Convincing a Parent that He Needs Help for Substance Abuse

Convincing a Parent that He Needs Help for Substance Abuse

Even in the most strained parental relationships, adult children still want the best for their parents. So when a parent is exhibiting signs of substance abuse, a number of emotions can surface. Worry, denial, anger, frustration, sadness are among just a few of the difficult emotions that arise when a parent needs help for substance abuse. Addiction, substance abuse and substance use disorders are problems that cannot be ignored. They will only become worse with more serious consequences over time. It is important to make a plan for a parent who is trapped in substance abuse before it is too late.

The United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) states:

  • Older adults most commonly report alcohol abuse as a primary concern. However, opioid and painkiller addiction is also becoming a serious issue.
  • The amount of adults over age 50 who seek treatment for alcohol or drug use disorders has nearly doubled in the last 20 years.
  • When it comes to illegal drug use, adults over age 45 struggle with marijuana use and non-medical prescription drug use, but heroin has more than doubled for older adults, mostly because it is a cheaper alternative to opioid painkillers.
  • Cocaine use in older adults has quadrupled in the last 20 years1.

Getting a Parent in Treatment

In some states, you can force a person to enter rehab with a judge’s order, although this can be a difficult process.2 Each state is different and each case is different, but you may need proof or end up paying legal fees in order to get this accomplished. But, interestingly enough, studies show that individuals who are court-ordered into treatment often still have as good of an outcome as those who were not forced into treatment.3

Forcing a parent into treatment through legal means is not always the best solution when you want to keep peace in your family. There are many methods you can try before it comes to legally forcing a parent into treatment. One option to consider is a family intervention.

Family interventions can be effective at getting a loved one into treatment in a more supportive manner. The key to planning a good intervention is to plan ahead. Most people take anywhere from several hours to a few days to plan an intervention. If your parent’s addiction is so severe that it is life-threatening, you may not have time to plan an elaborate intervention.

The first principle of an intervention for an addicted parent is to communicate effectively with all involved family members. In many cases, addiction is a disease of secrets, and leads families to hide the real problems from everyone around. Communicate with the family members who need to know what is going on. This will look different for every type of family. Consider which family members will be supportive and which family members might increase arguments or drama. This is an important time to take care of yourself, as well.

When family dynamics are complicated, it may be a good idea to call a professional drug and alcohol interventionist. Interventionists are experienced guides to the family intervention process and can offer a calm, third party to help you and your loved ones decide on the best options for wellness. An interventionist can help you find the best treatment, and determine the best ways to talk to your parent about the issue at hand. Interventionists are particularly helpful when families have complicated dynamics, a problem that addiction causes for many families.

Next, you will want to have a few treatment options handy before you talk to your parent. Many older adults do not want to feel like they have no choices. After all, we all want to have freewill over our own lives. When you offer a few treatment options, it can help make a parent feel more like the parent in the situation, even if addiction and substance use has made that person act anything but the way a parent should act. By empowering your mom or dad to make a choice among a few options, you open the door for the parent to feel less shame and powerlessness — and you increase your chances of having your parent enter treatment.

It’s important not to approach a parent in an accusatory or controlling way. This may take some effort if you are feeling a host of uncomfortable emotions. However, the calmer and more lovingly you can approach your parent, the more likely you are to be heard.

If your parent does choose treatment, or has entered treatment in the past, be aware that relapses do happen. This is all part of the process. Addiction treatment is much like treatment of diabetes. A person must learn to manage cravings and manage impulses to use a substance.4 This will be an ongoing process that must be worked on and maintained for life. You can be an important part of your parent’s wellness by participating in family counseling, learning more about treatment, and joining support groups designed for families impacted by addiction.

We can help. We offer a toll-free helpline that is staffed by experienced and caring addiction recovery specialists. Our helpline is completely confidential and available 24 hours a day. Call us now and, without any pressure or obligation, speak with someone who can help you learn more about your options.


  1. Reardon, C. (January/February 2012). The Changing Face of Older Adult Substance Abuse. Social Work Today, Vol. 12 No. 1 P. 8 Retrieved from http://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/012312p8.shtml on 1/28/2016.
  2. Questions About Civil Commitment. Health and Human Services. http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dph/programs/substance-abuse/addictions/drugs-and-alcohol/section-35-faq.html. Retrieved online 1/26/2016.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Court-Mandated Treatment Works as Well as Voluntary. http://archives.drugabuse.gov/NIDA_Notes/NNVol20N6/Court.html. Retrieved online 1/26/2016.
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. How Effective is Drug Addiction Treatment? (2012). Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-effective-drug-addiction-treatment on 1/26/2016.