For the previous two decades, society has begun to become a structure that supports parents who enable their grown children. Lack of opportunities for employment, outstanding college loans, and various other issues in society have all led to a culture where parents are taking care of their kids much longer than they used to, creating a reliant relationship.
For example, 30 to 40 years ago, the typical age that children left their parent’s house was far younger than it is today. Research shows that 29 percent of females and 35 percent of males between the age of 18 and 34 still live with their parents.
When we look at the addiction pandemic that continues to ravage our country, this culture of parents taking care of their grown children is worsening enabling as well as dependent behaviors—and it can be threatening to the child’s life.
Addiction is a disease, and it thrives on comfort. The stigma that is associated with addiction is such that what an individual’s outside situation appears to be can considerably change the inner ability to properly decide if the substances are negatively affecting their life or not and whether they’re keen on obtaining the help that they so desperately need. Having a home to live in, a bed sleep in, a stocked refrigerator of food from their parents, and disposable income because of no bills can all become barriers to reaching out for help.
More enabling can come in the form of mom and dad that pay the monthly bills for their grown children, take on the child’s responsibilities, rescue the child from their consequences, take on their emotional burdens, and comparable behaviors which may interfere with their growth and ability to take individual accountability.
These particular types of enabling and behaviors of dependency have the ability to impact an individual’s ability to successfully recover from addiction. If parents are supporting their grown child in a detrimental way with a substance use disorder, there is a good chance that the addicted grown child is going to find it far more difficult to willingly take the steps necessary to discover recovery. The treatment and recovery process are not comfortable, especially in the early stages. If parents are fully taking care of the child financially, emotionally, and logistically, what internal and external issues are going to be great enough for the child to take the steps that are necessary to accept help?
Supporting vs Enabling an Addict
It’s imperative that we understand the distinction between supporting and enabling, or more importantly, empowering and enabling. Enabling is doing something for other individuals that they are able to do for themselves, and empowering is guiding and encouraging others so that they can find the power within themselves to make their own individual decisions. Enabling essentially depowers the grown child who is going through and suffering from an addiction. It’s a dependent connection between the grown child and his or her parents. It’s damaging to the overall recovery process. Empowering can permit the parents to support their child in a positive and healthy way and permit them to grow, learn, falter, get back up on their own, feel repercussions, learn from their mistakes, and essentially act as an adult.
Enabling can include certain things like protecting the grown child from repercussions, fixing problems, attempting to control situations, carrying, taking on feelings, rescuing, being a caretaker, and dependence. Empowering can include certain things like listening without reacting, supporting, encouraging, showing empathy, sharing feelings, guiding, caregiving, and confronting unacceptable attitudes and behaviors.
It’s important to note that some parents feel as if enabling behaviors are actually something that they should do as a parent. However, what sometimes happens is that the anxiety or fear of parent dictates their behavior, which ends up being harmful to the growth of a child. It’s not the parent’s job to shield children from worry, fear, or pain. If a parent tries to do this throughout their child’s life, it can result in that child never knowing that he or she has the ability or capacity to make it through difficult situations on his or her own. If a parent rescues their child each time that he or she is in trouble and/or facing repercussions, it creates an unhealthy pattern where the child expects that he or she will be rescued and he or she will turn to the parent every time life gets scary or difficult, making things a lot worse for him or her in the end. It isn’t healthy for grown children to expect their parents to rescue them from difficult, hardship, or repercussions. It is healthy, however, for parents to support their grown children through these situations by offering experience and advice so that the grown child is able to make it through life knowing that he or she has the capacity and ability to deal with these types of things when they arise.
An addicted grown child who is dependent on his or her parents will find it very difficult to recover. This is why it is so important for families to support, stop enabling behaviors, and get on their own individual path to recovery. When families are able to stop negative behaviors and achieve recovery themselves, it is much easier for their grown child to find their own recovery. Families can find family support to create boundaries and end enabling actions through 12-Step fellowships like Nar-Anon and Al-Anon, independent support groups, a family recovery professional or a therapist, or even an addiction treatment center.
It’s also important to realize the stigma that often is associated with the idea of “stopping the enabling of your addict” in recovery circles and treatment. Many people and parents hear “stop enabling” and will immediately assume the idea of “cutting off contact” or “tough love” with the addicted grown child or even kicking him or her out of the home. This does not actually have to be the case. Enabling the grown child only causes harm and could even potentially be life-threatening to the addict; however, ending enabling doesn’t necessarily mean cutting off contact or emotional support. You can end enabling, give support positively, and empower your child—and do all of this with love. As mentioned previously, though, this process can be uncomfortable and painful, which means that continuous support for parents and the extended family will be necessary.
So, what happens in the end? It’s well-known that enabling actions can be damaging to an individual’s recovery from addiction. How exactly can the enabling behavior of a family system changing to empowering help an addicted grown child? For starters, the addicted grown child constantly experiences solid restrictions that the family sets as well as an extended support system in addition to the disbanding of rescue fantasies that take shape. Next, the family will start to see their own strengths as well as weaknesses instead of those of their grown child. The family will become familiar with their own family structure as well as internal regulators. This can be difficult and painful, but it will eventually help to minimize the anxiety that the parents are feeling. Then, the family is able to form a functioning and stable self-identity within the family structure, and in so doing, they are able to enhance feelings of self-work, positive regard, and authentic acceptance throughout the process of recovery. Lastly, the family system can give life to one another through their own recovery process and provide support for one another throughout life without having to sacrifice their own sanity or emotional stability.
Parents with addicted grown children must be aware of the fact that enabling behaviors only permit for addiction to carry on; however, it’s possible for these behaviors to stop with a little bit of love and a lot of support. In the end, ending these behaviors can permit an addicted grown child to stand on their own two feet again while learning that they actually have the capability to live a full life, grow into the person that they have always wanted and can ultimately be, and to find the path to recovery where anything and everything is potentially possible.
If you or a loved one is suffering from alcohol or drug abuse or addiction, please don’t hesitate to contact the professionals at Shadow Mountain Recovery. We strive to provide the best possible addiction treatment to those who need it. Contact us today to learn how we can help you get on your path to recovery.