There’s a difference between loving a drug addict and enabling
If your goal is to get an addict to seek treatment who isn’t willing to go get treatment this article is for you. Parents enabling addiction is more common then you think. The goal of this article is to educate family members of addicts on methods to get an addict to go to treatment. If your family member is willing to go to treatment great read my article on How to Choose the Best Rehab Ultimate Guide.
Is it loving when parents enable their child’s addiction problem?
This is a very tough topic one that has affected me personally as a father of four. Years ago I had to make a decision to place my 16-year-old (at the time) child in a one-year lockdown treatment program. Lockdown treatment is no longer legal in the United States. Every day for a year I struggled with the decision did I do the right thing or not?
When I picked up my kid a year later the first thing that they said is “you saved my life, one of my friends is now in jail, one is dead and another is in deep trouble”. That “D student’ teenager went on to graduate high school, graduate a major state university and is now a productive member of society, holding a prestigious job, homeowner, happily married and a parent. Yes, my tough love and basic imprisonment of my teenager was the right thing to do.
I often tell parents and or family members of a person struggling with addiction that what they are doing to help their loved one is actually hurting them.
An Example of Enabling Gone Wrong
Let me start with a basic example of just allowing a person using drugs to live with you. Every dollar an addict can get their hands on goes to buying drugs. When you allow an addict to live with you rent free you are essentially giving that addict $500 or more a month to buy drugs with. With 60,000 overdose deaths, a year in America allowing someone to live with you could be giving them just those extra dollars they need to overdose and possibly die.
An Addiction Problem Turns into a Parents Nightmare
This is a recent story of a family I came in contact with. This family had a 20 something son I will call him John. John struggled with drug use and never really held a solid job. The parents allowed John to stay living in their home when they knew he was using opiates. Now there is an opioid epidemic in the U.S. right now. Using opioids is a very common problem so the thought of not allowing their son to live with them was foreign to them. In their minds, these parents were doing the most loving thing they could to care for their child.
What the parents did not know was, John was selling opiates to support his habit. John’s parents were concerned that if they kicked him out of their home something bad would happen to him. I tell a parent that one of the best things that can happen to an addict, that won’t go to treatment, is to be arrested on the streets and end up detoxing in jail.
Bang Bang Bang John’s dad is dead, John is pistol-whipped and John’s Mother is tied up. Yes, this is a true 2017 story.
What was the outcome of this addiction tragedy?
This is what happened: two people decided to rob John of his drug stash at his parents’ house and they killed his father in the process. Yes, this is the worst case example I have experienced but I am sure like many other parents like John’s parents who thought they were helping John out, by letting him live in their home when they knew he was using drugs. I am actually placing John into treatment today while I am writing this. John was arrested and charged with possession with the intent to distribute drugs a few days after his father’s death. You would think John would have just voluntarily gone into treatment, the next day. This was not the case, it has taken John’s lawyer telling him to go to treatment and approximately one month of pressure to get John to go.
A Parent Guide – Prior to an Intervention
If you are reading this story you most likely have a child or sibling that is in the need of drug treatment. A key factor to actually helping someone to get to treatment is not to stand in the way of them hitting their bottom.
Let’s pick milder cases of helping or enabling a loved one. I started with the worst case I have known, probably because it jarred me out of my own denial to write this article. Here is what I have told loved ones of a person using drugs about what I consider dangerous helping AKA “enabling”.
My Definition of Enabling: It is anything you pay or buy an addict that allows them to spend more money on drugs and possibly overdose.
Paying for a phone: The last thing an addict will sell to buy drugs is their phone. They need their phone to score drugs. If you pay their phone bill you are actually paying for drugs and making it easier for them to feed their addiction. If they tell you their phone was lost or stolen and they need it to call you that really means “I traded my phone for drugs”. Don’t buy them a new phone you are just buying them drugs.
Bailing out of jail: Jail is a horrible place to be with all those criminals. Every addict has to hit their bottom to ask for help. Jail is a lot safer for an addict than being on the streets where they can buy an unlimited amount of drugs. Only bail your child out of jail if they agree to go directly from jail to treatment. Have the facility all set and bring several people with you to pick them up and go straight to treatment. Set this up with the help of a treatment professional ahead of time. With that said, don’t be surprised if your child bolts and doesn’t go to treatment. If that is the case don’t bail them out again.
Car payments, insurance, car repairs or gas money: The car is the second favorite tool of the addict to their phone. It can be considered as a shelter, a place to use drugs and transportation to get the drugs. If you pay for gas you are buying them drugs. So, if your loved one asks for $10 for gas for some legitimate reason that is $10 they are saving out of their own money they can spend on more drugs.
Giving clothes: It’s cold out there, so I need to buy my loves one shoes, jacket etc. How can little acts of human decency be hurting my loved one you ask? Simple, when the pain of living the life of addiction becomes harder for the addict than their fear of getting clean is when they most likely will ask for help. The other side of the coin is an addict will trade those new shoes and clothes you gave them for drugs in a heartbeat. You didn’t buy them clothes out of compassion you bought them drugs out of denial.
Buying food: Come on how can giving my child who is couch surfing (homeless) a warm meal or food possibly be the wrong thing to do? Simple, the goal is for them to hit a bottom and everything you do to help them is prolonging their bottom and risking their lives. The odds are 15 to 1 your child will die from drug use before they die from starvation. 60,000 overdose deaths a year versus 4,000 starvation deaths a year.
The odds are 15 to 1 your child will die from drug use before they die from starvation. 60,000 overdose deaths a year versus 4,000 starvation deaths a year.
Reflect on your own enabling behavior as a parent
After you have given this article some deep thought it is time to consider intervention. If you are going to do an intervention, there are interventionist, across the U.S., that can help for a fee of $1,500 to $5,000.
No cost interventions are also available through www.NoCostIntervention.com which is a website ran by my company 800 Recovery Hub.
Is it better if someone wants to go to treatment after being forced into treatment?:
Yes and no and no and yes.
Please allow me to explain that answer. First and foremost, the person who does not go into treatment, that needs treatment, only gets worse never better. It doesn’t matter why and how someone gets to treatment. What really matters is what happens after they enter drug treatment. I have seen people go addiction treatment because they were court ordered, job requirement, a relationship in jeopardy, physical health problems, nowhere else to live, family interventions and the other side of the spectrum people that enthusiastically went because they wanted help. The one thing they have in common is that they both have a good opportunity to recover from the hopeless disease of addiction.
Sometimes those forced into treatment, grasp the treatment offered like the drowning reach for a life preserver. Sometimes the people that enter treatment willingly repel the treatment processes like someone touching a hot stove and vice versa. The key factor to successful treatment is picking the best rehab and staying as long as possible in that rehab. So, no matter what got your loved one into drug or alcohol treatment. the key is they stay in the rehabilitation process. Staying in treatment for the first two weeks of treatment are key to succeeding.
Do you have a question for the author of this article? Simply, type in your inquiry in the chat box below. Bruce will get back to you within 24-hours.
About the Author
Bruce Berman personally has assisted several hundred people into treatment for alcohol addiction, substance abuse, and dual diagnosis. He has maintained continuous recovery from various addictions since September 1989. Besides himself, he has placed his own children, employees, family members, friends and other loved ones into various recovery treatment programs. Whether you or your loved one is struggling with addiction, it’s most likely the author has dealt with a similar situation in the past. Bruce is a father of four children ages 9 to 31 and happily married to his wife Victoria who has also been in recovery since November 1995. Together Bruce and Victoria run 800 Recovery Hub a company that specializes in placing people in need of treatment into the best treatment center they can.
Bruce Berman is not a medical doctor, holds no degrees or licensees in addiction and has no formal education in treating addiction. He relies solely on his personal experience gained in attending and participating in over 10,000 hours in various 12 step meetings since 1989 as well as the experience he has working with addicts and their families since 1989.