By Dr. Ed Wilson and Dr. Mary Ellen Barnes

Adult Children Who Drag Their Parents Down With Them

Nothing is sadder than the “over-age families” we see. These “children” are in their 30s, 40s, 50’s and sometimes 60s; their parents in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and beyond. “Children” who won’t stop drinking or using, and their parents who can’t stop forking over the money that makes the alcohol and drug possible. Dependent adult children dragging parents down with them.

Of course you can easily to see the problem from the outside. Why would an “adult child” stop drinking when they can squeeze thousands of dollars a month out of old mom and dad and keep right on doing what they’ve done their whole lives? And how can mom and dad say no when their “child” will be homeless, their grandchildren hungry? Besides, it’s a disease, isn’t it? How can they deny their sick child?

You probably already know that that’s how the monthly cycle continues for years and years, and how it’s apt to go on until someone dies or the money runs out. The children will continue to manipulate parents, and parents will continue to feel guilty and wonder what they did to cause their child’s decision to go down the alcoholic/addict road.

Alcohol and drug abuse is a choice, not a disease

Of course you’ve always suspected, correctly, that the child’s choice was the child’s choice and had little or nothing to do with his or her parents. Even when childhood trauma played a role, it doesn’t excuse ongoing childishness. Searching for the current problems’ beginnings, even finding them, does nothing to fix the mess. As you’ve probably noticed, everyone just stays trapped in the swirl of emotions, habit, myth, and despair.

What about an intervention?

But suppose the cycle could be broken? In the past that’s usually meant orchestrating an “intervention” where the family confronts the drunk or addict, sets some limits, and then whisks them off to residential treatment for 30, 60, or 90 days. Assuming the problem is now taken care of, everyone relaxes and life supposedly gets better for everyone.

As you probably know, it hardly ever turns out that way. Confronted drunks frequently become angry drunks; residential treatment fails about 95% of the time; family resolutions collapse; and the abuser returns even more solidly excused than ever by “powerlessness” and “disease” myths. Tensions mount and bank accounts have taken a $30,000 – $200,000 hit.

There is an alternative

A brother and sister, Terry and Jack, came to see us because their younger brother Mike was draining their parents’ life savings to support his habit. There’d been an intervention and “treatment” but the manipulation and abuse continued. “It isn’t going to stop,” Karen said, “until they’re all dead or broke.”

You’ve probably seen this problem before, but this time we had a suggestion. Instead of threats and ultimatums, we recommended a carefully planned disengagement. No threats, no expectation that Mike would change, just a gradual change in the family dynamics that would, over the course of a year, result in Mike being on his own.

How, exactly, does that work?

We’re sure it’s obvious to you that Mike isn’t the only one with a problem here. His relationship with his parents and brother and sister also played a role. As long as that stayed the same, nothing would change. But entrenched relationships don’t usually change without some outside help. The old habits and behaviors are too strongly established.

The difference here is that we interrupted the old patterns by inserting ourselves between Mike and his parents. A meeting was held – Mike attended because that’s where he’d get his next check – and it was explained that no one was going to bother him anymore about his drinking and drugging. However, the amount of his “support” would be reduced by 8% a month over the next year until it is down to $0.

You’ve probably figured out that this plan probably wasn’t going to work by itself. Mike, having heard empty threats for years about being cut off, was confident that his parents would cave in, as they always had before. The difference here was that the money was routed through us, insulating the parents, and they were the ones receiving the counseling and support. Mike was also free to receive help, but it wasn’t required. What he decided to do was up to him – as it should be for any adult.

You Can Only Treat The Willing

The real truth is that people only change when they want to – not when others want them to. Working with the family to change the situation is effective because the family wants to change the situation. Any other strategy is just a waste of time, money, and effort.

You’re wondering, “But what about Mike?”

The usually overlooked part in all of this is the fact that if the family changes its relationship to Mike, Mike will have to change, too. As financial support dwindles, he will have to make some changes.

As you can imagine, Mike was angry about this sudden diversion in the cash flow. In this particular case, his anger actually motivated him to start managing himself and his life again for the first time in a decade.

Yes, there were glitches and lapses and mom did occasionally slip Mike some extra money, but the overall plan came off as intended.

Why did this work?

This “intervention” worked because it focused on the total picture and all of the people and dynamics involved. We did not single out Mike as “the problem” and we didn’t let labels and myths keep him from being held responsible for either fixing his problems or living with the consequences himself. More importantly, we worked with the family members who wanted the situation to change, ignoring Mike, who obviously had a vested interest in things staying the same.

As you can see, it worked because we focused on the people who wanted to change rather than trying to force change onto someone else. Whether dealing with a family, a couple, or anyone else, success always means working with whomever is motivated; skipping labels and self-justifying excuses; focusing on the present and future, not the past; and actively instituting new behaviors.

All of this sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Then why not call today and let us provide real help for your family? 888-541-6350