Enabling Addiction: Are you helping your loved one?

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The line between helping versus enabling addiction can be blurry. You want your children to be safe, but that feeling of safety can sometimes be precisely what prevents them from seeking help for their addiction. Doing something for your child that’s considered normal in most circumstances could be what is holding them back from getting real help.

Adolescent Drug Use Nationwide

In one month in 2020, 11.89 million adolescents nationwide reported using drugs [1]. As a parent, it’s difficult to watch your child suffer from addiction at any age. You desperately want to ease their suffering, but could your actions actually be enabling your child’s addiction?

How do you tell the difference between helping vs enabling addiction?

Helping vs Enabling

Helping someone is when you do something in their best interest. If your child needs to get sober, helping them could mean seeking professional help on their behalf or talking to them directly about it.

What is Enabling?

Enabling is making something possible for someone. In the case of addiction, allowing your child to use the car or giving them money when you know they’re going to see a dealer are examples of enabling. A parent enabling a drug addict child is a more common scenario than most people realize.

Signs of Enabling Your Child's Addiction

It can be easy to slip into the habit of enabling drug addiction — instead of helping — because some actions seem beneficial at the time but not so much in retrospect. 

To learn whether you’re enabling your child’s addiction, here are five of the most common signs and tips on how to stop enabling.

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1.  Ignoring Your Child’s Substance Abuse

Parents want the best for their children, but this doesn’t mean thinking the best of them no matter what they do. Perhaps you choose to focus on the positive things your child is doing in order to forget about their negative habits. If you overlook or downplay your child’s drug use, or deny the problem altogether, you are enabling them to continue.

How to Support Without Enabling

Talk openly to your son or daughter about their addiction. Don’t sweep it under the rug. The only way to solve this problem is to go through it.

2.  Making Excuses for Your Child’s Addiction

If you aren’t ignoring your child’s substance abuse, then maybe you find yourself making excuses for their behavior. This may include cleaning up after their messes — physically and figuratively — or lying to excuse them from a family gathering or work commitment. These are difficult situations where many feel the instinct to cover up the truth. It’s understandable, but making such excuses only further enables your child’s addiction and hinders them from confronting the fact that they need help.

How to Support Without Enabling:

Don’t clean up their messes; leave it up to them to explain why they can’t fulfill their obligations, uncomfortable as it may be. Sometimes tough love is more effective in showing someone that their actions have consequences.

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3.  Financially Supporting Your Child

If your child is an adult suffering from financial instability on top of addiction, you may feel you have no other choice but to support them. You may think that providing them with money for shelter, transportation, and food gives them the stability they need to get better. However, it can also mean creating an atmosphere that absolves them of personal responsibility. Not financially contributing to their own upkeep frees up the time and funds for them to spend on drugs and alcohol.

If your child is a minor, enabling their addiction financially would include giving them money that you know they’ll use to fuel their addiction. Parents often talk themselves into an “out of sight, out of mind” mindset, where as long as they don’t know how the money is spent, they can tell themselves that it isn’t for drugs. This kind of thinking follows from wanting to ignore your child’s negative behaviors.

Bottom line: If you financially support your child without discussing rehab, you are enabling another cycle of dependence and lack of accountability.

How to Support Without Enabling:

In order to learn financial responsibility, your child needs to experience the various costs associated with their addiction. They need to see that their parents can help with emergencies, but they are not a blank check.

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4.  Blaming Everyone But Your Child

To a certain extent, environmental factors do deserve some blame for your child’s addiction. Maybe he or she doesn’t live in a drug-free neighborhood, or they have friends who are a bad influence, or perhaps you blame yourself for not protecting your child enough. But we can’t change the past, and there’s only so much people can do to change their environment. At the end of the day, real improvement starts with your child. He or she has to make the decision to change for themselves.

How to Support Without Enabling:

Acknowledge that your child has an addiction problem and realize that they — in addition to their environment — need to change. Give your child the tools he or she needs in order to seek help. Learning how to stop being an enabler, means being there for them emotionally but not being afraid to give them a reality check if they deflect blame for their own actions.

5.  Putting Your Child’s Needs Before Your Own

Since putting your child’s needs before your own is often in the parental job description, this may not seem like a sign of enabling addiction. However, once you begin putting your own mental and physical health on the line, that’s when you need to take a step back.

How to Support Without Enabling:

Reestablish boundaries. If your child keeps crossing them, respond with clear consequences and ultimatums. If you must, send them to a residential treatment facility.

How to Help an Addict Without Enabling

The difference between helping vs enabling addiction is a fine line. Recognizing the behaviors of an enabler, as detailed above, is the first step in supporting your child through their recovery from addiction. Once you are aware of these signs and have identified which behaviors you are displaying, follow our suggestions on how to stop being an enabler.

Rather than enabling addiction, encourage your child to get the help they need.  At Avenues Recovery, we help people from all age groups and walks of life in the US recover from addiction. We offer both inpatient and outpatient treatment options that are fully customizable to your child’s needs.

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