Enabling vs. Helping: How to Stop Catering to your Adult Child's Addiction
No parent wants to bear the brunt of their adult child’s drug addiction. However, for every young adult who is suffering from addiction, there is a parent out there wondering how they can help. Many will fall into codependent behaviors in an effort to keep their child safe, but this may only prolong a child’s addiction. Although this can be a devastating and terrifying experience for any parent, it is important to learn the difference in enabling and helping.
Addiction is a family disease as it affects not only the person suffering but the entire family as well. In many cases where a parent has an adult child who is suffering from addiction, the parent will begin to exhibit codependent behaviors. Codependency is characterized by emotions and behaviors within a relationship that is mutually destructive.
Parents who are codependent often take responsibility for the actions of their addicted child in an attempt to keep them safe. This involves lying to family or friends on behalf of the child, bailing a child out of jail if they get a DUI or drug-related charge, or sending money to the child whenever it is requested. While these behaviors typically have good intentions, it is highly likely that they are enabling the addicted adult child to continue drinking or using.
Enabling refers to the act of eliminating another person’s responsibilities for their actions. An addict who is being enabled will be able to avoid consequences and be unable to see the true extent of the damage being caused by their addiction. A codependent parent may feel a sense of responsibility and guilt if they don’t enable their child, but this will only prolong the suffering that a child will endure.
Examples of enabling behavior include:
- Sending money for food, rent, or other expenses
- Offering the child a ride because they are intoxicated or have a suspended license
- Making up lies or excuses to hide or defend the child’s addictive behavior
- Allowing the child to stay in the home even if they are using drugs
- Shifting blame onto other people rather than the child
- Refusing to talk about the child’s addiction or bad behavior
- Bailing the child out of jail or other circumstances
While these enabling behaviors may seem like a natural, nurturing response of a parent who is trying to protect their child, these actions only affirm the child’s behavior and allow them to use drugs without facing consequences head-on. Without consequences, there may be no incentive for the child to stop using substances.
How You Can Help
If your son or daughter is suffering from drug addiction, there are ways you can help them without becoming codependent and further enabling their addiction. The first step to breaking codependency and ending enabling behaviors is to set firm boundaries and stick to them. Clearly explain to your child that you cannot give them money, offer shelter, or bail them out of certain circumstances until they are ready to seek treatment. Once these boundaries are set into place, it is imperative to stick to them. If you create a boundary then proceed to let it be crossed, your addicted child will take advantage of this and keep running back to you to save them.
By sticking to these boundaries, you will force your child to be held accountable for his or her own actions. It is important that both you and your child understand that any consequences your child may face are a direct result of their own actions. While your child is beginning to take responsibility for his or her own life, you may feel guilty and scared. However, this is an opportunity to begin to take care of yourself. Just like on an airplane, you can’t save anyone without saving yourself first. If your life is consumed with taking care of your child before they are ready for help, it will only harm you both.
Make it clear to your child that when they are ready to seek help, you will do everything possible to help find them the best care possible. For many addicts, they must hit an emotional bottom before they gain the willingness to accept help. Once all of the resources they have been manipulating in order to get what they need to continue their addiction have dried up, they may feel a sense of abandonment that may push them to seek treatment.
Most importantly, you have to remember that you cannot rescue your son or daughter from the throes of addiction. They will have to experience it themselves, face consequences, and reach a place of enough emotional pain if they are to accept help. Begging them to get help or fostering their addictive behaviors won’t help them in the long run and it will take a serious toll on your mental health. Remember that you did not cause their addiction, you cannot control their addiction, and you certainly cannot cure their addiction.
Ending enabling behaviors will help your addicted adult child reach a point where they become willing to accept help. If your son or daughter is suffering from addiction, our addiction specialists are ready to answer any questions you may have. When they are ready to get sober, you can rest easy that your child will be given the best possible care while they begin their journey to sobriety.
Mental Health America Codependency
Smart Recovery Supporting Recovery Without Enabling
Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019
All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.