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Tips for Parents to Stop Enabling an Addicted Child

Many parents have heard the term “codependent” or “enabler,” sometimes used to describe their behavior. But, do they really understand the significance of their behavior?  There are ways for parents to stop enabling an addicted child.  Since most people aren’t aware of the meaning of these terms, let’s explore what these relationships mean. There is an old, old saying: “The rocks in his head fit the holes in hers.” We see evidence of these types of relationships everywhere. Nowhere is this saying in more perfect evidence than the substance abuser and their codependent enabler. The codependent enabler needs to feel needed. This compulsion is so strong that the enabler will actually stand in the way, in whatever way they can, to prevent the addicted partner from healing.

Since most people aren’t aware of the meaning of these terms, let’s explore what these relationships mean. There is an old, old saying: “The rocks in his head fit the holes in hers.” We see evidence of these types of relationships everywhere. Nowhere is this saying in more perfect evidence than the substance abuser and their codependent enabler. The codependent enabler needs to feel needed. This compulsion is so strong that the enabler will actually stand in the way, in whatever way they can, to prevent the addicted partner from healing.

Parents Enabling an Addicted Child

The reason that even the smartest parents enable their addicted children is simple, fear. The imagination of a parent can be a cruel thing. We know there is a real danger of suicide, vehicular accidents, rape or murder. Jail can even seem safer. Any parent can be forgiven for trying to ensure these disasters don’t befall their children. It is when this normal fear meets in the mind of a codependent enabler that disaster follows.

Are You a Codependent Enabler?

If you have come to the conclusion that your child is an addict, think back over recent years and consider how your relationship with them has changed. You may notice that you have become part of helping your child have an easier time living as an addict.

How can you recognize your own codependent enabling relationship with your child?

  • Do you give your child money? Money for drugs, alcohol, paying rent, car and insurance payments, bail money, all those parts of their lives that they would be paying for themselves if they weren’t using their money for drugs.
  • ]Have you lied to your child’s employer or teachers? Covering up for, or lying about an addict’s absence or bad behavior is the height of enabling and never acceptable.
  • If your addicted child promised something to another person, have you fulfilled the commitment for them? Let them figure out a way to live life with all its inconveniences.
  • Do you screen your addicted child’s calls? It is important to make them talk to their own employers, significant others, bail bondsmen, teachers or parole officers.

No parent wants to watch helplessly as their addicted child continues down the road of addiction, but in many cases, parents are part of the problem without being aware of the ways they have enabled the behavior of their child.  Before a parent can understand the importance of their behaviors they must realize that they are enabling an addicted child by not doing anything at all.

How to Stop Your Codependent Enabling Behavior

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how putting your addicted child’s life back into their own lap will put a strain on your relationship. They will often throw actual tantrums, even if they are well into middle age. They will use guilt, insult you, call you the worst parent ever, etc. Don’t fall for it.

Now is the time for the parent or parents to seek help for themselves. There are many avenues for help, even if money is tight. A religious leader can be a really excellent source of help and most of the time charge nothing. Also, parent’s groups, community mental health centers, and many other outreach programs can help.
A word about the other parent:  Very often, one parent is reluctant to give up the enabler role and in fact, may flatly refuse to do so. Don’t waste your time or start a fight. Just make an appointment or plan to attend a meeting by yourself. Think of it this way, there will be one fewer persons giving your child unhealthy support and preventing their growth.

Finding the Best Treatment for Your Child

If your child is a serious substance abuser, probably the only treatment program which will be of lasting value is at an inpatient center. Programs last from 90 days to a year. Be warned that your child will most likely write, call, or run away. They will do anything to talk you into getting them out of treatment and back to the comfy nest. Don’t give in to it. Don’t let them in the door. If they are committed to a treatment center, call the police to have them returned. You must stick to your guns for their sake.

If you can endure, your child has the best chance of success in a long-term inpatient program. Please be aware that if your child is under 18 years old, you have all the say and can sign them up for inpatient or any other kind of treatment you deem appropriate. Once they are of age, there is nothing that you can do unless you are able to have them declared incompetent, a very difficult bar to meet without accompanying severe mental illness.

Most important, forgive yourself and continue to do the best that you can do.  When parents stop enabling an addicted child, they feel empowered to take another step and seek help for the struggling child.

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