Is there a rule of thumb or advice you have to tell when parental support for an addict crosses the line into enabling or co-dependence?

Posted on October 11, 2022 View all news

The Every Brain Matters community understands how difficult and painful it is when you have a child or loved one with destructive behaviors such as using marijuana or any drug. We also know that each family navigates recovery and healing in different ways, applying valuable tools from many types of effective support systems. The information given here is taken from one of these reliable systems.

We are grateful that the Cornerstone Team Counseling community addresses these tough recovery questions and is allowing us to share their insight with you. Since it is beneficial to hear different perspectives, the following answers are from clinical staff, teens in recovery, and parents.

To learn more, please visit The Every Brain Matters Support Section or click under the meeting tab to find more information on our support meetings for parents and families.

Note: The following are quotes from real people and some may use language and/or terms that may not be accepted by some readers. A glossary of terms is listed at the bottom of the page.

Is there a rule of thumb or advice you have to tell when parental support for an addict crosses the line into enabling or co-dependence?

Perspective from Clinical Staff:  Yes, the rule of thumb for me personally and professionally is when I find myself caring more about the addict’s recovery than they do. This usually reflects in my actions by reminding and giving 2nd and 3rd chances. When I treat the addict as a young adult (rather than a child) that is capable of making healthy choices, things usually go much better, with not nearly as much drama.

Perspective from a Teen:  In a severe way of thinking, the parent could potentially be an accessory to murder, as a previous sponsor used to say. The addict will definitely take advantage of the co-dependent parent by knowingly crossing the line/ “pushing buttons” cause they know they can get away with it. The “tough love” is really what is going to win in the long run. We talked about shots and boundaries in the Ask-It-Basket meeting, and having solid/clear shots and being assertive when it comes to it, I think, is the best solution. For me, when I first got in, it helped a lot because it gave me gratitude for the stuff I had (car, living at home, cell phone, etc.). My parents held strong, even when they probably didn’t want to. I got a speeding ticket = lost my car; relapsed= I was out of the house; missed curfew=home earlier. . . . .  it’s also good for me to learn the hard way through things by having to mess up and have the consequences for my actions. 

Perspective from a Parent:  If you go over the rules and consequences, and if a rule is broken, the parent must enforce them. No 2nd chances. You are not helping your child with 2nd chances because then they will know what they can get away with and have no incentive to change their behavior.

In my life, I knew what I could get away with because my mom never went through with the consequences so I saw no reason to stop. But when she finally started putting her foot down and taking things away from me or whatever the consequence was, I stopped breaking rules and starting becoming a more responsible and respectful child. 

See the parent story below for more experience, strength, and hope.

In August of 2001, my family was in turmoil. My son at this time had been institutionalized twice for his violent behavior. He was in third grade the first time he went in. The doctors medicated him. Within a week’s time, they had him on 7 medications. They made me come down and see him in the padded room. It was awful. The more I tried to “fix” him in my cycle of co-dependency, the sicker he got. The sicker he got, the sicker I got. I started drinking more and more to stop the feeling of being a bad mother. This behavior went on until 8th grade. Then I begin feeling torn between my husband and child, though now I see this was my imagined feelings. I felt guilty subjecting such a wonderful man with no children of his own to the mess and state of my child. I was a failure and I just didn’t know what to do. I started noticing my son hanging with the wrong kids and using Visine. My husband would say to let him go because these were the only friends he had, but then we would keep him away from them at times and he would get angry and leave.

There came a point where I really felt that my son would kill either me or my daughter. We put locks on our bedroom doors so that we could sleep at night. A decision was made that my son needed to be locked up long-term for his and others’ safety. I started calling hospitals again. A lady I spoke with at one of the hospitals told me that a friend of hers had a son like mine. She asked if she could give her friend my number. I agreed for her to do that. At this point what did I have to lose? Her friend called me and told me about Cornerstone. She told me to go to Climbers, which I did. After going to Climbers, I felt I was going to be able to “fix” my son and my life would be normal.

I brought him the next night to a meeting and our journey began. I attended the meetings and soon realized that I was expected to work a program! I went to AA at this time because I was a “pickle” (from my drinking) and knew it, but could not accept it. My son was starting to recover. I, on the other hand, spent the next 2 years trying everything to not be this “pickle”. I wanted to be like some of the other parents that had Al-Anon issues but were not plagued with the disease. My shame and guilt grew which fed my disease. Every time I attempted to work my 4th step, I would drink.

I could control this since I had never been arrested or lost a job or husband or home. Well, guess what? In a week’s span I lost my job, then my husband, and then my home. But the worst of all of this was that I had lost myself. I was no longer me. I was the disease.

My husband left. I began to work harder to try and make things right. During this time, I began to see a counselor. I started letting those dark secrets out and began to work on the ones that were regressed. I cried for a year. I still drank but the drinking bouts got further apart. I thought once I got through all of this I could be “normal.” During a counseling session with my husband, he said that he wanted a divorce. At this moment I felt life as I knew it was over for me. Shortly after this I lost my job and went to another state and met my father. Something changed in me from a comment my father made. He said something about the evil in all of us, and for once in my life, I knew I was not an evil person. I only allowed evil in me. I set out to stay sober. I drank again, however.

My husband decided to move back home when I got back home from seeing my father. I was okay. I felt I could control the drinking and that everything I had lost was coming back. But I drank again. This is when I knew it wasn’t the outside things that made me drink when I truly did not want to take that drink. This is where I knew it was a disease. I knew I had this disease and that the only cure was the cure I had been told about, but never followed. I awoke from my last drink and went straight to an AA meeting, asked for help, and got it. I went to a Cornerstone meeting and became part of something great. Cornerstone never gave up on me and loved me even if I was sick. I took all that I had learned and started living the recovery program.

In the past year, I have faced my fears and made amends when I could, and today I look in the mirror and just love the person I see. I learned to love and that you must first learn to love yourself. I know what that is today.

I still attend AA meetings. I never want to forget what or where I came from. Day by day I have learned to trust my feelings and that my will is not always what God’s will is. What I thought I was looking for in every drink I have found in a life of recovery. I will forever be indebted to Cornerstone not only for saving my son’s life, but for saving mine.

Glossary of terms:

Addict: An old term used to describe a person with a substance use disorder that is not currently socially accepted anymore.

Al-Anon: A twelve-step organization that provides support and hope for families affected by another person’s marijuana use.

Awakening: A term used after Completion of the 12 steps and the requirements of the Cornerstone community. Like a graduation but it’s viewed as a “spiritual awakening”

Climbers: an interactive educational group for family members to bring issues, questions or concerns, and receive direct feedback from a counselor and other family members. As well as learn tools of recovery to help you and your family. The Every Brain Matters community offers a Climbers meeting every Wednesday.

Destructive Behaviors: Self-destructive behavior is when you do something that’s sure to cause self-harm, whether it’s emotional or physical. Some self-destructive behavior is more obvious, such as: attempting suicide. binge eating. compulsive activities like gambling, using harmful drugs, gaming, or shopping.

IOP (Intensive Outpatient Therapy): treatment programs used to address addictions, depression, eating disorders, or other dependencies that do not require detoxification or round-the-clock supervision.

Mar-Anon Family Groups: A twelve-step organization that provides support and hope for families affected by another person’s marijuana use.

Parent-Driven Recovery: Tools that Work is a must-read for parents of substance-abusing teens. You’ll learn how to maneuver through the chaos to create a harmonious family life. Even if your teen is not ready or willing to change, there is help and hope.

Recovery: A return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength. A healing process.

Shots: A term used in the recovery community is called Couerstone Team Counseling. It’s a customized list of rules and consequences each family makes for their homes. To learn more, attend the Every Brain Matters Climbers meeting on Wednesday evenings at 7 pm Central time. A list of our meetings is at this link.

SO: Stands for Significant Others, a term sometimes used when graduating from an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) after making amends to our “significant others”, or people we have harmed.

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