As a parent, you are naturally inclined to want to help your son. You taught him everything from how to tie his shoes to how to ride a bike, and if he brought home a tricky school assignment, you were always there to support him. However, as your son gets older and more independent, you will need to learn to recognize the fine line between helping and enabling – especially if you suspect he has developed a substance misuse problem.
What Is Enabling?
In terms of addiction, enabling refers to the things you do that reinforce or support substance abuse. Examples of this behavior include:
- Nursing a hangover
- Calling in sick to school or work on your son’s behalf when he has stayed up too late partying and now has trouble getting out of bed
- Letting him borrow the car, even though you know he is heading to rendezvous with his dealer
- Paying his bills because he has spent too much money on drugs and alcohol, or lending him money to obtain more of these substances
- Bailing him out of jail when he gets arrested for stealing or a DUI
In a well-intentioned, but misguided, attempt to help or take care of your son, you may cause the cycle of substance abuse to deepen. In the examples above, even though you are trying to do the “right” thing, you are deflecting any negative consequences that might arise from his irresponsible behavior. In other words, there is nothing standing between him and his continued drug and alcohol use.
How to Stop Enabling
Unfortunately, many parents have difficulty fighting their instinct to protect their child, which is likely why you unconsciously started enabling your son’s addiction in the first place. Being aware that you have been an enabler is the first half of the battle. The second half is putting a stop to your behavior. However, that is easier said than done. Initially, you may feel like you’re betraying your child. But all your best efforts can’t prevent your son from suffering the adverse effects of substance abuse forever. Eventually, he could lose his job, his physical and mental health – and even his life. One of the best ways to stop enabling is to have an open, honest conversation with your child about his substance misuse. Choose a time when he is sober and when you’ll both be able to sit down together for an uninterrupted conversation. If you wish, you can bring your spouse or other close family members in, but because of the deeply personal, highly emotional nature of the topic, don’t invite more people than necessary. Be compassionate, but firm. Cite specific instances of your son’s behavior and how it has harmed you and the overall family dynamic. State that you will no longer be doing things such as helping him pay his bills or covering for his absences from school or work. Emphasize that these changes come from a place of love, not a desire to punish him for his behavior. Clearly state your new limits, and be prepared to stick to them. If your son sees you wavering, he will take every opportunity to exploit that weakness, because addicts are inherently manipulative.
Getting Your Family Back on Track
If your son has developed an addiction, don’t lose hope. You can get him the qualified help he needs to make a full recovery at Spearhead Lodge. We have tailored our addiction programming to the unique needs of young men. Feel free to reach out to us when you are ready to help your son break free of substance misuse.