Friday, February 18, 2011


An article in the Ambler Gazette last weekend about parents in Blue Bell, PA acquitted of charges of hindering a police investigation of their young adult son reflects the potential trap of enabling that many parents face when their children brush up against possible consequences from their substance abuse.

Please note: I’m not intending in any way to make a judgment about these parents, but I’d like to use their situation to identify a common issue among parents who are worried about their children’s drug and alcohol use.

Enabling occurs when you begin to lose your way and get confused about how to protect your children’s safety. You desperately want to believe your kids are telling the truth and therefore can be easily convinced that everything is okay, often telling yourself, 'Not my kid'.

Parents who are aware of their teenage children abusing drugs and alcohol are very familiar with enabling. When children are showing problems associated with getting high, a dramatic shift in the family often occurs.

The ‘not my kid’ mindset is a set up. The addict becomes an expert at manipulating and deflecting responsibility onto others and takes advantage of your love and protection to selfishly get what she wants without regard for the consequences or impact on others.

The whole family begins to react in unhealthy ways to accommodate the addict’s behaviors, because confronting them directly creates messy, often embarrassing conflicts.

Out of love, concern, shame, and fear, you become uncertain about how to best intervene. Living with a child with a drug and alcohol problem is like being in the back seat of your car as you are driven around by your inexperienced, untested young driver—the daily out-of-control, often terrifying feelings become unbearable at times.

The world of the enabler is like a yoyo, jerked back and forth across the line between being over involved trying to protect and cover up for your child, to being so angry, scared, and helpless that you want to give up. You swing back and forth between looking the other way and wanting to stalk your child’s every move.

Intervening can feel daunting. Here are some guidelines to make it easier:

  • Educate yourselves by arming yourself with facts about drugs and alcohol to be credible when talking to your kids.
  • Learn more about the dynamics of enabling.
  • Confront your denial: Parent's instincts about a problem are usually correct. Avoiding and ignoring the problem makes you part of the problem.
  • Take care of yourself by getting support:

-- Reaching out for help is a way for you to take care of yourself. Start by sharing concerns with spouses, partners, and trusted friends to help feeling less ashamed, overwhelmed, and helpless.

-- Community programs like Al-Anon and Nar-Anon can be lifelines for families struggling to regain balance in their lives.

-- Online communities such Parenting the Addict Child are excellent resources for those who aren’t comfortable with groups or 12-step programs.

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