The Addict and the Enabler

Written By: Laura Cole, ACS Clinical Intern, Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment and Community Counseling Programs

ACS’ Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment Program depends on the participation of not only the teen struggling with substance abuse, but the family or guardian as well.  Addiction affects the entire family, and each family member has a personal responsibility to the recovery process.  The ACS clinicians strive to support parents and families, helping increase trust and communication in the family system, and re-establish clear and healthy roles for parent and child.  Often, a common parental role and behavior comes in the form of enabling their teen and the addiction.  No parent wants to see their child in pain or struggle, though often times, enabling is mistaken as love by a parent.

To enable the disease of addiction means to shield or protect the addict from the harmful consequences of their addictive behavior.  It can sometimes be defined as “loving them to death”.  Enabling can contribute to the progression of the addict’s disease and also ultimately destroys the enabler through stress-related disorders because enabling does not work.

Examples of enabling behavior include:

  • Denial – “He has never been arrested”
  • Drinking or using with the alcoholic/addict – “If he drinks/uses at home, he will be safer”
  • Justifying the addictive behavior by accepting excuses or rationalizations given by the addict – “School has too many pressures;” “Nobody understands me;” or “It relaxes me”
  • Keeping feelings inside
  • Avoiding or ignoring problems – “Keeping peace at all costs”
  • Minimizing – “It is not that bad yet”
  • Protecting the addict – “I will call school and tell them you have the flu”
  • Controlling – “I will take care of you”
  • Tranquilizing feelings in order to avoid facing reality – using food, work, sex, alcohol/drugs, sleep, etc.
  • Becoming Codependent, which may include: taking over responsibilities that belong to the addict; thinking obsessively about the addict; allowing the addictive behavior to completely interfere with one’s own life; being unaware of one’s own needs and wants; and feeling that you will be OK when the addictive behavior stops.

During the process of recovery, parents and/or family have the opportunity to explore all of these aspects of behavior and learn to develop healthier boundaries, communication skills, and self-care in order to better help their teen.  It is helpful to be mindful that no matter where you are in the recovery process, ups and downs are to be expected.  It is suggested that parents and family members develop outside interests and/or get support from other families who are also going through the recovery process.  Do not hesitate to take a proactive role in educating yourself about recovery and how it can affect families.  When interacting with your child, it is important to make your expectations and rules clear and confront problems honestly, while avoiding giving lectures.  Family therapy at ACS is especially beneficial in facilitating this process because often “we cannot yet see, what we cannot see.”

And, lastly, remember:  You cannot make someone recover.  Offer the support and love you can and keep yourself well.  That is the best and most that can be done.