and fathers of teens with drug or alcohol addictions that bothers me the most.


  14. Avatar of Jewels
    Jewels / October 26, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    We have a drug prevention program called “Its Party Time and its no game” which was orginally created by a School Resource Officer from Georgia. In the pre-tests that we give to kids all over the country before playing the game, some 80% believe that addiction is CURED by “Just going to rehab.” 80% think that if I use and become addicted, it is no big deal cause I will Just GO TO rehab!! That is what the media tells them and the parents dont tell them otherwise….this is 7th and 8th graders…..After playing the “game” these SAME students answer a post-test….In the last post test, 95% said that NO! addcition is NOT curable….They learn by playing a game cause that is the way this generation learns…games….that Meth, Tobacco, Pot, Pills and Non-Users live a pretty different life….and while Party TIme sounds fun and all, it can lead to disaster…

    Prevention is what we are missing……Intervention can be too late!!! We are a nation of “Lets keep going and we will fix it later” well, these are our children we are talking about, our babies!!! I have lived it, seen it with my own sister….No thank YOU!!! Not going there with mine.

  15. Bill Ford / October 26, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    That’s why we keep talking. Hopes are that some will listen. Its tough for parents new to this. Why would anyone not go kicking and screaming down the path of early intervention, knowing that they might have to cancel that vacation, put the new car or furniture purchase aside, pay more attention to their kids, not take that demanding new job, spend their hard earned cash on experts and all in context to a very confusing arena of experts all claiming to have an answer. Easier for the moment to just believe your kids half hearted contritions and go on with life until it explodes. Tough choices.

  16. Dad 4 Truth / October 25, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    I think the best idea for parents to consider, who have just learned their child is using alcohol or other drugs, is this, they will not change until the pain their child is causing them becomes greater than the pain of change.

    Parents do not feel the truth they are being told by experienced parents like yourself is true for them. Yes, true perhaps for “other” parents but not for them. Denial is the great destroyer of our families and their children.

    Thanks for your post and giving some great tools for change.

    If only parents would believe.

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