Enabling Child's Addiction

Are You Enabling Your Child’s Addiction?

Watching someone deal with addiction can be incredibly difficult. All you want to do is help the person and, in many instances, that’s just not possible. After all, you cannot help individuals who do not desire to have help. It’s also difficult because, while you want to be supportive of them as they continue to spiral through addiction, you don’t want to enable them or make them think it’s okay to continue down the path they are going. 

This can all be incredibly taxing. Watching a loved one or close friend spiral out of control is not something we are trained to do. When it’s your own child though, it becomes even more difficult. You start to wonder if you have failed as a parent and want to do everything in your power to help and support your child. Sometimes though, the best thing you can do is allow them to continue to spiral until they realize you need help. Your first instinct is to always protect your child. However, when it comes to addiction, protecting and enabling them is the worst thing you can do.

Let’s take a look at exactly what it means to enable someone who is dealing with addiction. We’ll identify some signs that you might be enabling your child, as well as some of the dangers that go along with enabling.

What is the Definition of Enabling?

Plain and simple, enabling refers to anything you do that reinforces substance-using behavior. It is the act of either doing something “nice” or using positive reinforcement that ultimately is supporting continued negative behavior. In this case, the negative behavior is drug or alcohol abuse. Enabling can be something like allowing your child to borrow the car knowing they are using it to get drugs. Or, you may enable your child by giving him or her money. Perhaps, you know your child can’t pay their bills because they used all their money on drugs or alcohol. So, you give the individual some money or even pay their bills for them. Basically, as a parent, if you are doing anything to make your child’s life easier while they continue to use and abuse drugs and/or alcohol, you are enabling them in some capacity.

It’s important to mention, however, that people rarely intend to enable harmful behaviors. So, although you may be enabling your child, it’s likely that you’re not doing so because you’re trying to hurt him or her. On the contrary, you may think you’re helping the individual. After all, it’s hard to see someone you love suffer.

When your child can’t obtain alcohol or drugs, he or she experiences withdrawal symptoms and can become very sick. So, it may seem like providing money or other resources is the only way to “help” the individual to feel better. But, this actually does more harm than good. Still, the goal is not for you to feel guilty if you have been enabling a loved one’s addiction. Instead, it’s important to be aware of these enabling actions so that you can instead learn how to truly help the person you love!

What Are Some Signs That I Might Be Enabling My Child?

As we touched on in the paragraph above, anything you do that makes your child’s life easier while they abuse substances is enabling them. Going one step further, doing nice things or even making them feel protected can be enabling because it isn’t holding them accountable for their actions. The only way someone is going to get help from their addiction is if they are held responsible for the consequences that come from their abuse. Even if that means having to sit there and watch your child get evicted from their home and end up on the street, they need to be held responsible for their actions if they are going to get the help they need.

So, what are some signs that you might be enabling your child and you might not even realize it? Well, have you:

  • Loaned them money?
  • Paid any of their bills?
  • Made excuses on their behalf?
  • Dealt with verbal or even physical abuse from them?
  • Purchased any everyday items like groceries or toiletries?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, it may mean that you are enabling your child in one way or another. 

Enabling them can be tough and many times you might not even realize that you are doing it. Your natural instinct as a parent is to protect your child in all situations in life. However, by doing so in this specific case all you are doing is letting them know that they can continue to use and abuse drugs and alcohol without any real consequences. If you continue to keep bailing them out, both figuratively, and in some cases literally, all you are really doing is telling them that their behavior is ok and thus preventing them from getting the help that they ultimately need.

How Can I Stop Enabling My Child?

No longer enabling your child might be easier than you think. For starters, before doing something for your child answer the following question: Is what I’m about to do for them something that they could be doing on their own if it wasn’t for drugs or alcohol? If the answer to this question is yes, then whatever it is you were going to do would be enabling. 

Here are some ways that you can prevent enabling your child:

  • Don’t continue to give money for their living expenses, to bail them out of jail, for indulgences, or even for your own better intentions of building them a new life.
  • Don’t make excuses or apologize to their employer for your child’s absence. Also, don’t make excuses to friends and family for your child’s inappropriate behavior. Finally, you don’t need to make excuses even to yourself in order to sustain your denial.
  • Don’t clean up their messes, whether literal or figurative, in the midst of relationships or responsibilities.
  • Don’t turn a blind eye to intolerable behaviors, including theft, disrespect and abuse, late-night phone calls, or failure to follow through on responsibilities.
  • Don’t use drugs or alcohol with them even if you think that you might be able to help control their usage or gain their trust.
  • Don’t put off getting professional help, thinking that you will be able to fix them or support them through this alone.
  • Don’t isolate or try to hide what is going on with you or with your addicted child.

On the contrary, here are a few things you can do to actively try and help your child:

  • Set boundaries around them using in your home or coming over when they’re intoxicated. Set boundaries where you will no longer be participating in their active addiction.
  • Reach out to a treatment center to start a conversation about the treatment options and the next steps for your family.
  • Find some support group meetings and keep going back in order to rediscover your power and your perspective of what is positive and productive.

How Do I Tell My Child I Am No Longer Going to Enable Them?

Telling your child that you are no longer going to support them and their addiction might be the most difficult conversation a parent may ever have to have with their child. When you are ready to talk to your child, make sure you find a time where both you and your child will be able to sit and talk uninterrupted. 

If you would like to include more members of your immediate family, you can do so should you choose. But it’s important not to turn the conversation into a spectacle. If your child feels like they are being backed into a corner, they might react by spiraling further out of control. It’s important to make sure you remind your child that while you love them, you can no longer support the way they are conducting themselves. Acknowledge that it’s not a comfortable situation for anyone, but that some hard choices need to be made to do what’s best for everybody. Explain that your concern isn’t only for your child’s welfare, but yourself as well. Talking about specific instances and examples can help in hammering everything home.

If you are struggling to do this, it is important to remember the following:

  • Giving money is only helping fuel their drug abuse.
  • Offering shelter when they have nowhere else to go only tells your child that they can continue to abuse without any consequences. If they never even have to be uncomfortable for a night, they have no incentive to quit using.
  • Cleaning up after your child’s latest binge not only takes responsibility for harmful actions away from the child, it might even hide the gritty truth. Individuals sometimes suffer blackouts and can’t remember the events of the night before, believing there would be evidence if their behavior had gotten out of control.
  • Refusing to acknowledge that there is a problem will not solve it.
  • Lying for your child and covering his or her tracks spares them the responsibility and discomfort of acknowledging their issue. If the child is old enough to have a job, they are old enough to call their boss themselves and explain why they can’t make it work. If they lose their job over it, that is their doing, not yours.
  • If the child gets irritated and brings up that without your help, they might be living on the street remember that something like that happening could be just the reality check that they need to get help. You, as a parent, must realize that your child needs negative consequences. If life stays perfect while they abuse drugs, there just is no incentive to change.

Getting Your Child The Help He or She Needs

If you have reached the point where you are done enabling your child’s addiction, then it is also time to get them the help that they need. While addiction treatment only works if the patient is willing to make it work, you can suggest treatment to your child as an option. At Northbound Treatment Center, we want to help both you and your child get the treatment that they need. 

Perhaps, it may be time to schedule an intervention. Here at Northbound Treatment Services, we assist families in helping their loved ones to end substance abuse. So, if someone you care about is struggling with addiction, please contact us today. You can call (866) 311-0003 to learn more about our treatment services.

Article Reviewed by Paul Alexander

Paul AlexanderPaul Alexander is the founder and CEO of Northbound Treatment. He received his Certified Addiction Treatment Specialist training at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, CA, and was awarded Outstanding Alumni Service Award in 2002. Paul holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminology, Law and Society, Summa Cum Laude, from University of California, Irvine, and a Juris Doctorate degree from Loyola Law School of Los Angeles. He believes wholeheartedly in transformational leadership, organizational health and effective, fully integrated substance use disorder treatment.

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