Telling parents you have an addiction is one of the toughest things you can do. Fear, guilt, shame, and a feeling of being overwhelmed rise up in you. When you’re in recovery, making the decision to share with others is crucial in making or breaking your feelings about recovery. People might tell you the “right” way to do this, but that’s not true. Everyone has a different path or way of telling each person in their life about their struggle.
Think about what you want from the conversation
What do you really want to get out of the conversation with your parents? You should think about the outcome of the discussion before you go to them. Here are some questions to consider:
- What kind of support do you want from your parents?
- How do you think they will respond based on their past experiences?
- Do you want them to go to therapy with you?
- Are there cultural differences you want to consider, such as “we don’t air our dirty laundry outside the family?”
- What if your parents are the reason you’re using – do you want their help, and in what way?
- Are you looking to them for emotional support, or do you want something specific?
It’s scary to wonder if telling your parents will get you what you want. They may be helpful or not. Arming yourself with the right questions will make you feel better and more prepared.
Prepare for the conversation
OK – now you’re ready to have the tough conversation with your parents. You need to plan out what you’re going to say, anticipate their reactions and questions, and how to handle them. Here are some ways that you can prepare for the conversation:
- Start with the end in mind and think about what you want from your parents. If you want them to just listen or help you, tell them.
- Remember to ask for what you need.
- Prepare for hard questions in advance.
- Practice and prepare using the outline–this worksheet can help you with this.
- Consider having someone there when you tell your parents for support.
Addiction can bring up feelings of blame, anger, and hurt. It’s best to know in advance how you’re going to respond so you know what to do in the moment. You can move the conversation to suit your needs.
What you might expect
My nephew lives with me and is struggling. He didn’t tell me directly. I saw things. I asked, and he said no. I had to convey to him that he needed help, and I wanted to help him. I didn’t want to talk to people and tell them his business. I had to go to different places to find him support/therapy to help him open up.
It takes a lot of courage to ask for help. Be prepared for the shock factor. Most parents are going to feel hurt and may cry. You’ve got to be ready for that so it doesn’t hurt you. You also have to be prepared for what comes next. Are they going to help you or kick you out? The hope is that they will support you through this, but sometimes it doesn’t go as expected, and you leave feeling defeated. It’s ok to walk away. You have the right to take care of yourself.
You can always try again at another time or find another person who will support you. Make sure you have a safe place to go after the conversation or a person you trust. Using coping strategies like taking deep breaths, calling a warmline or going somewhere might help you avoid using or drinking.
What if I can’t tell my parents?
If you think your parents won’t be supportive, think about others you can talk to. If it’s not safe to tell your parents, that’s OK. Parents most likely know something is wrong, and if they don’t know, you have to question your relationship with them.
Find people who you trust that will support you so you have a backup plan. Walk through that conversation so you know what to say. Peer support can help you if you don’t have anyone else and can be found at MHA’s Connect Section. Someone close in age to you who ‘gets it” can help you with your recovery. Finding the right support system can be hard, but it’s worth it. Find at least one person in your life who can play that role for you.
Remember, you may not have the ideal conversation, but it’s a start. You’ve opened up the discussion, and you’re zeroing in on getting well. It will be difficult at times. But you have started on the road to recovery and begun to let go of your addiction. A healthy you is in sight. You can make it happen!