Enabler- it’s one of those words that evokes a lot of emotion.  It’s confusing.  We don’t always know what enabling is, so we feel panicked and wrong about everything we do to help our kids.

No parent wants to be labeled an enabler; we’re struggling with enough guilt already.

Sometimes doing anything kind for your child feels wrong because the concept is so misunderstood.

We enable for the same reason our kids use drugs. 


We want relief from the pain and discomfort of feeling helpless and feeling like we have no control over their addiction. 

We want relief from the discomfort of saying no or relief from the fear of what will happen to our children or relationship with them if we say no. 

We want to be able to do something…..anything to help.

The problem is, enabling ends with the same result that substance abuse does. 

The relief is short lived. 

Then the guilt, shame, and wondering how you’re ever going to get out of this vicious cycle sets in. 

If as you read this, you’re thinking of all the things you’ve done that you consider enabling, be kind to yourself. 

You’re doing the best you can in a very difficult situation. 

No parent is prepared for addiction.

Enabling starts with us just wanting to help our kids.  We don’t know what to do so we do what we’ve always done, but it no longer works the way it did before addiction.

Helping doesn’t solve the problem anymore.  Helping just gets swallowed up by the problem but we are so overwhelmed we don’t know what else to do. 

There are no rules about specific behaviors that are enabling.  Each situation is different.  Only you have to live with your choices.  So don’t let anyone push you into doing something you don’t want to or stop you from doing something you want to do. 

It might be hard to stop saying yes when you want to say no, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to stop. If you find yourself in this situation reach out for support.  It’s not an easy change to make, and the fact that it’s hard for you is normal. 

Thinking it should be easier for you just makes it harder.

Try to think of enabling only as reinforcing substance abuse or any other behavior you don’t want to support. Enabling makes it easier for them to keep using.

You have more power than you think in your child’s recovery though.

We are often told that we have to wait for our child to hit rock bottom, but there’s more to that story. When we have the courage not to make it easier for them to use, we help raise the bottom for them.

You can play an active role moving them toward recovery by getting help for yourself so you can lead by example with the happy healthy lifestyle you want for them. You can learn to communicate in a matter of fact yet respectful loving way that facilitates a connection even in active addiction.

Instead of using enabling to get relief from your feeling of helplessness, you can get relief through self-care, so you have the patience and compassion to be loving to someone whose behavior isn’t always loveable.  

Rejection, judgement, and anger only push our kids away. 

Everyone moves away from pain and toward pleasure, so communication skills that keep you connected gives them something to move toward instead of away from.

Some questions to ask yourself when trying to decide if you are enabling:

  • Will it really help them?
  • Is this something they could figure out on their own?
  • Could you support them by listening while they brainstorm ideas to fix it on their own rather than you fixing it for them?
  • Are you working harder than they are?
  • Are you getting in the way of natural consequences?
  • What would you tell a friend to do in this situation?
  • Will what you are considering doing jeopardize you, your finances, or your morals?
  • Are you going to resent it if you do it?
  • Do you want to say no, but you’re tempted to say yes to avoid the discomfort of your child’s anger?
  • Are you underestimating your son or daughter’s resourcefulness?
  • Could allowing them to figure it out on their own teach them a life skill that they need as an adult?
  • What’s your motivation for doing this? Are you doing it to relieve your discomfort but telling yourself it’s to help them instead?

Remember, if you’ve been enabling don’t beat yourself up.  Every parent does it at some point in the addiction journey. 

Our kids are making mistakes and so are we.  Everyone’s recovery happens in stages.  Get support and focus on your recovery so you have the tools and resilience to support your child toward their recovery.