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Stop Enabling Your Addicted Adult Child

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Table of Contents

Mental Health - Design for Recovery

For parents of addicted adults, witnessing their adolescent child struggle with drug or alcohol addiction can pose a significant and distressing challenge. They may be rebellious and difficult to control. They may be reluctant to take your parental advice. As parents, it can be difficult to know how to help a person who has developed a substance use disorder. 

However, for parents with adult children with substance use disorders, the challenges can be more severe. As parents, it can be tempting to offer support to your child unconditionally. However, in cases where addiction has become severe, this kind of support can often backfire. 

Addiction causes people to prioritize drug-seeking behavior and drug use above all other commitments. For parents of addicted adult children, that means that your support might actually be making it easier for your child to obtain and use addictive substances. Many parents are aware of this problem on some level, but they feel helpless to deny their child the resources that they so clearly need. 

It can be difficult to distinguish the fine line between loving behavior and dangerous enabling behaviors. Making a clear distinction between the two and setting boundaries, however, is essential to your child’s health and safety.

Common Enabling Behaviors

  • Offering financial support. Even when addicted adult children have legitimate financial needs, such as a need to pay for college tuition or buy groceries, giving money to your adult child is not likely to satisfy these. An addicted person is more likely to use these funds to purchase drugs and alcohol, even when they themselves recognize the self-destructive nature of this behavior.
  • Using alcohol and drugs with adult children. Studies have found that people who are around more people who engage in drug use are less likely to recover from their own addictions. It may be tempting to drink or use drugs alongside your child. Parents may do this for a number of reasons, ranging from carelessness to a desire to bond. Many feel that having a beer with their addicted adult child may put them at ease and make it easier to win them over. The reality, however, is that it simply encourages their addiction while depleting the parents’ authority and moral high ground.
  • Letting them live in your home. While no parent wants to see their child homeless, couch-surfing, or “slumming it,” offering an addicted person a home is ultimately the same as giving them a location to use illicit substances.
  • Allowing your child to be disrespectful. Addiction is highly tied to emotional outburst, and even crime and violence. Even when children have strong affection for their parents, addiction can often create abusive adult children. The hurtful behavior that addicts engage in is often just as painful for them as it is for those on the receiving end of their cruelty and disrespect. While you may recognize that your disrespectful adult children are good “deep down inside,” that does not mean it is okay for you to be a doormat.
  • Making excuses on their behalf. When our children were young, part of our job as parents was cleaning up their messes. It is important to remember that your child is an adult now, and the only way they’ll change is by recognizing the negative consequences of their own behavior. 

Setting Boundaries with Adult Children

It is important to remember that setting boundaries is not the same as denying love. In fact, by setting a boundary, you are demonstrating that you care for the health, happiness, and well-being of your child. Enabling behaviors might feel better in the moment, but as parents it is crucial to look out for the long-term consequences of your adult child’s behavior. Setting boundaries is also important for your own mental health.

Allowing an adult child’s addiction to take over your own life can deplete your energy, your emotional stamina, your financial resources, and even harm your familial relationships. Left unchecked, your enabling behaviors can end up worsening your own mental health, making it more difficult ultimately for you to help and be of service to your family. Some important boundaries to set include and on how to help a grown child with addiction:

  • Allowing your child to make mistakes. It is crucial for parents to avoid protecting adult children from the consequences of their behavior. That means not calling their employers to make excuses when they don’t show up to work. It also means not buying them a new car when they crash theirs. The lifeskills adult children lack will only become apparent to them when they are forced to reckon with these consequences.
  • Letting your child know how you feel. While it may feel easier to show acceptance of your adult child’s behavior, letting them know how their behavior makes you feel is an important part of showing love. It is possible to do this without trying to control them or pass judgment.
  • Not trying to cure your child’s addiction by yourself. Ultimately, it is not your responsibility to fix your adult children who suffer from addiction. You can offer your support and let them know that you are there for them, but if they are not interested in getting help, your efforts to manage or control their addictions are likely to be futile.
  • Not offering money or shelter automatically. Addicted adult children living at home have a tendency to take advantage of their parents. While there is nothing wrong with allowing your child to live at home or giving them financial support, it is important to let them know under what circumstances you are willing to do this. It is perfectly reasonable to let your child know that they can’t use drugs under your roof.
  • Seeking professional aid. Addiction is a serious medical condition. If your child needed a surgery, you likely wouldn’t try to do the operation yourself. Likewise, the treatment of addiction requires professional intervention. While offering these resources to your child is a good idea, you also can’t force your child to accept addiction treatment. This is their journey.

Benefits of Structured Sober Living Homes

For parents of addicted children, setting boundaries can be painful. It can feel like you are denying your child the support and resources they need. However, by enrolling your addicted adult child in a structured sober living home, you can ensure that they get the resources they need while simultaneously receiving addiction recovery. Structured sober living homes are recovery residences where people who are recovering from substance use disorders can live, work, and develop life skills. 

Design for Recovery, located in West Los Angeles, is a structured sober living home for young men. At Design for Recovery, your adult addicted child can live safely while developing the skills and coping tools he needs to avoid relapse and build a new life for himself. Best of all, he can do so in the context of a community of other young men who are equally committed to the recovery process. If your addicted adult child is ready to make a change, reach out to Design for Recovery today.

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Edited by: David Beasley

David Beasley - Design for Recovery

David Beasley is a certified RADT (Registered Alcohol/Drug Technician). David, moved to California from North Carolina after many failed attempts to get sober.

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Charley earned his Masters of Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).He teaches mindfulness to both adults and children in group setting such as schools, corporate workplaces, and medical treatment facilities.

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