When Your Adult Child is an Addict

Many years ago my wife and I were devastated by the realization that our son was addicted to drugs. Our Lord used this circumstance in our family to show us that His Word had the answers we were looking for. Second Peter 1:3 says, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness…”. God is faithful to His Word and being guided by biblical principles, He convicted our son of his sin and led him to repentance. He also used this circumstance to change our lives as parents and gave us a desire to counsel others.

As the Director of a residential program for men involved with the sin of addiction, I often receive calls from parents seeking advice on what to do with their adult child who is addicted.

As loving parents, you want to do whatever possible to help. It is easy to become frustrated and angry with them as their sin manifests itself in your home. As parents, our expectations for our children are often too high. I’ve found it beneficial to lower our expectations and increase our love. However, you must be cautious because of the manipulative behavior of addicts. They may test you to see if you will give in to their demands for a place to live and means to get by.

What can you do to help without being manipulated by your child?

Know that you cannot change his heart. Only the Holy Spirit can through the power of the Word of God. (1 Cor. 6:11) You must become diligent in your prayers for your loved one. If he is a professing believer that has been caught in the sin of addiction, begin to pray for him to repent from his sin and walk in obedience to our Lord. If he is an unbeliever, pray specifically for his salvation and be diligent in evangelizing him.

In my experience, addicts don’t just wake up one morning and decide to stop using. Think of the times you have heard your adult child who is addicted say, “I promise tomorrow I will stop”. When he is in trouble (with the authorities, their spouse, or employer) he may stop for a short period of time, but soon he is right back at it. That’s how addiction works. It’s likened to Paul’s teaching in Romans 7:19 “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” The good the addict desires to do is not get high and not use their substance. But the evil they don’t want to do, the getting high, is what they do. Why is that? Romans 7:20 tells us why, “Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” Sin is the reason they keep using.

As their parent you must point this out to them, you must be willing to confront them in their sin. In some situations, it may take a devastating event in their life to cause them to see their need for change.

One way you can help them see their need for change is to have a well defined, easy to understand contract. This contract must be non-negotiable and you the parent need to be prepared to ask them to leave your home with the first violation, without exception.

The contract needs to include the following at a minimum:

Spiritual accountability:

This will include local church involvement and attending church weekly. The accountability and role of the local church is vital in the transition out of a life of drunkenness into the environment of everyday life. They must be exposed to the preaching of God’s Word. Your loved one is like an athlete who is getting back into sports after a disastrous injury. There will be some time when they will need to wear braces and supports while they build strength back into their muscles and joints. They will need to have in place an accountability network to serve as braces and supports while they continue to strengthen their spiritual muscles. To put it another way, they will need fences to guard them from the full weight of temptation while they continue to grow in Christ (Romans 13:14). So, who is going to be the braces and supports? To be effective, the church must assign those who are willing to become deeply involved in their life. There must be a dedicated accountability partner.

Must work a full time job:

Being idle gives an opportunity for the flesh to seek out drugs and alcohol. You must help them manage their resources. You, together with them, need to develop a budget. The number one area in which former addicts most often fail and fall back into their sin of drunkenness (addiction) is in the area of finances. You must take every precaution to prevent them from making provision for their flesh (Romans 13:14). You must help them cut off the areas that will tempt the flesh – and the thing that seems to most easily to tempt a drunkard (addict) is money. Nearly all of those involved in an addictive life style have completely destroyed their financial standing and many times ruined the financial standing of their families. They must give full disclosure and have limited or no access to funds for at least one year. This means they will operate on a strict cash allowance system, with no direct access to a checking account or any other liquid assets.

Willingly submit to random drug testing
Agree to be home at specific times
Choose friends wisely (1Cor. 15:33)

These are a few suggestions that you can implement into the life of your child. Their change process of becoming more like Christ requires you to speak the truth of God’s Word in love to them. Ephesians 4:15 “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” Be patient with them. But never compromise the truth of God’s Word. 2 Thessalonians 3:13-15 “As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.  If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.  Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.”


For a more comprehensive study on this topic read “Divine Intervention, Hope And Help For Families Of Addicts” By Mark Shaw.


Tim Brown
Tim is the Executive Director of His Steps Ministries and is married to Kit. Both Tim and Kit are certified with ACBC.
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