It’s natural to want to help, but enabling takes it a step too far. We do things out of guilt, fear or control, but we usually call it love.
Deep down, you may recognize that your behaviors seem wrong or ineffective, yet primal instincts compel us to protect those we love.
Enabling happens when you protect them not from addiction, but from consequences that could be real incentives to change.
- Common enabling topics: Covering | Money | Housing | Legal | Calls
- Also on this page: Ending the Enabling | Stopping Manipulations
- Don’t lie, cover-up or trivialize the facts about their actions.
- Don’t make excuses or apologize for them if they don’t show up for work or family obligations.
- If your loved one disappoints someone, they need to feel that disappointment (not you).
- The research is clear – when you make it easier for them to check out of their ‘normal’ life, you make it easier for them to fall into the shadows of addiction.
- Think of giving money as giving drugs or alcohol.
- Even paying bills, fines, rent, loans, gas or auto insurance could be counter-productive. Saying “no” is your prerogative.
- Your loved one should feel the impact of not being able to cover these costs if they choose to deny or leave treatment.
- You can always come back to paying for things like tuition when you feel they are really back on track.
- One exception could be paying for things that directly encourage recovery like medications, health insurance, sobrity apps and treatment.
- You don’t have to feel uncomfortable in your own home.
- If you find yourself scared of what laws they’re breaking behind closed doors or how they might treat you when they’re high or withdrawing, enough is enough.
- Plus, it makes treatment more appealing.
- No one wants their loved one to go to jail or have a criminal record.
- However, by bailing them out or paying for a lawyer, you remove tangible consequences that could prompt them to seek help.
- You teach them not to worry about legal issues because you’ll take on that stress.
- If your loved one is refusing treatment, but still talking to you, you can definitely answer their calls and meet them for a meal or event.
- When you talk, express your love and invite them to treatment every time. One day, you may get the ‘yes’ that you’re waiting for.
- Stand firm in your boundaries, but show them love and kindness.
- Feeling a connection with you reminds them that there are things to live for beyond drugs and alcohol.
Don’t ignore your enabling or assume this advice doesn’t apply to your situation.
Instead, evaluate your responses to flag what you’re doing that may be counterproductive and actively change the way you respond.
How do I stop enabling?
Ending your enabling is not a one-time deal. Rather, a conscious effort you make every single day; every time you see or hear from your loved one; every time you think about your loved one.
Enabling is a habit, and like most habits, it can be broken.
1. Set boundaries.
Once you accept that you need to change and start to recognize your enabling behaviors, the next step is to define and communicate boundaries.
A boundary is a rule you set with a specific consequence if that rule is ignored.
Setting boundaries is not a punishment or abandonment of your loved one.
2. Follow through on boundaries.
This is usually the hardest part, but you should never set a boundary you aren’t prepared to follow through on.
“This week, you missed your therapy sessions and meetings. I feel disappointed. We agreed that you needed to follow through with your recovery commitments if you wanted to live in this house. I must follow through with my commitment now and ask you to pack your things to go to the sober house that was recommended by your therapist.”
2. Don’t try to do it alone.
It can be hard for us to see the insanity in our own rationalizations — why we “have” to give them money, rides, housing, etc.
Getting guidance from professionals or other families in the same situation helps you recognize and make changes.
How to Stop Enabling Your Grown Child
Parents are usually the enablers. We spent years taking care of everything for our kids and keeping them safe.
It’s never easy to break bad habits. For most parents, it feels unnatural to not “help.” Follow the advice above anyway. Attend support groups for families of addicts to keep perspective and learn from the stories of others.
How can I stop them from manipulating conversations?
Learn to guide the conversation by addressing distractions directly and redirect the conversation back to the real message.
This ensures your points are clear and lets them know they can’t manipulate the discussion. They may not even be conscious of these defense mechanisms.
Here are common examples:
Comparing to extreme examples, describing how it could be much worse or making their use relative to others.
“I hear you saying that you don’t drink as much as Jon, but my concern about your drinking has nothing to do with Jon. I want to stay focused on what’s going on with you and how your drinking is negatively affecting me.”
Turning the topic back to you, changing the subject or using humor.
“I appreciate you trying to lighten the mood, but this is a serious topic. When you joke, it makes me feel like you aren’t taking my concerns seriously.”
Pretending they didn’t hear you or saying that you worry too much.
“I am worried because addiction is a serious disease. As much as you may not want to be hurting me with your drug use, you are.”
Using words like probably, possibly or maybe.
“When I hear you say “maybe,” I feel like you really mean ‘no.’ I prefer you say ‘I will’ and make a real commitment to do what I’m asking.”
Explaining why something that’s clearly not OK is OK.
“I hear you say you only drink to be social, but last week I saw you sleeping with an empty vodka bottle in your bed. I’m worried that your drinking is no longer social. And, I hope you can remain open to hearing my concerns.”
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Rotunda RJ, West L, O’Farrell TJ. Enabling behavior in a clinical sample of alcohol-dependent clients and their partners. J Subst Abuse Treat. 2004 Jun;26(4):269-76. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2004.01.007. PMID: 15182891.
Houck JM, Hunter SB, Benson JG, Cochrum LL, Rowell LN, D’Amico EJ. Temporal variation in facilitator and client behavior during group motivational interviewing sessions. Psychol Addict Behav. 2015 Dec;29(4):941-9. doi: 10.1037/adb0000107. Epub 2015 Sep 28. PMID: 26415055; PMCID: PMC4701607.
Conyers, B. (2015). Addict in the family: Stories of loss, hope, and recovery. Center City, MN: Hazelden.
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