Don’t Enable Someone Struggling With Addiction

struggling with a child with an addiction

The best thing you can do for your child struggling with addiction is to not enable them. ‘Enabling’ in this sense means not holding your child accountable for their actions. Parents can fail in this regard when they are unable to accept a family member’s addiction as a serious problem. With the best of intentions, parents can unknowingly support their teen’s drug use. As sad as it is for parents to see this, it is equally an enigma to a child who is addicted as they find that their mental condition progressively responds only to their cravings. It’s important to do everything you can to stop feeding the lifeline of addiction –- it can really save lives.

Too often, young people who are addicted turn to stealing. As a result, many parents enable by not holding the young person with the addiction accountable for their actions. Often times, the thought of jail, shame and the fear of loss paralyzes a family. Those who live with someone with a substance use disorder and have endured many violations understand a level of madness that can’t be explained. It is a sobering thought to find that jail might not actually be more dangerous than life on the streets for a person struggling with addiction. A parent’s instinct is to protect their child at all costs, but drug addiction doesn’t rationalize what a second or third chance means. This disease has a course of its own — unless interrupted by an intervention. For many diseases, intervention comes in the form of medicine and care. Cancer doesn’t ask permission to be brutal, and neither does addiction.

From a scientific perspective, addiction is a disease. Brain chemistry is targeted and often shows co-occurring mental disorders — the perfect storm for a young addict. As addiction progresses, transgressions to the family progress and something has to give. If a parent can’t pull together the resources for intervention or treatment, they often resort to denial and enabling. But there are things we can do for a family member struggling with an addiction that are not expensive. Behavioral changes and the way we communicate, for starters, are free and make a big difference.

Acceptance is also a great tool. Accepting the addiction without judgment or supporting it is key. It is not giving in to it. A disease, however, is a disease. It won’t go away because you tell it to. Finding treatment for your child, like patient counseling and psychiatric opportunities, helps them stay involved with recovery and deal with themselves more effectively.

Accepting your child’s drug addiction means re-visiting all expectations and allowing recovery to take front seat. With time and patience, you can improve communication, discourage your child’s substance use and get them treatment they need and deserve.

Download the Intervention eBook

Answer your most pressing questions about confronting your child about his or her substance use with our comprehensive eBook on intervening.

intervention ebook logo

28 Responses

Leave your Response
    User Picture

    Patti Herndon

    October 7, 2013 at 8:16 PM

    Parents love their kids. Most of us would walk to the end of the earth and back as many times as our legs would carry us in effort to encourage life-balance, and to influence health for our children in crisis. That’s normal. That’s the power of love.

    When we supercharge that love with learning… it’s an incredibly healing combination.

    I think the earlier miles of the journey in recovery discovery are often the hardest. Those miles often coincide with an intense and consistent sense of confusion and upheaval. The learning associated with recovery is hard. The sad truth: Some parents…No…A lot of parents ‘give up’. They don’t find themselves giving up because there is absence of love, but because all manner of resources have become depleted. We can lack the stamina needed, the pacing skill set that becomes critical in the journey… And, lacking effective coping tools -designed for the long journey that is addiction- results in our becoming vulnerable to cues from others that don’t necessarily match or help our individual circumstances. As well, ill-matched cues/advise from others can actually increase risk for our addicted family member and our family.

    So, we need to utilize the core of ‘our own’ instincts and discernment, (of course, that is absent the negative influence on our decision-making that our unacknowledged, unaddressed anger, frustration, and anxiety can have), regarding what we know and understand about our individual son/daughter’s strengths and needs, and our specific family system dynamic ‘before’ applying advisements from parent peers.

    More specifically, advise from well-meaning peers that would have us, “kick him/her out”, “cut off all communications’, “Don’t help her in ‘any’ way, otherwise you’re just an ‘enabler’ parent.” “There is nothing you can do, but pray for her.” And, on and on these, often, irresponsible advisements from well-intended parent peers, go.

    Whenever possible, seek out the feedback/coaching of a qualified clinician/therapist with a broad background in multiple approaches/methods in recovery, skilled in working with families who are challenged by the substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health condition of a son/daughter.

    Remember, ‘one size recovery’ will NEVER fit all individuals with substances use disorder, or their families -in terms of problem solving, recovery and healing. That’s why it’s critical to engage learning from multiple sources.

    Knowledge is power. The more open we are to learning about ALL the biopsychosocial components that have contributed to the addiction/maladaptive coping with substances of our loved one, the more capacity we have in the discovery/awareness of those supports, responses, thoughts, actions, as well as ‘appropriate-for-our-individual family’s boundaries,(*note: ‘appropriate’ boundaries are not rigid and inflexible, nor are they adopted/implemented under the influence of anger/shame/anxiety-but are those that match the strengths and current needs of the addicted individual and their particular family system),that will serve our circumstances and help us create a menu of healthy options that will facilitate sustainable recovery and help us reclaim/develop the kind of healthy communications/strength in our family collective that we desire and deserve. We can get there…little by little. It happens all the time.

    Recovery is a process in change and personal growth. ‘Genuine’ recovery avoids stigma -of all kinds. Recovery takes as long as it takes for each individual. We are served in building the foundation of recovery by building and maintaining a sense of ‘hope’ and by continuing to strive to maintain realistic expectations on a day to day, sometimes, hour by hour basis. It’s absolutely doable. We ‘can’ do this as we continue our engagement of learning about all the components involved in substance use disorder, and by applying what we learn to our individual circumstances. In this, we build healthy coping muscles, we facilitate healthy change, we experience increasing confidence and peace in our ability to advocate for ourselves, and our loved ones.

    Addiction is the journey. Recovery is the destination.

    User Picture

    Bill Ford

    May 30, 2013 at 7:21 AM

    I can relate. My son is 26. Similar issue. It’s tough to move away from enabling and complicated by the addiction which has a mind of its own. The addiction allows only scant moments for communication at best when it feels satisfied. Boundaries are important and can include your doorstep. The nature of what works for you takes some trial and error. Choose what you will be willing to do for your son and what he can not rely on anymore. He will get it when you comply. My son has diabetes, so I chose to pay for his health costs. Food assistance consist of only emergency measures in the form of food cards or bags of groceries. No money. I assist with his shelter only when in a sober home. I respond to any positive attempt in his recovery with cautious support and remain open to possibility without too much expectation. That’s what I decided that I can do and afford. He has learned to survive, couch surf,…sometimes on the street. I caved often early in his addiction, but we both know our boundaries now and I think we respect each other more. So, how can you respect an addict who is your son? Treat him as an automous human being and with kindness. His addiction is his. You can’t own it or change it. Its his to do with as he pleases. When he knows his destiny is his own, he will have a chance to break the bonds of his addiction. Bill

    User Picture

    linda ziegler

    May 29, 2013 at 4:53 AM

    Thank you all for sharing. I’m new to this site but not to addiction. I have a 30 year old addicted son (heroin) and like many of your children hes has been in rehab and detox several times. He and his wife have split and he can only see his 3 year old (who loves him beyond belief) foe 6 hours oin Saturdays under my supervision. He has been in trouble with the law and will probably have to do some jail time. I am the consummate enabler and my husband doesn’t even want to hear his name. Currently my son is without work even though he is a licensed plumber and is living with us. He is a great manipulator and liar and I have fallen for his stories ( cons) over and over again. I just can’t do it anymore. I’ve given him money and the use of a car. He has a terrible attitude when I don’t cave in. I have some medical issues and he uses them against me to get his way. On the other hand he can be as friendly, funny and charming as a mother would want. Today is the straw that broke the camel’s back. I relented and let him take the car again (to look for work etc) with a promise to be home by 7:30pm. Well you can guess the rest….it’s now 12:45 am and no sign of him. He could be at a friends or arrested again or partying. I need support and help with making the decision about asking him to leave our home since he doesn’t seem to be able to accept our boundries. I know he will tell me he’ll just go live with his friends, who are also substance abusers. I know this a form of emotional blackmail but it really scares me. Can you please help me by letting me know what you’ve done and if it worked? Any advice would really be welcomed. I don’t want to keep living this way and I know I’ve screwed up royally in the past by enabling him so much and I really want to change.

Leave a Comment

Please leave a comment below to contribute to the discussion. If you have a specific question, please contact a Parent Specialist, who will provide you with one-on-one help.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *