Am I Enabling Addiction or Keeping My Child Alive?

When a child struggles with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, parents might begin blaming themselves for their child’s behaviors. One parent might accuse the other of enabling the addiction. The other parent could feel shame, as they blame themselves for what has happened. They fear the judgment and accusations of others, who might be quick to label them as bad parents unfairly.

“Enabling” is a word that gets thrown around a lot in addiction recovery. The negative connotations surrounding the act of enabling or “codependency” can make loved ones feel like they are to blame. Therapists, social workers, and other supports might lead us to believe that our reactions and responses created these conditions for our child. As they attempt to get to the core of the matter and examine the family structure, we may feel like we are being blamed.

Is My Child’s Addiction My Fault?

Parents of children that struggle with addiction often ask themselves if they contributed to the issues. They might wrack their brains, thinking back to the past, looking for flaws in their parenting styles that could explain the path their child is going down. They might worry that they are not tough enough on their kids or do not use enough punishment and discipline. They may feel like weak parents unable to “lay down the law.”

The cycle of blaming and shame will not help the situation at hand. We can become trapped in our thoughts, feeling bad about ourselves, assuming that we are unfit at being parents. However, we need to re-examine how we define enabling to stop the cycle of blame. Often, those engaging in behaviors that others describe as enabling are doing their best to help someone they love. They might not know what to do or feel that they are making the best choices in the moment, just trying to get through the day.

What Is Enabling?

Enabling allows a negative behavior to continue by creating conditions that make the bad behavior easy—for example, passively watching a child struggling with addiction and doing nothing to help them can enable the behavior. Though a parent is not encouraging the behavior, they are also not addressing their child’s actions. By not intervening, they avoid confrontation, either hoping the behavior will stop on its own or out of fear of unintentionally making things worse.

Some parents might not know what to do or do not have the support of a parenting partner to set consequences for their child. They may well have tried to set expectations that have not worked. Enabling by inaction can be the result of learned helplessness or a lack of resources. For parents who feel alone and unsure of what to do to help their kids, support is available at Fire Mountain’s Facebook group “Parenting Teens That Struggle.” Other groups, like Al-Anon, can provide resources and support for parents unsure of how to manage a child’s addiction.

Otherwise, enabling might be a parent trying their best, yet unintentionally creating conditions that allow the behaviors to continue. These parents often meet their children with compassion and understanding, listen to them, and give them second chances, perhaps without accountability. Other times, parents use harm reduction techniques, making compromises with their kids, like “If you are going to drink, then call me for a ride” or “if you are smoking pot, please only use at home.” Parents might even procure clean needles for kids addicted to heroin or other substances.

Keeping Our Kids Alive

Of course, keeping our kids alive is better than letting them engage in dangerous behavior without our awareness or knowledge. Addiction is not easy to recover from, especially without support or guidance. In some cases, without medical supervision, detox and withdrawal can be dangerous or even deadly. Parents who have tried everything they know to get their kids to stop might decide just to keep their kids alive, whether they continue using or not.

Some parents might shame these parents as enablers, saying they should resort to harsher measures, like kicking their kids out of the house. However, harsh punishments are easier said than done. If we want to help the kids of parents who appear to enable behaviors, we can stop shaming them for doing what they believe to be best. They are in survival mode, keeping their kids alive. With additional support, understanding, and resources, they can hopefully move forward to getting their kids—and themselves—the help they deserve.

Enabling can come with a lot of negative connotations. We often blame people who enable destructive behaviors, like addiction, defiance, or other challenging behaviors. Sometimes, however, parents might not know what to do to stop a child’s self-destructive behaviors. They may not have the support or guidance needed or the resources to get professional help. Some parents might be stuck with difficult choices and decide to choose the lesser of two evils if that means, at a minimum, they are keeping their child alive. Addiction is not easy to recover from, but there is hope for teens who struggle. If you are the parent of a child with an addiction or other challenging behavior, Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center is here to help you. We can connect you with the support and resources you need to get your kid back. Call us today at (303) 443-3343 to discuss our parenting workshops and residential treatment programs. We’re here to help your family’s fire burn brightest.

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