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Family & Friends

It only takes one caring and understanding adult to change a child's life.

grandfather is holding his grandchild (coa) and reading to him

How Can Relatives and Friends of the Family Help?

When a child’s family struggles with alcohol or other drug problems, the most powerful assistance to the child can come from a caring adult in their lives. Often the child turns to a relative or friend of the family who has acknowledged in some way that they are concerned and available, thus making it feel safe for the child to talk. It could be the grandmother who knows her son has a problem with prescription drugs, the neighbor who often observes the mother of the child next door drinking to excess, the coach who notices the child late for practice, and many others, whom the child can trust with their “biggest worry.” The goal here is to put tools in the hands of these caring family and friends so that they might do two things:

  1. Be a consistent support and listening ear to the child.
  2. Be an advocate for the child by helping the addicted parent get the help they need.

Supporting the Child

As a result of broken promises, harsh words, and the threat of abuse, children in many families dealing with parental addiction learn the “Don’t Trust” mantra all too well; silence and isolation can become constant companions.​ Perhaps the most important gift is the bonding and attachment children attain in healthy relationships with others.

​In their book The Resilient Self, Drs. Sybil and Steven Wolin describe "Relationships" as an integral part of the Resilience Mandala.

In her ground-breaking research, Dr. Emmy Werner noted that resilient COAs often had a nurturing adult in their lives. Building trust is a process, not an event; time is the key. Simply caring about a child is all that it takes to start. Listening, regular time together, playing with, validating, respecting, and empowering a youngster will build a positive connection.​​

Jerry Moe, national director of the Betty Ford Center Children's Programs, often reminds us that "children don't care about how much adults know until they know how much adults care."

There simply can’t be resilient children unless caring adults lead the way.​ As bonding grows, a nurturing adult’s words take on added meaning and significance as the youngster deeply considers the source. A child may hear accurate information about alcoholism in a brand new way. Moreover, a kid can build upon his or her strengths and resilience as a result of the conscious modeling provided by that caring adult.

Whether we have children of our own or not, many of us can become a nurturing adult in a young child’s life. A youngster desperately in need of such an alliance is very close by. Downloading and reading through the Kit for Kids with a child is a great start to helping them cope with their situation.

When a Friend or Relative Needs Help to Recover


Try the E.A.S.E. Model

Most people are uncomfortable with the idea of approaching someone about problem drinking. But when a child’s well being is at stake, you may be the one to begin the process of reaching out to the problem drinker.


Consider Generational Issues

The Road to Recovery series, provided by the SAMHSA Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, features eight episodes focused on the field of recovery. Click here for a special episode dealing with intergenerational issues, and the hope that early intervention can bring for years to come.

If Drinking or Drug Use Continues

At times, the best efforts to help the person struggling with alcohol and/or drugs are not met with a willingness to acknowledge and understand what is happening to him/her and heart-wrenching deterioration in the addicted person — physically, spiritually and socially — continues. The increased concern, anger, and feeling of helplessness grows as the family experiences alienation from the person they love who, in their view it seems, is choosing a relationship with alcohol over one with them.​​