Monday October 20th 2014

How and why do parents enable?

As parents, it is our responsibility to prepare our children for life. We naturally want the best for them, and from the time they come into this world we hope they will grow into happy, successful, and fulfilled adults. But sometimes our best parental instinct can hurt our kids.  So how can family help and addict?  When does helping become enabling? And how can you stop enabling behavior once it has begun? We explore here, and invite your questions about enabling at the end.

Why do parents enable?

When a child grows up and becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, the parent often feels a sense of failure. In an effort to somehow help a child overcome the addiction, parents may begin enabling behavior. While enabling comes from a loving desire, these actions can actually push the addicted child further into their addiction. And although it can be difficult to stop enabling alcoholic or drug addict child, it is possible.

What is enabling?

Enabling is when you are doing something for the addict that they should be doing for themselves. When parents enable, they are usually attempting to protect their child from being hurt or destroying their future. However, they don’t realize that by protecting their child from the consequences of their actions, they are allowing the problem to grow larger.

How do parents enable?

Here are some of the common ways and examples of enabling behaviors that parents use to enable an addicted child:

  1. Allowing an addicted child to live at home after the age of eighteen even though they are not making any contributions to the household. In today’s economy, many adult children live at home. But when a parent holds no expectations and allows an addicted child to live at home free and clear, this simply makes it easier to spend any money they have on drugs or alcohol.
  2. Paying their addicted child’s rent or mortgage so that they don’t end up homeless. It is understandable why a parent would do this, but when this financial responsibility is handled for the addict, it just makes it easier to spend that money on their addiction.
  3. Paying bills for the addict so they don’t lose their car, cell phone, cable, or electricity. Can you see the trend here? If the parent were to stop paying these bills, then the addicted child may start to feel the consequences of their actions, possibly leading to a desire for positive change.
  4. Bailing their child out of jail or vouching for them in court. No parent wants to see their child locked up behind bars. Unfortunately, this is what it might take for them to realize their need for help. While jail and/or prison is the last thing a parent wants for their child, it can sometimes save an addict’s life.

How can I stop enabling?

For parents, trying to understand addiction is difficult and confusing. It just doesn’t make any sense that their child will continue to use drugs and/or alcohol in spite of devastating consequences. It is hurtful that your own child will lie and steal from the family. And, because of the stigma that surrounds addiction, it can be embarrassing and shameful to have an addict in the family. Many times, it is this shame that causes parents to continue enabling – in order to prevent further embarrassment to the family.

This is why it is so important for parents to understand addiction. The first step to helping your child is gaining knowledge. If you were told that your child had diabetes you would learn everything you could about the disease. You would arm yourself with knowledge in order to face that battle. Like diabetes, addiction is a disease. By learning as much about addiction as possible, families can help their loved ones to recovery.

In the process of learning about addiction, it is equally important for parents to focus on their own recovery (from enabling behavior). By attending family recovery meetings, such as Al-Anon, parents can learn to make healthy changes in their family dynamic. They can gain strength and knowledge, as well as the extra support needed to get through the rough times.

Questions about parenting a drug addict

Do you still have questions or concerns about a child in your life? Maybe you just need to vent and share your experience. We invite you to leave your comments, opinions and questions about parenting or enabling below. We try our best to respond to each question with a personal and prompt reply. You are not alone!

Photo credit: Caitlinator

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21 Responses to “How and why do parents enable?
Eliana Stern
11:42 pm November 7th, 2012

There is a difference between enabling and trying to help your child. There is a delicate balance a parent has to strike between detaching from your child’s problems and engaging them to teach them that they are loved and valuable — too valuable for drugs and alcohol.

I help parents develop healthy strong messages to send their child about their addiction and learn to detach appropriately.

Cheryl Reyes
8:49 pm December 30th, 2012

is there a blog for us lost parents.. I am so far beyond what I can even speak to non drug addicts parents…

9:02 am December 31st, 2012

Hello Cheryl. You can find communication and support on this thread here: http://drug.addictionblog.org/my-son-is-on-drugs-what-do-i-do/

You are not alone! And consider looking into theantidrug[dot]gov or calling 1-800-662-HELP for more information about finding support as the parent of a drug addict.

Kathryn
11:45 pm January 17th, 2013

Hello…. I looked at the blog you referred Carol to, my daughter is much older. Our problems are so complex I’m just don’t know what to do or where to go. I’m so caught up in the enabling that I don’t have the time or the ability to get myself help. I don’t have any insurance so going to see a psychiatrist is out of the question, I tried a counselor at my church, but her time is limited and I need way more help than an hour once a week. Here’s a little bit of what is going on, my daughter is a grown woman with 6 kids ranging in age from 3 to 14. Her husband was arrested almost 6 months ago for abusing one of their daughters. She was already abusing prescription drugs when he went to jail and after he was gone she spiraled downward rapidly. Child protective services stepped in and demanded she place her children with family or they would be taken from her. Which is one of the reasons i am in this situation. After a few home visits cps closed the case because the children were safe in my care. However we agreed to not allow her to be alone with the kids or transport them anywhere. We are supposed to keep the kids until the power of attorney ends in May. I am supposed to be the one to make that determination (so unqualified!) meanwhile things have been getting worse and worse and I find that I am enabling because I have to somehow help her get back to being a parent again. I can NOT keep these kids forever! My husband is very ill and we have 3 other small kids we are raising besides her 6! So, we are trying to live on my husbands SSI which is less than 1500 a month and trying to support 9 kids with that!! I asked cps if she could move in with us to “help” and so I could be sure she went to out patient rehab. I hoped i could keep her on track and somehow “teach” her to be a good mom. They said yes as long as she was always supervised with the kids. However she is NOT helping, she is working a part time job and not contributing anything, she is no longer going to rehab and we recently found out she has been stealing from us. Both money (cash and gift cards we got for Christmas) and she also fraudulently has used our debit card numerous times. We caught her this month because our rent check almost bounced. Then today we found that she has been stealing my husbands pain meds too. We suspected but for the first time we counted, hid and locked them up and she still got them!!!! What can I do???? If I kick her out the kids will go nuts….. They are already having major issues. Then also how can I get her back into rehab?? I’m so lost, so terribly lost.

Jilly
2:43 am March 13th, 2013

My husband is enabling his 20 yr old son “son”. We were married in 2006 and within a month of our marriage problems with son started surfacing. First there was a $400 porn bill from our satelite co. Then there was the time he go so drunk at a friends house and threw up in their basement, next him sneaking onto anyone’s computer he could get his hands on to watch porn, the several times I caught him masturbating when he knew I was home, caught buying pot in our driveway, caught sneaking out in the middle of the night to do drugs, climbing out of his window to smoke pot on our roof, pressuring our other son and my nephew to do drugs, giving our younger son drugs for his 18 birthday. At college (2011/12 he got really messed up on an assortment of drugs and was caught dealing and was kicked out. Since then we think he has stopped dealing but is still on the same behavior track, hanging out with the same people doing the same things. He left our house last summer because my husband got tough . He moved in with his mother and step dad. He was kicked out of an out treatment program twice in 2012 and we admitted him into an in patient facility in Sept. 2012 for 3 weeks. In Nov. he was kicked out of his mothers house because of drugs and inappropriate sexual behavior towards his mom. He then moved into a friends house renting a room. By Feb. he lost his 2 p/t jobs for not showing up and was kicked out of the friends house because he couldn’t pay rent. Thats when he asked to come back to our house “just for a few days” that was a month ago. Since then my husband has done everything you can think of that qualifies as enabling. Since Oct. we go to a weekly group meeting headed by a drug and alcohol counselor of about 5 families who are struggling with an addict kid or spouse. Since moving back to our house he hasn’t looked for a job because his mother gave him a p/t temp job (another enabler). He never has money and although my husband is keeping track he continues to “lend” him money. Thankfully our youngest son “19 yrs” is away at school and is thinking of staying there and my step daughter “his daughter” is away at college. Last night at dinner she and her boyfriend asked why he was still in the house and my husband had no answer. Then she said at the very least we should demand that he pay rent and be responsible for his own food and personal products. Again no response. In counseling last week my husband finally spoke up about what is going on and I exploded from my stress about the problems. Everyone including the counselor said he is enabling and that son shouldn’t be living in the house. But he is still here. I’m at my wits end, I’m having panic attacks so severe that my husband thought I was having a heart attack, my doctor put me on anti anxiety medication because of the situation. I’m so unhappy, stressed and angry.

Marci
10:49 pm March 20th, 2013

I am a mom who tried for the last two years to get my then 18 year old son out of heroin use! He started selling to support his habit! I knew this,I tried rehabs,but only worked for few days until he was around his friends.when you live in a small town,its almost impossible! I finally kicked him out last march! It was sooo hard! Waited for that call, or officer to show up and tell me my son was dead! I did get a officer that showed up at my door at midnight on may 5th with my sons shoes and backpack,scared me to death ! I am soooo lucky to have my son in prison for 3 years! My son is safe,he is clean, and I sleep again at night!! And we have our wonderful relationship back! He will get out and be a better person for it! He will not go back and live where he came from,he will be living in. Another state when he gets out so he can start a new life! So I just want to make sure other parents know, it’s not bad if they go to jail or prison! It saves their lives!

Rhonda
3:59 am March 27th, 2013

Do I help my jailed 31 year old meth and pill addicted daughter again when she is freed? She has lost her entire family and most of me too. I am newly married and don’t want to ruin my new life either. She will be homeless when she gets out. I love her but do not know what to do. This is not the first time she has been in jail.

Ann
9:07 pm March 31st, 2013

We have an adult drug addict daughter who has her daughter living with her. Our granddaughter is 16 and will not leave her mother. We know our granddaughter is using as well. They are both on the streets living in hotels. They call us weekly begging for money so they can have a roof over their heads. We don’t know what to so! We live 3000 miles away from them but we Western Union $ often. Please give us your suggestions.

Thank you,
10 years of dealing with an addict

Susan
12:15 pm April 20th, 2013

Over the past 5 years our daughter has done the below:
tried to kill herself on many occasions, been caught with pot numerous times, stolen thousands of dollars worth of items from parents, brought a young man into our home in the middle of the night and we found out the next morning, (not someone that she had been dating),falsely accused mother by calling the police of hurting her, grabbed her fathers hand and tried to use his hand to hit her, wrecked her car and had it towed to friends house while not telling us anything about it, and those are just a few. We have taken her to the hospital, to see many doctors and counselors, attempted to take her to see the doctors only to have her jump out of moving vehicles. I have repeatedly told her to leave but never until last night did my husband back me up. We told her to pack her bags she would not and then said “call the police on me they can’t do anything”. Then we told her to get in the car and she said she had no where to go and took her to a shelter where she again jumped out of a moving vehicle and then came back close enough to the car to say they won’t take me. My husband tried to get her back in and she just kept going all the time flipping him off. Then when he comes home he blames me for it and when I tried to ask what happened this is what he says “oh no, you can’t have it both ways. You wanted her out she is out and if she is killed tonight then deal with that and it’s over.” I love my husband with everything I am but I had to leave and now I don’t know what to do.Every part of me and the professionals that I have spoken too have said she has to be responsible. My heart is breaking and again I don’t know what I could of done better or what other options we had. I would appreciate any suggestions.

Martha
4:37 pm April 22nd, 2013

My 21 year old daughter came from another city to detox and she is in intense outpatient treatment while staying with me. Believe me, I am grateful that she has made a decision to get and stay clean. My issue is that I guess I dont know what she might be going through mentally and thought she would be more a part of the family, like eating with us at dinner (she agreed to do), being home by midnight (she agreed to do). She is just so self absorbed and, in my opinion, rude and disrespectful to me. So how can I help myself and tolerate this short term arrangement?

Mother
4:31 am December 29th, 2013

It is difficult having a heroin addict son, he is not a baby anymore, he is a young adult. I gave him a choice either to go away to get better or leave the home. He was sleeping in our family vehicle because my husband wanted to shelter him from cold! Well, he is not going for help and still using, he cannot be home anymore until, after treatment for a year. now he is out there somewhere! I know from ALANON meetings that you cannot remove the consequences. All I can do is pray!

ruth\
2:52 am June 10th, 2014

I have been on this roller coaster ride for 3 years. I truly am an enabler. I try I can be stuff but I can not see my kicking my child out of the house and putting him on the streets. The torment this addiction brings is unbearable. Things seem better then ram back bad again. I believe I could be stronger in my choices with him even though it would break my heard, but the fact he has to children that it would destroy them. The oldest child is ten and adores his daddy. This whole addiciton process started when his wife left him for best friend. The divorce has been ugly and she has been very cruel with visitation even though court order says certain things she want let him have kids. He has gone from worst to worst then rehab gotten better then fall back. But I have these two precious babies in the picture and I have to do whatever I possibly can to protect them from the heartache all this. It is truly different when children are involved.

Marie
6:53 pm June 14th, 2014

I am a mother of a young adult daughter, who was addicted to opiates, put on suboxin, all while attending college, developed type 1 diabetes, and adrenal fatigue, she was put on vivance to wake up. Started working in het career, but I noticed a change in her, strange behaviors, she was abusing her meds. Now my husband and son are angry at her, and me calling me the enabler. She just flat out quit her job, Won’t go to counselling, my husband was yelling at her, and I came to her rescue. We tried going to the police, my husband gave her 1 a day of her meds. But she found them and d took more. Should I move out with her, she is nottaking care of herself with the diabetes, and tell her we cannot live here at home because of her addition, and she has to go for help. Thank you for your direction and response looking forward to it. Also going to a meeting tonight alnon. Marie

Joan P
6:06 am August 9th, 2014

Our 25 year old son is in jail for the second time. We have been putting money on an account with the jail so that he can call us collect. That keeps us informed with what is going on but also allows him to say whatever is on his mind, good or bad. We are beginning to wonder if this is enabling behavior. Right now there is always money on account so he can call anytime. I am thinking a first step would be to limit when there will be money on a card for instance once every two weeks. I would like to hear what others say about this. Thank you. Joan

Lucy
6:06 pm August 9th, 2014

I’m reading some of the post and I want to respond. First, moms, dads, and grandparents you are not alone out there! Please seek out Al-Anon. You cannot go through this alone! And although writing to this site can be very helpful it’s not enough! I can relate to all of you. I have a 37 year old daughter who has been a drug addict for 15 years and is finally in a rehab program. She choose to go to a program. She choose to sell her car, (which she had been living in), to have some money, (which she asked her dad to save for her), to pay for any incidentals that she would need while in rehab. Why did she finally go to rehab? Why did she sell her car? Because her father and I had finally given up! Period! We stopped talking to her, we stopped taking her calls, we stopped giving her money. We stopped! I felt guilty. I heard from her how horrible we were. We were called every “ugly” word you can think of. My husband and I needed to save the rest of our family. We needed to save our marriage! We loved our daughter, but we didn’t like what she was doing to us. When your love one hits rock bottom and the family tells them that they can’t help until they decide to get help for their addictions and you mean it, something eventually happens to the addict. It may not happen over night, or even for a few months or years. You can only “let go and let God”. I am not religious, so please don’t misinterpret what I just said. That saying is the mantra for Al-Anon and it WORKS! Moms have a harder time letting go of sons. Fathers have a harder time letting go of their daughters. Look around. You have other children, other healthy family members. Don’t let the addict destroy all of you.

Joanne
11:45 pm August 10th, 2014

To Joan P – I made the phone accessible to someone in prison for 4+ years. I think it was a huge factor i what he called “taking me out of this place”, staying connected with family, and rebuilding bridges in a gradual and non-confrontational way. I do not regret that there was always money or that he could call anytime. The only time I see this as being detrimental is when the person in jail calls friends who are going to threaten getting on and staying on the right path once he is released.

Help him get all the structured support he can from minute one on the outside.

Lucy
12:06 pm August 11th, 2014

Ruth, yes it is very different and harder to keep our heads straight when grandchildren are involved! As I wrote earlier, my daughter (37) is an addict and currently in rehab. Her then 15 year old started taking drugs while living with her drug addict father. My daughter lost her daughters and the courts banned her from seeing them. They continued to live in a drug infested household and I as a grandmother had no rights to my grandchildren. My ex son-in-law was and is a monster. The minute my granddaughter stated using drugs he through her out. I knew I couldn’t help my daughter, she refused to admit she needed help, so I flew 1500 miles to save my granddaughter. So if all fails, save the grandchildren. My granddaughter went through rehab, attends AA meetings (the best thing that happened to her. AA members embraced her and made her feel like she had a family she could relate to), goes to therapy, and will finish high school this year.

Ruth, if your son is using, the children need to be supervised when he’s with them. I do believe they need to see him otherwise the children will rebell like my granddaughter did. My granddaughter stated that not having her mother or me in her life for four years is what lead her to drugs. So children need to see their parents. They also need theraphy so a professional can help the family and children deal with all the trauma that addiction brings to the family. Ruth, if you can, see if your son will attend AA meetings. Make it a condition if he needs money, housing or food. AA is free. Your son needs a group of people who can understand what he has gone through. Tell him if he stays clean he has a better chance of fighting for his kids. The courts have family law and it’s free. They will help to make sure your ex-daughter-in-law follows the court orders. But, only help if he stays clean. Protect the children. You’re a good mom. This is not your fault. The minute you believe that, the sooner you’ll be stronger and able to see things more clearly.

Nancy
6:12 pm August 12th, 2014

My 40 year old daughter has been involved with drugs since she was 16 years old. She can’t find a job, she lives with me. She suddenly has lost 30-ish pounds. (she is 5’5 and weighs approx. 85 pounds). She looks terrible, her hair is thinning, her teeth are falling out. She blames everyone for her lifestyle. When I confronted her today and said she must go back to NA she became very abusive – chased me and verbally assaulted me!!

Any thoughts………..

Joan P
12:54 am August 14th, 2014

Joanne- Thank you for your in put on keeping money on the phone account. Joan

shelly
7:08 pm September 2nd, 2014

My husband and I need to not enable our 20 year old son anymore. He has 2 daughters by 2 different women. We bought him his own home still pay all utilities, buy another or fix his vehicles if something happens to them, bonded him out of jail several times, pay all court fines. He moves in with us when his home gets to messy or a girl breaks up with him and he cries for weeks and says he’s going to kill himself. We can’t help him anymore -2 days ago we decided to stop but we have said that many times. I have bruises where he pushed me to the floor. I have holes in my walls again, expensive doors broken again. I just want to know how to not let him back in our home – how does me and his dad stick to staying out of his life until he can respect us and our home??????????? It is very hard to turn your child away even when he says he is going to kill you.

LeeAnn
3:41 pm September 7th, 2014

My son lives 3 hrs away. Is probably using. States he’s underemployed and needs gas money, that he is living 40 miles from work. He lies often. This is a new job. Stated he may not start it and keep collecting unemployment. He may not have had money. Mind games. The $25 I would give him could be used for drugs or he could lose his job

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About Lisa Espich

Lisa Espich is the author of the multi award-winning book, Soaring Above Co-Addiction: Helping your loved one get clean, while creating the life of your dreams. For additional articles, resources, and a free preview chapter of Soaring Above Co-Addiction visit her website. Her book is available at bookstores everywhere and at Twin Feather Publishing.