God willing, on September 3rd, 2022, I will celebrate a decade of continuous sobriety. In the last 10 years I’ve learned a lot about myself and how to live as a functioning adult who thinks about people other than myself. I have learned to take responsibility for my actions, to apologize when I am wrong, and that when something isn’t working, I have to try another way.
And of course, I’ve learned how to live a life free of drugs and alcohol. I can tell you that I do not believe in miracles and yet it is a miracle that I got sober. I did not think I would ever stop. I did not think I could stop.
I did not need to learn how much my behavior affected others. I knew it, and I could not stop. I do not know how to explain the experience of addiction to anyone, and so I will not try. What I do know is that if you are reading this as a parent of a child who is a substance abuser or in active addiction, I do not envy you.
I cannot apologize for your child, and I cannot tell you what to do to get them to stop. I can only tell you that your child has a disease that wants them dead, and they are fighting it, whether it looks like it or not — the fact that they’re still breathing is proof of that. I can assure you that if it feels like they are doing this to hurt you, they are not. If it feels like your love for them should be enough to make them stop, I’m sorry to tell you that love isn’t enough, either. I loved my parents. I loved my brother. I was more excited to meet my nephew than anything I have ever been excited about and yet the first picture I have of him and I shows me sweating in a freezing cold hospital room, holding a bundled baby, drunk.
I’m not a psychiatrist. I am not a medical professional. I’m a person who once turned an article about Bookish Finds for a Child’s Playroom into an anecdote about my dad dying a few months before my wedding. I’m not an expert on anyone’s recovery, even my own, but I do want to share some books that might be helpful to parents of substance abusers and addicts.
You’re probably looking for books on how to get your kid to stop, or how to support your child as they get help and get sober. Unfortunately, in my opinion, that old adage is true: you can’t make your horse-child drink water from that damn river, you just can’t.
What you can do is take care of yourself. You can take steps to better understand what your child is going through. You can put on your own oxygen mask.
If your kid is involved in Alcoholics Anonymous, it can be very worthwhile to better understand that program. Even if they’re not members of AA, this book can help you better understand yourself. While it is certainly not your fault that your child is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, enabling is very real behavior. It can seem impossible to know when you’re helping and when you’re hindering. This book (and the group that it exists for) can help you better understand how to set boundaries, how not to enable, and how to come to peace with the fact that your child might never choose to get sober.
Addict in the Family: Support Through Loss, Hope, and Recovery by Beverly Conyers
Beverly Conyers has been writing about addiction for nearly 20 years. As the mother of a heroin addict, her passion for this subject is very personal. In Addict in the Family, she offers more than platitudes. You’ll find solid advice and actions steps. You’ll find specifics on what works and what doesn’t work. And you’ll find a lot of compassion for the shame, anxiety, and fear that parents of addicts feel every day.
Don’t let Your Kids Kill You: A Guide for Parents of Drug and Alcohol Addicted Children by Charles Rubin
Dealing with children who are substance abusers or addicts is difficult. Beyond difficult. It’s more than just the “mean teens,” where kids roll their eyes a lot and “OH MY GOD YOU’RE EMBARRASSING ME” all the time. When I was in active addiction, I stole money, I lied, I manipulated, etc. etc. I had all sorts of lines I’d “never cross” until I crossed them and moved them and just got progressively worse. Though my parents would have loved to find a way to make me stop, that wasn’t their job. Their job was to survive the chaos I had created for us all. And this book can help you do that, too.
Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change by Jeffrey Foote, Nicole Kosanke, Carrie Wilkens, and Stephanie Higgs
I haven’t read this book, but I know of parents who’ve found it helpful. The authors advocate for focusing on kindness when dealing with addicted children and pull from hundreds of scientific studies to backup their theory that using a positive reinforcement-based approach can help parents help their children overcome addiction. You’ll note that as I said earlier in this list, I don’t personally believe that there’s much you can do to pull your child out of addiction. The authors of this book disagree. They’re doctors. I write about books about pooping. Hard to decide who to believe here, I know.
Most people who are codependent do not think they are codependent. They believe that they’re concerned about their loved ones and/or that they’re helping them. This book attempts to help the reader embrace the fact that it’s not about wanting to help their loved one — it’s about asking if your actions are really doing that. If, despite your very best efforts and countless hours of worry, you’re not actually helping your loved one, and trying to help them is actively harming you, it’s time to do something different.
Understanding and Helping an Addict by Dr. Andrew Proulx
In order to help your child, it can be helpful to understand where they’re coming from and what they’re experiencing. The trouble with this, as Dr. Proulx explains in detail, is that it’s impossible to make sense of a loved one’s actions when those actions don’t make sense. Why would a person continue to use drugs and/or alcohol when they’d already lost everything? The author attempts to use science and his own experience as a person in recovery to help the loved ones of addicts better understand what addiction does to the brain.
From Addict to Advocate: A poetic outlook on A recovering addict’s journey to sobriety by Abdirahman Warsame
There’s a lot of bad news out there for parents of addicts, but there are inspiring stories, too. Stories that can give you perspective and give you hope. Warsame’s story is just that. Today the co-founder and Executive Director of Generation Hope, a youth-led recovery organization, he was once in active addiction. This is a unique look into the experience of addiction and recovery by someone who’s lived it.
In Pain: A Bioethicist’s Personal Struggle with Opioids by Travis Rieder
There is no shortage of people in the world who believe that being an addict is a sign of poor moral character. They seem to think that “good people” don’t become addicted. These are falsehoods. If you need evidence of this, look no further than a “good person,” a bioethicist, who struggled with opioids after taking them as prescribed by his doctor. This is a book that will hopefully help people understand that willpower and self-knowledge are not the magic bullets to cure addiction that some people think they are.
Addiction does not discriminate. All sorts of people can and do become addicts, from the stereotypes your brain box shows you when you think about addicts, to “good people” like Travis Rieder and overachiever Erin Khar. In her memoir, she discusses her introduction to heroin at 13 and the 15-year battle the followed it. This is a book that’ll grab you by the throat and shake tears out of you.
Overcoming Opioid Addiction: The Authoritative Medical Guide for Patients, Families, Doctors, and Therapists by Adam Bisaga, M.D.
If you’re a person who spends hours and hours on various medical sites, trying to learn the latest on addiction treatment, this is the guide for you. Bisaga is very much an M.D. and this book reads very much as though it’s written by an M.D. It’s very informative and sensation-less. If you want just the facts, thanks, then this is what you’re looking for.
As you read through this list of books for parents of addicts, you might have noticed that most of the authors listed here are white. Addiction is not a disease that only affects white people, yet many recovery spaces are very, very white.
There are likely a few reasons for this, including the reality that, as Amy Dresner and Joe Schrank put it, “White People Go to Rehab, Black People Go to Jail.” While books about addiction by BIPOCs are largely missing from the conversation, there are people working on this. You can check out this great list of 15 Black Recovery Advocates and Pages to Follow on Instagram to understand why representation matters generally and specifically in this area, as well as find Black recovery advocates to follow.