5 Tips for Parents of College Students with Addictions

There is nothing in this life like the love a parent has for their child.  From the moment a child is born, parents must carry the heavy burden of protecting them from harm and shaping them into kind, happy, successful human beings.  While most parents are happy to take on all that responsibility and more, no amount of love or discipline can guarantee that a child won’t eventually make some bad choices.  College students that abuse alcohol and drugs are at risk of developing addictions that can derail their lives and have devastating consequences for their entire family. While the parents of these students can often feel frustrated and hopeless, there are ways to cope with the stress and emotional pain while also offering love and support.

Don’t Fall into the Trap of Enablement

From the moment we first lay eyes on our children, we want to give them everything, from material luxuries to the best education and opportunities the world has to offer.  As they grow, we learn we must find balance so that we don’t spoil them or raise children incapable of doing anything for themselves. For many parents with adult children suffering from addiction, it can be difficult to remember to enforce this balance.  Seeing your child suffer from addiction is heartbreaking and feels much like seeing them suffer from any other illness. It is tempting to care for them in their time of struggle by giving them whatever they say they need, such as money or freedom from responsibilities.  However, funding their addiction or removing obstacles in their life that their addiction has created only exacerbates the situation and makes the likelihood of recovery very slim. It is important to support your adult child emotionally and mentally through addiction and recovery, but remember that boundaries are for their protection as well as your own. 

Keep Offering to Find Them Help

The best way to beat addiction is to seek help from addiction recovery professionals.  If you can see that your child is struggling, the sooner you are able to suggest they seek treatment, the better.  Don’t be surprised, however, if they react in anger or denial when you first approach them with this offer. It can be hard for anyone to come to terms with their substance abuse issues, and it can be even more difficult to discuss addiction with your parents.  While suggesting they enter a recovery program should never come off as an attack, it is important to be firm and clear about how their addiction is hurting themselves and the family. Even if they don’t take you up on your offer the first time, keep trying. You can’t force someone to seek help if they don’t want it, but when they have decided they are ready, they should know they can turn to you for support.

Educate Yourself

There are still many misconceptions about addiction being perpetuated in the media and pop culture.  Recent years have produced a plethora of studies explaining the science of addiction and dispelling many myths society has been clinging to for decades.  If you aren’t familiar with addiction and how it operates in the brain, it can be enormously helpful to do some independent research or speak with an expert.  While your adult child should be held accountable for their actions and tasked with the responsibility of turning their own life around, it is also true that addiction is an illness and not a problem easily solved by “just saying no”.  Understanding what is happening as your loved one experiences cravings and withdrawal in early recovery, as well as how addiction can continue to affect their lives for many years to come, can allow you to empower yourself and approach the situation with as much empathy as possible.   

Love Your Child

This may sound obvious, but showing your adult child you love them through the turmoil of addiction is easier said than done.  While the actions of your addicted adult child may become incredibly hurtful, it is important to remember that their addiction does not define who they are or who they will grow to be.  With the right help, they can experience true and lasting recovery and become your capable and loving child again. Even though it is crucial that you create boundaries and refrain from any form of codependent behavior, it is equally as important that you remain steadfast in your love and support for your child as they engage in their battle against addiction.

Don’t Blame Yourself

This is a hard one, but it is critically important.  Every loving parent will at some point blame themselves for the shortcomings of their children, and it is true that none of us are perfect parents.  We have all made mistakes, and in some cases those mistakes may have caused lasting trauma. But despite the less-than-perfect parenting of your past, you are not solely responsible for your child’s addiction.  They are an adult and their decisions are their own. Believing that you created the problem creates the false assumption that you can fix it. Only the person with the addiction can make the choice to pull themselves out of it, and no amount of self-blame on your part will help them to do that.   


If you believe your college-aged child is suffering from addiction, now is the time to ask for help.  At Burning Tree West, you will find a team of compassionate, knowledgeable professionals who specialize in helping young adults struggling with addiction, and their families.  Here, our clients tackle their addictions head-on and harness the power to restructure their lives in a way that fosters lasting sobriety. We believe that practicing recovery doesn’t have to mean an end to educational or career goals, but instead can become a fundamental part of a successful and fulfilling life.  For more information on how we can help, call us now at 972-962-7374.