Parent’s Guide – Don’t Enable an Addicted Child, Support Them
It is frightening to discover a family member has an addiction. There are so many issues to worry about. A parent dreads to think their loved one may get a police record, or head down a life of destruction. They could destroy their health through drug use or even die from an overdose. A parent can feel overwhelmed with worry. They may feel hopeless, powerless and angry. The home may no longer feel their own and often becomes a place of drama and chaos.
Calmness and Empathy
Parents try many things to help and to show their love. They beg their loved one to stop what they are doing; to seek treatment. They become angry and shout ultimatums. Lashing out in anger rarely leads to a solution. Neither do tears and cajoling. A parent has to support their loved one with calmness and with empathy.
Parents often believe they can show their love and support by covering for their loved one. They may tell the school that the child was absent due to sickness when in fact they were high on drugs. They may ensure that the loved one’s drug paraphernalia are hidden to visitors. They may tell people their child is a loner as a way to excuse their absence from social gatherings. None of this is helpful and is actually enabling the child to continue the destructive behavior.
Professional Help and Support
Addiction usually requires professional help and support. An agency that specializes in treating people with addictions can advise on how to encourage your loved to seek and accept treatment. They can coach the parents and other family members on how to approach the idea of accepting treatment.
Whether your loved one is in treatment yet or not, there are ways a parent can show support and love without enabling the behavior. A parent must realize that the addictive activities are the addict’s concern. They must let the addict experience the fallout from their own actions. If an addict is out all night the parent should carry on with their regular day. When the school phones let the child field the call; or if the parent answers the phone they should tell the truth; that the child does not have a valid reason for missing school. It may be a parent’s instinct to think that being kicked out of school could only make things worse. Protecting your loved one from consequences is enabling and is what makes things worse.
Real Life Consequences
When a child experiences these logical, real life consequences, it gives a parent the chance to be sympathetic rather than being the angry person nagging the child to do the right thing. If a loved one loses a part time job, the parent can use that opportunity to sympathetically express what a tough break that is.
A significant event like losing a job gives the parent the opportunity to show their loved one that they are in control by asking what they are going to do about the situation. It may go against their instinct to refrain from criticizing, or offering suggestions; but it is a powerful way to let the child know it is their situation to deal with. The parent’s job is to love, respect and encourage while refraining from solving. It can be very hard to show respect and love to one’s child in this manner. Support from a professional organization that specializes in addictions would be beneficial.
Parents care so much about their children and hate to see them suffer. If a child loses a job and can’t find another one; or they don’t make the effort, the time is going to come when they ask their parents for money. They can beg, cajole, cry and cause the parents to feel like the only way to be a loving parent is to give them money. If a parent gives in to this and gives them money they are not helping their loved one. If a parent shouts and tells their child they deserve to be broke they are still not helping their child. A parent who can stay loving and sympathetic while leaving the responsibility for the problem in their child’s hands will be helping their child. Sadly, a family member with an addiction can also start to steal. If this happens it is surely time to seek help from professionals.
Author – Chris Howard
Chris Howard is the Founder and Director of Ethos Recovery. He has a B.A. in Psychology from UCLA and has served as a community advocate/mentor for men and women in recovery since 2010.