How and why do parents enable?

In an effort to help a child overcome addiction, parents may begin enabling behavior. But how do parents enable? And why does enabling persist? We explore here.

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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!

About the author
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.
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