When Your Adult Child Breaks Your Heart: Coping With Mental Illness, Substance Abuse, And The Problems That Tear Families Apart

Behind nearly every adult who is accused of a crime, becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, or who is severely mentally ill and acting out in public, there is usually at least one extremely stressed-out parent. This parent may initially react with the bad news of their adult child behaving badly with, “Oh no!” followed by, “How can I help to fix this?” A very common third reaction is the thought, “Where did I go wrong–was it something I said or did, or that I failed to do when my child was growing up that caused these issues? Is this really somehow all my fault?” These parents then open their homes, their pocketbooks, their hearts, and their futures to “saving” their adult child–who may go on to leave them financially and emotionally broken.  Sometimes these families also raise the children their adult children leave behind: 1.6 million grandparents in the U.S. are in this situation.
       This helpful book presents families with quotations and scenarios from real suffering parents (who are not identified), practical advice, and tested strategies for coping. It also discusses the fact that parents of adult children may themselves need therapy and medications, especially antidepressants. The book is written in a clear, reassuring manner by Dr. Joel L. Young, medical director of the Rochester Center for Behavioral Medicine in Rochester Hills, Michigan; with noted medical writer Christine Adamec, author of many books in the field. 
         In the wake of the Newtown shooting and the viral popularity of the post “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” America is now taking a fresh look, not only at gun control, but also on how we treat mental illness. Another major issue is our support or stigmatization of those with adult children who are a major risk to their families as well to society itself.  This book is part of that conversation.

Nanci Arvizu, Writing and Reviews Editor

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  1. Medical help for parents I needed this book last year. I needed to hear/read the words that there was nothing that happened to my adult son in his developmental years to account for the man he became. I do not know that we were wrong for trying to fix things for him, but now have a different outlook. My son died this year and I miss him every day. There is a point made several times in the book that so often psy or substance abuse problems are the underlying cause of disappointment. I feel that police and medical…

  2. A common problem, a practical informed resource When a couple came to see me for a consultation, because their adult child was causing them much suffering, we did an internet search for published resources to give them comfort. We came across Dr. Young’s very thoughtful, practical book. It is well informed by clinical wisdom, data-driven, and infused with practical examples and suggestions for responses to adult children who have challenges such as substance abuse and serious mental illness. This couple has found Dr. Young’s book extremely…

  3. Disappointing While it may not be fair to review a book based on the reading of one chapter, I usually first head to the chapter of a book that I know most about, as I did with this one. Having done a lot of research about addiction and its treatment, I must say that the chapter that addresses this topic, a major one in this book, was superficial and not very helpful. Its overview of treatment approaches was not consistent with the latest science. For instance, interventions to get people into treatment are…

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