Parents Grapple With Cutting Off Children With Addiction

By Kelly Burch 11/15/18

“It’s easy to pay for court costs and to bail them out of every situation. It takes a very long time to gain the strength, courage, and faith to say no," said one parent.

a mother cutting off her daughter who is battling addiction

Parents often spend hefty amounts of money trying to help their children get sober, sometimes to the detriment of their own financial health, according to a new feature in Time magazine which focuses on the financial implications of substance use disorder. 

“[Parents] are faced with this dilemma: Do I help them get out of this in the short term, or do I let them experience the natural consequences of their behaviors?” said Kenneth Leonard, director of the Clinical and Research Institute on Addictions at the University of Buffalo. “You don’t want to do anything that will ruin their lives, but on the other hand, you want them to learn from experience. Nobody wants their child to suffer, short term or long term.”

Diane Buxton, of Indiana, estimates that she spent more than $70,000 on eight stints in rehab, counselors and other approaches to try to help her son who was addicted to opioids. “I was going to save him,” she said. 

Eventually, she realized that all her spending was fruitless. 

“I remember walking through my living room one day and seeing my 130-pound son, who was supposed to be 160 pounds, sitting on the couch with needle marks in his arm,” she said. “And I heard this voice saying ‘You’re loving him to death.’”

Buxton told her son he needed to leave: check into rehab or crash with friends. Now six years sober, her son tells her that tough love helped save his life. “If I had not given him that choice, he’d be dead or in prison,” she said. 

Katie Donovan, of Michigan, said that she spent about $200,000 supporting her daughter through addiction—but her story did not end with a happy ending. “I was interrupting my whole life, constantly, on a daily basis, to take care of her,” Donovan said. “I didn’t realize that I had become a part of it. I was addicted to her.”

Donovan started small in setting boundaries with her daughter, first refusing to buy her new clothes or take her to appointments. She says her daughter still struggles with addiction—with intermittent periods of sobriety—but that her own life is a lot less chaotic now. 

“It’s easy to buy a car. It’s easy to pay for court costs and to bail them out of every situation,” she said. “It takes a very long time to gain the strength, courage, and faith to say no. I believe in loving with boundaries. She knows that, emotionally, I accept where she’s at. Am I going to give her money? No.”

Ipek Aykol, a therapist in Newport Beach, California who specializes in addiction counseling, says it’s important for families to establish financial boundaries. “Families come to treatment with very unhealthy boundaries,” Aykol said. “If you’re giving your child money, and your child is spending that money on drugs, it’s not serving them.”

Fred Leamnson, of Virginia, who blogs about personal finance, said he spent more than six figures supporting his son through heroin addiction. Now, he wants to give others permission to just say no. 

“The best advice I can offer is advice we didn’t follow—protect yourself and your finances at all costs!”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.