Helping the Family of an Addict: Lessons from the Prodigal Son

Helping the Family of an Addict: Lessons from the Prodigal Son


David Stoop, Ph.D.

Originally Posted 10/15/13

Don’t miss Dr. Stoop speaking at the AACC Fall CMHC summit in Naperville IL, Nov. 3-5 2016! Click Here for More Information!



I was meditating on the parable of the Prodigal recently.  It’s such a familiar passage in Luke 15 that I wondered what God would show me that was fresh and new.  For the first time, I saw the timeless family recovery principles articulated by Jesus, and which we as counselors need to help parents understand.  In particular, I saw what a parent is to do when a child has gotten involved with drugs or alcohol.  Here are the seven principles I drew from that parable.

1. The father didn’t go looking for his son, even though the son was most likely in a dangerous place. He didn’t try to protect his son from the situation the son had chosen. This is so hard for the parent to do, but it is a sound principle. The world was no less dangerous when Jesus told this parable than it is today. A parent can’t do this on their own—they need to have a support system of other parents who understand this principle.

2. Eventually, the son ran out of co-dependents—no one gave the Prodigal anything. He was allowed to exhaust all his resources. He ran out of friends, and certainly couldn’t call home for some more money. He was a Jew and he was envying the food he was giving to the pigs. He was at a dead-end in his life with only one choice left—repent and return home and begin his recovery.

3. The result was what every parent in that situation prays for and wants—the son came to his senses! But he could only come to his senses when he was out of options. And he was only out of options because his family didn’t come looking for him and rescuing him from the circumstances he had created. If his father had rescued him, it would have only prolonged the period of time before his “coming to his senses.”

4. Once the son had repented, turned his life around, and started a recovery process, only then was there a great celebration. I’m sure the family had other celebrations, but there would have been a sense of sadness that was under the celebration.

5. The father’s actions were based on love and compassion. A parent in similar circumstances might look at the prodigal’s father and think he was being harsh, or cruel. But the father showed tough love with both of his sons.

6. Part of the Prodigal’s recovery was learning to live with the consequences of the choices he had made. One massive choice he had to live with was the reality that now everything the father owned would eventually belong to the older son.

7. The sins of the Prodigal were against both God and against his family. He clearly articulates this reality when he confessed to his father, “I have sinned against both heaven and you.” There was certainly a human side to his recovery, but equally important, there was a spiritual side to his healing and recovery.

Question for Thought: None of these principles are easy to incorporate for our clients who have an addicted family member. Which do you think is the hardest one for a parent? For a spouse? How have you worked with such families to help them set appropriate boundaries that encourage health, rather than codependency?



Like what you read? Come hear more from Dr. David Stoop as he joins us as a plenary speaker at the Fall 2016 Church and Mental Health Summit. This incredible event will be held at Calvary Church in Naperville, IL on November 3-5th, 2016. Come listen, learn, and fellowship with other professionals and experts. The Church and Mental Health 2016 Summit is one that you do not want to miss! Visit to learn more!



david_stoopDavid Stoop, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the State of California. He received his Masters in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California. He is the founder and director of The Center for Family Therapy in Newport Beach, California, where he has his counseling practice. He is an adjunct professor at Fuller Seminary and serves on the Executive Board of the AACC. Dr. Stoop is a Gold Medallion winning author who has written over 25 books, including, People of the Bible Uncensored, Ten Minutes Together with God: A Devotional for Couples and more. He and his wife Jan live in Newport Beach, and have three sons and six grandchildren. You can follow his blogs at