At Saint Jude Retreats, we realize that substance use often affects family members in long-lasting and difficult ways, but not all of them are inevitable. Just as your son can choose to cope with setbacks without using substances, you can choose to deal with his substance use in ways that are more productive for him and for you. When you find yourself saying “My son is a drug addict,” remember the following three facts:

His Drug “Addiction” Isn’t Your Fault

If your son is using excessive amounts of drugs, alcohol or both, you probably feel a range of conflicting and overwhelming emotions. This remains true if your son is a teenager or an adult. Parents often feel responsible when their children experiment with drugs and alcohol. It’s hard not to take it personally when you feel you raised him to make better choices, so this feeling of responsibility is understandable, but it’s not productive.

Instead of blaming yourself for failing to prevent this, try to understand your own reactions. For example, if your son manipulated you in order to conceal or continue his drug use, then you might believe he chose substances over you. Sometimes it’s easier to turn that betrayal and rejection inward than it is to recognize that your son is — and always has been — responsible for his own choices.

Don’t look for signs that you caused or deserved this behavior. Nothing and no one causes drug use. Some people may feel they have reasons to use but that is what they are — reasons to justify the decision to use drugs. The choice to use drugs, rather than making any number of other choices as a response, is just that– a choice. Your son is solely responsible. You can’t convince him to stop using. You can instead focus on what you can control — your own choices and actions.

His Sobriety Isn’t Your Responsibility 

Whether your son is a minor or moved out decades ago, he’ll always be the boy you protected and nurtured. It’s natural to want to protect him from his own choices too, especially if you’re afraid he’ll end up in a jail cell, hospital bed, or worse. Rather than feeling powerless, choose to embrace the fact that he has all the power to change and change permanently. Remember too that nothing you could have done or do now can cause his substance use. Nothing causes substance use, and knowing the difference between a reason and a cause of substance use will help better inform your future conversations.

You can certainly express your love and support as your son explores program options or considers changing his substance use habits. However, you can’t change your son’s behaviors for him. He’s responsible for deciding what changes he wants to make, and after he sets these goals, he’s the only one capable of meeting them.

In fact, if you make his sobriety your personal mission, you’ll actually do him a disservice. For the best long term outcome, he should be motivated by a determination to improve his life, not a desire to please you, and his progress will be proof of to himself of his own power, not yours. His successful change must come from his work so he learns how to maintain his sobriety despite life’s inevitable stressors and challenges and so he can transfer his self-empowerment and life skills to future life challenges. Your son can only be the independent, mature, and productive man you envisioned him being if he grows up himself.

Drug Use Doesn’t Define Him 

Saint Jude doesn’t use the terms “drug addiction” or “drug addict“, because they limit our perceptions of individuals and imply that people are powerless over substances. Parents who lament the loss of their children’s “normal” personalities are usually thinking in these same black-and-white terms. You might even mentally separate your son’s life into two categories: before and after substances.

Your son is alive and therefore always capable of making a commitment to change. No matter how drastically his appearance and behaviors have changed, no habit or attitude is permanent. Neither you nor substances can make his choices for him, but that’s actually good news. If he wants to stop using, he can take charge and accomplish that goal himself.

Feel free to call and discuss your situation with one of our knowledgeable and compassionate Family Consultants. Your call is confidential and our Family Consultants can help you decide if a program like Saint Jude Retreats is a good option for your son and, ultimately, for you and your family. We’re here seven days a week to listen and help you with the information you need to make an informed decision to move forward with your lives.