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Rescuing Your Child Addict


A wise man once told me that if I spent my life making only new mistakes, my life was truly a life of learning.  I wasted a lot of time with my addict repeating mistakes that I had already made. Most of the time it was the result of being stuck in “rescue mode” – instead of finding alternative methods.  At the time, I didn’t recognize rescue mode as a method of parenting or a result of living with an addicted child.

Rescue mode is when you continuously work on things that will not accomplish anything. With most of us, this does not just apply to our addict; it applies to our own lives as well.

Operating in rescue mode means you will react to every emotion, crisis and incident of drama in both your life and your addict’s life. Rescue mode will consume you and every ounce of your energy. It’s also self-perpetuating. The more rescuing you do, the more you will find to rescue.

Think of all the people that make it their life’s mission and job to rescue: Firefighters, police officers, military specialists, lifeguards.  Not a single one of them attempts to rescue anyone without first understanding their boundaries.  Without clear boundaries, rescuers become those who need rescuing, too. This applies to parents of addicts as well.

It’s very complicated thing when you love your child with all your heart but you hate what they have become and what is happening to them right in front of your eyes. The first step to your survival and moving beyond rescue mode is to recognize that you are failing to detach with love. 

Detaching with love means understanding and buying into your own personal values and how they relate to the behavior you exhibit to your addict. This requires you to create the quiet time to really analyze what you believe about addiction and your child.  It may also require you to seek outside counsel from friends, counselors and other groups. However, even with all of the help, this is still a deeply personal task.

To detach with love requires a bit of selfish behavior. It also requires good boundaries. If you do not take the time to set good boundaries and understand exactly how your boundaries match your core values, you will never escape rescue mode.
Detaching with love doesn’t mean to stop loving or believing in your child. Nor does it mean walking away or washing your hands of the whole situation.

Detaching with love is difficult, but necessary if you wish to rescue your child. This is something  I struggle with daily, but it’s something that’s good for me and good for my son. If, as a parent, you want to do what’s best for your child — no matter how old he or she is and how much he or she may be struggling– you will work on this every day.

Wasted efforts and wasted time is the effort and time in which you learn nothing and in which you do not change yourself. It is a simple answer that becomes more complex with application. As with most things, the role these tips will play in the rescuing of your child will vary based on the family, the addict and the circumstances.

17 Responses to this article

  1. Avatar of Ted
    Ted / April 27, 2013 at 8:35 am

    My wife and i have tried to rescue our to addict sons for 25 years. The result was our marriage broke apart as well. In trying to save my children, it seem like I lost everything I valued. I feel like a falure as a Father and husband. I have lost my zeal for life. I have moved away from the pain and anguish. I’m trying to learn to take care of myself. We are trying to heal the marriage. I have a fear that I could go back and try to save them again. I admit I am addicted to my children and as a result my life was out of control. Just for today I am not going to rescue.

  2. Avatar of connie
    connie / December 15, 2012 at 5:45 am

    My son is 24 years old, we have been dealing with his drug addiction for 5 years now and I say we because it has affected the whole family except now I’m the only one left that will deal with him. He has been to 4 rehaps, a halfway house , addiction therapist , out treatment therapy, suboxone program. You name it he has tried it. Nothing has worked, so today I told my son that I am done and for him to never call me again. So tonight I sit here worrying if I have done the right thing. Please god someone one help me stop his addiction!!!

  3. Avatar of Lisa
    Lisa / May 19, 2011 at 5:39 am

    I have a son turning 30 tomorrow. We have been dealing with his drug addiction for almost 15 yrs. He has been incarcerated several times. Sadly, when he is locked up I am much more at ease. He was released 2 months ago. His girlfriend one week after that. So far they seem to be staying away from drugs, but my son hasn’t found work. Now they are arguing and he is hanging on by his fingernails. I think it’s minute by minute whether he chooses what he will do. This is what always happens. He gets stressed and he CHOOSES them (the drugs and bad influences). The day after he got out this time he left the house and we didn’t hear from him till his girlfriend was released. I was so angry at him. I was ready to cut the ties forever. My only other child was murdered 3 yrs. ago. I am raising my daughters daughter and I don’t want that lifestyle around her. I so wish things were different. I am at the point where if this time he chooses the wrong path, he will leave me no choice but to cut him off completely. After what I have been through with my daughter I hope I have the strength to do it. I’ve never heard of the group Nar-anon, but maybe I will check it out. I don’t want to loose my son but I am tired and at my wits end. I don’t know what to do anymore and I want him to want to help himself. If anyone has any advice please share. I could use all the help I can get.

  4. Ron Grover / April 19, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    Dear Marcie,

    You have raised so many issues that my wife and I sat and discussed while our son was actively using. They are heart wrenching because there are no solid answers that you can have confidence in reaching and doing.

    Based on your comment I want to make sure and mention a couple things for you and your husband. Your marriage and disagreement is not worth your son’s addiction. Go to an Nar-Anon meeting, seek out a counselor specializing in addiction and the families of addicts, speak to a pastor that understand the dynamics of a family in addiction crisis or simply read blogs of other parents of addicts because we all suffer the same issues. The only thing different is the view out of our kitchen window.

    Your son’s addiction is not an issue you can solve and he will not work on it until he has a profound experience that allows him to grasp that life not addicted is more rewarding that addiction.

    I am going to send you a link to my personal blog. Right now my son is clean and has been since last summer. Last summer he had gotten to the point of speedballing, mixing cocaine and heroin in the same needle. Today he is clean and working a full time job. Go back in my blog a year or two. He was an active heroin addict and we were struggling terribly with the wrath of having an addict in our home. Be sure to click on some of the other parent links to other blogs. There are some other very wonderful parents out the are struggling with the issues as you face.

    In addition I have written other essays for The Partnership concerning boundaries. I would advise you and your husband to read them plus there are several entries in my blog about boundaries and “detaching with love.”

    I wish you luck in taking care of yourself.

    Feel free to write any time.

    Ron Grover

  5. Avatar of Marcie
    Marcie / April 19, 2011 at 3:33 am

    My son is 22 years old and I dont know who he is anymore. I love him very much but I dont like him at all. He is a heroin addict. He started smoking pot when he was 12 and has gotten into harder and harder drugs as time goes on. I am totally at a loss for what to do to help him. He doesnt want to stop, he says he is doing fine and not really doing many drugs or “running around and being too crazy”. Does he really think that I believe the lies that he tells me? I am not blind, I know better. Just recently he signed himself up for a methadone program but now he is also using some other kind of drugs along with it. I had a hard time waking him up the other day. I almost called 911 but then finely he responded to me.
    He lives at home with his dad and I. Watching him slowly kill himself with his drug use is tearing me apart. It would be easier for me (I think) if he wasnt living at our house so that I wouldnt have to watch. His dad and I cannot agree on this. He thinks that he will die soon and that we should have him at home so we can spend as much time with him as possible. I think that he wont reach his bottom and MAYBE make it if we continue to supply him with a home, clothes, and food. Why would he stop when we are making it so easy? My husband keeps saying to me “so you want to kick him out?” If we cant agree to do it then I feel that if I say yes and he dies it will be considered my fault by my husband. I dont want to destroy my marriage. Am I making sense?
    What a wonderful, smart and loving child he was. I sure wish that I could have him back!!! I cant even discuss anything with my son without him getting very defensive. I dont know this person he has become.
    His brother is also living at home and attending college. I know that the tension at the house has to be hard on him. He doesnt say too much.
    Thanks for your time. I feel for you all. I know what hell you are going through. When the phone rings at night I expect it to be a call telling me that he has died. Would he then be in peace? I dont know.

  6. Avatar of Diane
    Diane / April 9, 2011 at 3:25 am

    Colleen…I’m crying with you. My son has been stealing for a while now. He recently got himself a job, but part time. My sister just suggested he may be using heroin. It was like she opened my eyes. My husband & I have been trying to figure out what he did with all the money…just pot didn’t seem possible. He’s 21…his father is very difficult and I am an enabler. Is heroin expensive ? Sorry it’s just a new revelation. I have to figure out how to confront him, and have some sort of plan for whatever answer he gives. He’s been very good at denial.
    This is awful….so sorry Colleen.

  7. colleen / March 18, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    It’s beeen a few weeks since my last post, and now my son is in jail. He was on a very dangerous cycle of ups and downs. He no-showed for all probation requirements (previous arrests for possession) and took our only vehicle (he totaled my other car before Christmas) for 5 days, despite the fact that my husband uses it for work. He was living in it with his girlfriend, also an addict. He took my debit card (can’t believe I left it in my coat) and stole all our money for the mortgage. He would call me and say he was ready to end all the suffering he was causing us and practically said godbye to me. He told me overdosing wasn’t scary – what scared him was how okay with the possibilty he was.
    So, I called the courts, and rescinded my testimony at his pre-trial release hearing, that he was living at home, following rules, and staying clean. I told them he was using and stealing and he could no longer use this as his home address, making him homeless and no longer able to be out on bail. The police came and picked him up one night when he snuck in the house. Now he calls daily with reports that he cannot eat, drink or sleep he is so “dope sicK” as he calls it. Says he wants to die. I have tried everything in my power to get him help, and be supportive. I love this child with all my heart and if I could switch places with him, (not just physically) I would in a heartbeat. He is kind, smart and funny when he is clean. I am struggling with what I did, but he would have had a warrant out eventually, and I was afraid if I didn’t act, he would die. I am reading everything I can get my hands on about addiction, and still don’t know how to help him. He is only 19 and has his whole life ahead of him – only he doesn’t see it. I sent him a book (they can receive if sent from publisher) about healing the addicted brain. Maybe he will read it. I don’t know how long he will be in jail, or when he will have an epiphany that he doesn’t have to live this way. If anyone has any idea of how to give my child some hope, I would welcome it. Even after all that he is going through, if he got out today, I know exactly what he would do. And that’s not me being negative – that’s him telling me so. I appreciate and soak in the advice and realizations of Ron Grover, and have taken it to heart. I also love the wisdom of Patti Herndon, but am at a loss as to how to promote self healing in such a troubled brain. I would do anything but literally don’t know where to start. I don’t even know what to say when he calls, except I love you and you can get better. It’s horrific.

  8. Patti Herndon / March 3, 2011 at 5:48 am

    Positive stuff!

    It’s a hope-inspiring, empowering thing when we come to the realization that we can, absolutely, influence increasing health, self-efficacy and better-balanced emotional coping in our children who are challenged by addiction, or other mental health issue.

    It’s a hard road, no doubt…But, when we consistently engage via hope in recovery purposed, positive communications and healthy boundaries/expectations, the ability of our son/daughter to make healthy change increases. We impact their belief in their own ability to discover and increasingly apply those strategies that will deliver them to desired improvements in decision making and health.

    “The myth of powerlessness is the most dangerous form of parental denial.” Hear Hear, Tom! :0)

    Borrowing from Libby Cataldi’s wisdom on “Staying Close” to our addicted child: What that means to me is that we have the ability and responsibility to facilitate healthy change by remaining committed to and engaged in those supports and interactions that promote our addicted childs’/loved ones’ capacity to self-heal. It helps the process along when we truly believe we are empowered in that goal despite the challenges and hardships that come in the journey and when we increasingly refuse to see our efforts in parenting an addicted child as failures rather than as an opportunity to try a different approach toward healthy change -Changes that have the power to enhance their well being and our own, too.

    The more we learn about addiction and other mental health issues the better we learn what it is we CAN DO, and can share that will support those we love into and through recovery = More peace gained for ourselves/our families.

    Addiction is the journey. Recovery is the destination.

  9. Ron Grover / February 28, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    Dear Colleen,

    I understand your dilemma, we once found out that our son was living in our garden shed in the backyard when we kicked him for using and stealing from us. I makes for a difficult situation all around.

    My suggestion is that you and your husband make sure you are on the same page about your son. As you know, you cannot fix your son. You can only take care of yourself. If you need someone to help go to a Nar-Anon meeting, seek out a counselor or pastor VERY familiar with parents dealing with an addicted child, educate yourselves any way you can.

    What worked for me and my wife was I began writing a blog and I got so many wonderful comments from people that had been down the path it made sense to us then. If you want feel free to visit our personal blog. It is more of a day to day week to week about parenting a son addicted to opiates including black tar heroin.

    Today our son is clean; truth is we felt like you. We wondered if he had enough will inside of himself to live at times. In fact last summer my wife and I were actually discussing the “what if’s” around his funeral if he died.

    Our blog address:

    In addition I have written other essays for The Partnership: In your situation I would recommend you read the 7 Truths essay.


  10. Avatar of colleen
    colleen / February 25, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    I am currently dealing with my 19 year old son’t drug addiction. I found him this morning sleeping in a car in our driveway (his car which needs work to run) because he was avoiding my husband’s anger at him for again stealing our car and causing us another sleepless night. He is breaking my heart and although everyone seems to think letting him live here is enabling him, and I do agree with the logic, he has NOWHERE to go. No friends, no options. Hence the car as last night’s choice. He agrees he needs help but won’t wake up to make the necessary calls. He is facing serious drug related charges including a theft charge and we cannot afford a private lawyer which has him convinced he’ll go to jail and therefore he “no longer cares” (his words) about anything. If it was just manipulation, I wouldn’t be so scared but he really doesn’t seem to care about his life or anything else right now. I am beyond heartbroken, but terrified as well. And this is causing huge problems in my marriage and immediate family. I don’t know what to do.

  11. Tom at Recovery Helpdesk / February 16, 2011 at 1:37 am

    Ron makes a great point about not taking a reactive approach to supporting an addicted son or daughter.

    Reacting to each crisis as it arises without any kind of a recovery plan is a recipe for exhaustion and spinning your wheels.

    And, as Ron says, setting appropriate boundaries is essential to establishing a healthy helping relationship.

    I’m so glad that Ron is clear that you don’t have to stop loving or believing in your child, walk away, or wash your hands of the whole situation in order to have healthy boundaries.

    It’s vital that parents learn that they must BOTH establish healthy boundaries AND actively engage in supporting their son or daughter in establishing the conditions of safety, stability and opportunity necessary to build a lasting recovery.

    Parents are not powerless. Parents do have opportunities to influence the course of their child’s addiction and recovery. The myth of powerlessness is the most dangerous form of parental denial.

  12. Cathy | Treatment Talk / February 14, 2011 at 5:04 am

    Good article. I think for parents, this is especially difficult. We are used to helping our kids solve their problems. It’s very hard to sit back and watch while our children live through the consequences of their addiction.

  13. Susan Lea / February 10, 2011 at 1:30 am

    Thank you Ron. You started with the line, “a wise man once told me…” And then you continued with beautiful words from a very wise man; yourself.

    Every so often, my daughter will try to pass off to me a chore that she doesn’t want to do herself. I give myself a pat on the back each time I pass the job back to her with words of encouragement. I tell her I have faith in her to do these things herself.

    She recently wanted me to make phone calls to her attorney and social worker because she was too upset to talk to them. But I think she grew in strength and confidence when she had no choice but to make the calls herself.

    I’m terribly guilty of working on things that will accomplish nothing. I need to focus my energy towards improving this flaw in my character. Watching my daughter grow and learn helps me to see we can all get better.

  14. Barbara / February 9, 2011 at 1:30 am

    Another very helpful article, thanks for sharing your experiences with us, Mr. Grover :)

  15. Avatar of Sheila
    Sheila / February 8, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    So very true and necessary…Thank you for sharing this. Boundaries are important, and with active addicts those boundaries may need to be realized frequently. You can love them, but you cannot change them by jumping into their problems head first. You can’t make them do the work to get well, but you can support them through recovery, with boundaries. Rescuing only prolongs the illness. I am a Mom of two addicts. (This is the first time I have written about them) One in early recovery and one in treatment for the first time. I have recently had to remind my daughter in treatment that her problems are hers and she brought them on herself. Only SHE can do the work it takes to solve her problems. Loving without rescuing is necessary for you, the addict and for the rest of your family. God bless! A great quote from my son’s addiction counselor sticks with me…”When the student is ready, God will send a teacher…”

  16. Avatar of Brad
    Brad / February 8, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    Great words of wisdom. In the eye of the hurricane, you do all you can do. But for us, our son’s recovery only began to emerge we we started to move out if the eye if the storm and let him take ownership of his addiction.

  17. Annette / February 8, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    This article is so full of wisdom Ron Thanks for sharing. I love the analogy of firefighters, etc…..I had never thought of it like that before. Glad you are sharing your experience, strength, and hope with all of us.

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