How to stop enabling a drug addicted child?

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Learn about rehab for addiction, detox treatments, and how to stop being an enabler.

Have friends and family told you that you are enabling your child’s addiction? As mothers, fathers, parents, and guardians, we tend to want to only see the best in our children. We want others to hold that view, too. However, this means we feel responsible for their actions, and that we try to excuse them when they are unacceptable.

There’s nothing wrong with looking out for your children, but there is something wrong with enabling an addict. If you are offering the wrong types of help, you might well be giving them the fuel they need to make an addiction worse.

This page contains all you need to know about enabling your child, including how to stop and how to get them professional help.

What is Enabling?

Enabling is anything you do for your son, daughter, or NB child, that results in them being able to pursue their addiction more freely. There is a fine line between enabling an addict and supporting your child, so it’s no wonder that you have turned to the internet for support. Fortunately, you won’t be the first parent out there who has felt at a loss to help their addicted child.

Enabling, described by psychologists as ‘smoothing over’ an addiction so that it may continue[i], is harder to avoid than you might think. Let’s talk about how we recognise that we are enabling our child to carry on their addiction.

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How to Recognise you are Enabling?

The best way to recognise that you are enabling an addiction is to always keep it in the forefront of your mind, when your child asks you for things. Don’t worry, we will cover other techniques to stop you enabling in a moment. First, we wanted to have you look back over some past interactions with your addicted child or loved one.

Think back to the last time they asked you for money. What was the excuse they gave? Did they need to eat? To pay rent? To cover their car insurance? All these excuses are things they ought to be able to cover the expenses for themselves.

Putting a simple boundary in place can stop your child coming to you for money. Telling them you will no longer lend them anything will lead to emotional blackmail, but if you have discussed the boundary and informed them in plenty of notice, there’s no way around it for them.

So “can I borrow money to pay for my online course” can be met with a simple “no.” However, you could offer to buy the course yourself and gift it to them. You should soon see other excuses pop up about why you can’t do that, and why it must be them that buys it, that should reassure you that you are doing the right thing.

To recognise when you are enabling, pay attention to the times that you feel not-quite-right about giving them something. These are the times when your gut is telling you to stop. Don’t cover for them, don’t lend them money, and don’t clean up their mistakes[ii].

Examples of Enabling Behaviours

Some examples of common enabling behaviours might include the following:

How to stop enabling your son or daughter?

Now that we can recognise when we are enabling our drug or alcohol addicted child, we know when to stop it. Here are some of the ways you will find it easiest to stop enabling your child.

Learn about Addiction to get them outside help

Learning everything you can about the drugs or alcohol that they are addicted to can really help. They are never sober and are unable to process what they must do to quit using. You are in a unique position where you can leave leaflets around the house, introduce them to detox or rehab programs, and inspire them to get the help they need. So, learn everything you can about addiction to be prepared.

Arrange a time to talk

Arrange a time to sit them down and have a chat. You should do this when they are sober, although sometimes that’s not possible. Talk to them about their addiction in a way that doesn’t provoke blame or shame. Let them know that you have seen what the drugs or drink is doing to them, and you want to help. Perhaps give them information or leaflets you have gathered that can help. You should give them a copy of the Help4Addiction phone number, too (that’s 0203 955 7700).

Set out your new boundaries

While you are having that chat, make it clear that you have written down new rules which you expect them to adhere to while they are an addict. These boundaries shouldn’t be excessive but should be firm lines they are not allowed to cross[iii].

For example, telling your child that you will no longer be giving them money for any purpose is a firm starting point. Tell them that you will happily cook for them or purchase things on their behalf (if you must), but that you won’t be giving them cash. This will be met with resistance. However, the next time they come to you expecting to borrow money, you can refer them back to this conversation and say no to their demands without guilt.

The important part of all this is that setting boundaries prevents your child from emotionally manipulating you to get what they want. Be clear and definitive with your boundaries and don’t give in to one of them. If you can give in to one, you can give in to them all.

Stop making excuses for, or covering up, their behaviour

Next, make it clear that you will no longer be covering up their bad behaviour[iv]. If relatives or friends want to know why you are not attending events, you will be telling the truth herein. This might startle your child into seeking help.

Do not Belittle or Blame

Be careful that you don’t blame them for their addiction. Addiction is a disease. It is as much a symptom of things gone wrong in life as it is a debilitating condition that affects morale, confidence, self-esteem, and mental health. Don’t fan the flames by adding guilt and shame into the mix. Responsibility without blame should be taught instead and is done through a professional rehab program[v].

Reality Test Situations to Stay on Top of Enabling

Reality testing is a phrase used in Psychology to help us recognise when things are not our own responsibility[vi]. So, if your crystal meth addicted adult son comes to you and asks for money because he hasn’t paid his rent, you have to engage in reality testing before you agree to help him. Is it your fault that he hasn’t paid his rent? Did you spend all his wages? Is it your rent that has gone unpaid?

Using reality testing we can work our way out of the guilt and shame of emotional blackmail. Say your daughter is an alcoholic and can’t see her children, so she asks to drop by during your visit with them, instead. If you agree, you risk being cut off, but in your heart, you feel she should be able to see her children… A reality test here shows that her loss of contact is not your responsibility. That your relationship with your grandchildren is equally as important (perhaps more important) than your relationship with your daughter, and that letting her interrupt your contact time would be an enabling behaviour.

Allow your Loved one to Reach Rock Bottom

Which brings us to the final point. If you are an enabler, you are not allowing your loved one to reach rock bottom. We must let this happen if we want them to get help in the future. If the worst never comes, how will our children learn that their addiction is no good for them? This is the main reason we don’t enable. It’s tough love but it’s effective. It may mean allowing law enforcement officers to get involved if they must.

Urge them to Get Professional Help

Finally, having the documentation there, to hand, which could see your child into a rehab and detox clinic, can make or break the conversation. If you can get through to them, it’s better to be able to give them the information on the spot before they change their minds.

When all Else Fails: Consider an Intervention

If you tried to talk to your child about their addiction and saw no progress, don’t give up. You may have planted the seed that will grow over time and eventually see them seek out professional help. Wait for a week or two, then consider staging an intervention. Interventions have proven effective treatments for everything from tobacco[vii] to gambling[viii].

Although you can find out all about how to stage an effective intervention in our website, the basic premise is an easy one. Gather your child’s closest friends and family members, write down the things you want to say to them and say it altogether, so that the impact of drugs or alcohol on their life cannot be denied.

Take time out for you

Amid all of this, your child’s addiction will be taking its toll on you. Consider seeing a therapist or getting counselling for yourself, to help you carry this burden. Have you thought about family therapy? This is often included as part of a residential rehab clinic treatment program. In studies, family support has proven to be a useful tool in interpersonal therapy[ix][x]. By acknowledging that they are hurting the people they love most, your child could break free from their addiction.

What are your addicted child’s treatment options?

Knowing what you can do for your addicted child will help keep you sane. The process of recovery from any addiction is much the same. The client must understand and recognise there is a problem, reach out for help, go through detox, do the therapies in rehab, and transition back into a normal life again.


Detox is normally medically assisted when you spend it in a clinic. You can detox at home if your addiction is mild enough. Your child will be given drugs that help them to withstand the feelings of withdrawal, which range from cravings to delirium.


Once your child has spent time allowing the chemicals to leave their body, they can start their rehab program. Rehab clinics are typically private but you can get NHS assistance for funding. They will offer a mix of a healthy diet, lots of exercise, therapy sessions, group work, and educational workshops, to get your child back to full health. Normally, you can choose between 7 days, 14 days, or 28 days for your rehab stay.

Enabling Checklist

When you think you might be enabling, ask yourself the following questions and think carefully about the answers.

Are you enabling? Use this checklist to find out:

  1.     Is it my fault? Did I cause the lack of money/food/broken appliances?
  2.     Did I give them money instead of giving them food?
  3.     Am I making excuses for their behaviour?
  4.     Have I reality tested their request and is it viable?

If you know your answers are wrong, then you are probably enabling your child. Go back to the top of the page and refresh yourself on how to stop.

Free consultation to help you stop enabling a drug or alcohol addicted child

Here at Help4Addiction we put families in touch with the detox and rehab clinics that can help them to recover. Contact us today if you think you are enabling your drug addicted child and you want to stop.

Frequently Asked Questions

Enabling your child is turning a blind eye to bad behaviours out of your love for them, even though those behaviours are likely to result in long term harm.

If you give them money knowing they will spend it on drugs or alcohol, then you are enabling them to continue with their addiction.

You should stop giving your child money for drink or drugs. Instead, offer to buy them the things they say they are going to spend it on directly, like gas, electricity, or food.
The first step is to recognise when you are doing it. If you feel at any point that they are using your love of them to score a hit, you need to stop what you are doing and walk away until you are calmer.
You believe that you are acting out of love, but instead your loving actions are causing harm.
If you feed an obese child a high fat diet, you are an enabler. If you give your child money knowing they are lying about what it is being spent on, that is enabling. IF you allow them to manipulate you into doing what they want to do, you are enabling them.
Enabling an addict leads to a deeper addiction, an unbalanced relationship, and only one of you feeling good about things.

If you are cleaning up other people’s messes often, making excuses for them, or letting them lie to you without confrontation, then you are likely being used.

Learn to say no to anything that is not expressly beneficial to you. It sounds selfish, but this is exactly how you are being used. Once you change the boundaries of what you are willing to except, you will soon find they rely on someone else.

About Author

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.

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