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Enabling A Child In Self Destruction Can Destroy You

Co-Dependency

Enabling A Child In Self Destruction Can Destroy You

Enabling A Child In Self Destruction Can Destroy You

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Enabling only makes things worse. It's one of the most difficult things for a parent to learn. One of the most difficult situations for a parent is to not rescue a child, even an adult child, from the behaviors that may be taking them down a slope of self destruction such as using drugs and alcohol. As parents we want to save our children from heartbreak, trauma, and consequences. But as parents, we also must understand that rescuing a child from the damaging consequences of drug and alcohol use not only doesn’t help the child, but enables them to continue to use without having to go through natural consequences. And if there are no consequences, then why would an addicted child want to quit?

Enabling Meaning Continuing Use

I remember many years ago when I was first working in addiction treatment and I asked a group of teenagers with SUDs (substance use disorders) what they would do about using if they had no consequences. Every one of them said that they loved to use and would continue to do so if they had no repercussions from their use and a few said they would continue to use once they got out of treatment even though they had already had a number of consequences (minor in possession, kicked out of school, dealing charges, family consequences, forced into treatment, etc.). This tells the power of the addiction – the incredible draw that it has.

Consequences Of Enabling (Allowing SUD Behavior Without Consequence)

  • Helping them to continue down the path of addiction instead of working towards recovery
  • Risking the marriage/partnership if the partner doesn’t want to continue the enabling
  • Risking the relationship with the other children as you continue to place all of your efforts on the addicted child
  • Acting-out behaviors from the other children who may be neglected due to the above situation
  • Continuing to spend money you don’t have towards treatment for a child who won’t stop using
  • For an adult child, not honoring what that’s child’s family members request such as stopping giving him/her/they money that they then use on drugs
  • Enabling means that you also don’t trust your child to do the right thing
  • Meddling in things that aren’t about you
  • Ignoring other people in your life as you are so determined to fix the problem with your child
  • Ignoring what the treatment provider suggests regarding consequences and enabling
  • Destroying your own health through your unhealthy behaviors
  • Not getting the help you need such as going to Codependency Anonymous or Al-Anon
  • Feeling that everyone except the addict is against you (which may be true because you are handling the situation poorly)
  • Not being able to grieve the loss regarding the child and the addiction as you try to control the situation and your feelings
  • Still losing the child no matter what you do

So What’s A Parent To Do

  • Educate yourself about addictions, consequences, and enabling
  • Set boundaries and keep to them – no means no
  • Stop enabling – allow the natural consequences of the addiction to reign down on the addict
  • Quit blaming yourself for the addict’s behavior – it is always his/her/they choice whether to use or not
  • Stop making excuses for the user
  • Stop bailing them out financially, legally, or emotionally
  • focus on the health of the rest of your family
  • Focus on your own health – both physical and emotional
  • Seek help for yourself through 12 step meetings or other support groups and/or therapy
  • Develop and utilize healthy coping skills
  • Get involved in leisure/fun activities both alone and with family and friends
  • Participate in spiritual activities such as religion, spiritual groups, having fun with the rest of the family, doing creative works, etc.

While these suggestions may seem trite to you, especially as you understand you may lose the addict to the disease including the possibility of death, you can only heal yourself and help those around you who want your support in a healthy manner. How difficult it is to let go of the loved one for fear may be a huge factor for you. But by enabling an addict, you need to understand that you are aiding them in the self-destructive path – you are not helping. Allow yourself to feel the horror, the sadness, the fear, and all other feelings related to the grief that you are going through, for you will grieve. Finally, look for help for yourself. Recovery Guidance is a safe and free resource to find recovery professionals near you.


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Carol Anderson, D.Min., ACSW, LMSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience in the fields of mental health, addictions, and co-occurring disorders. Her other specialties include grief and trauma, women’s issues, chronic pain management, holistic healing, GLBTQ concerns, and spirituality and transpersonal psychology. Dr. Anderson has been educated and trained in the fields of education, social work, and spirituality, and she holds a Doctor of Ministry degree (non-denominational/interfaith) specializing in spirituality.

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