When a child is caught up in all the problems that go along with a substance use disorder (heroin, fentanyl, Percocet®, Roxicet®, Vicodin®, hydrocodone, Vicoprofen®, or alcohol, just to name a few), many parents put their own well being on hold.

This is a natural reaction for sure, but it’s important to recognize that having your health and outlook on life be dependent on the choices your child makes is likely more than your child can handle.

As much as any other time in the life of your family, they need you now. The familiar injunction on airplanes to affix your own oxygen mask before helping a child applies in this situation as well. Before you can be of any help to your child and the rest of the family, you need your ‘oxygen’ in full supply: rest, nutrition, exercise, socializing, and fun.

Parents of children abusing drugs or alcohol may argue that this is impossible. “How can I be expected to have dinner with friends and enjoy myself if I’m constantly worried I’ll get a call that something horrible has happened to my son?”

But without attention to their own needs, parents risk collapsing before they can truly help their family. Parents who remain resilient, healthy, and optimistic are much more able to navigate the difficult waters that are inherent when a child is addicted to substances.

Domains of life where self-care may be lacking include physical health, emotional, spiritual, or intellectual wellbeing. It can also be useful for parents to look at their own substance use patterns—not to imply they have a problem, but to understand the impact their use may have on their child. The child sees how the use of substances helps a parent relax, forget, or deal with situations. It’s important to question whether changing this behavior may be beneficial for the child.

As one looks at each of these domains and what may be lacking or could use some bolstering, the Center for Motivation and Change (CMC) suggests a process for coming up with some tangible ways to implement self-care as regular parts of a parent’s routine.

Picking an area mentioned earlier--physical health, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, or substance use habits--brainstorm possible solutions:

what do you want to accomplish related to your own self-care because of how it might help you build the resiliency you need to help your child? List all ideas, even if they seem far-fetched.

Next, select two of the solutions you’ve come up with that are particularly appealing to you. Can you convert these into brief, simple, positive, specific, and measurable goals? The experts at CMC recommend at least one of them to be something that’s entirely enjoyable to you.

Finally, identify obstacles that could interfere with your “goals of the week."

Their common sense publication The Parent’s 20 Minute Guide includes an extensive list of self-care ideas. I will include just a few to help gig you to come up with your own list:

  • Visit with a friend (face-to-face, on the phone, by email, etc.)
  • Go out to eat your favorite meal or eat comfort food that you find soothing
  • Get a manicure, pedicure, or massage
  • Go for a hike (even in the city). Walk somewhere you have never been before. Take in the “newness” of your surroundings.
  • Take your dog for a walk.
  • Get a haircut.
  • Go to services not at your usual place of worship.
  • Listen to a podcast.
  • Buy your favorite flowers, don’t forget to smell them.

Taking care of yourself to help your family during this challenging time is every bit as important as helping your loved one find the right treatment for their substance use disorder.

The Coleman Institute for Addiction Medicine has locations around the country specializing in safe, affordable, outpatient detox programs. Knowing that your family member is getting the best possible care can allow you to ‘exhale’ a bit and focus on the long term plan for success. Please give us a call if you’d like to discuss our treatment options.

Joan Shepherd, FNP


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