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Dealing With A Grown Child That Is An Addict

by Landmark Recovery

November 6, 2018
A man sitting and wondering if he is enabling his adult childs addiction

Addiction is a problem that affects not just the individual going through the issue but friends and family as well, and if not careful, the friends and family could be enabling the actions of their loved one. Enabling the problem will cause the problem to persist with little progress being made along the way. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration understands that because addiction is such a poorly understood disease, the actions of friends and family toward their loved ones, despite intentions may actually be inhibiting progress.

“Well-intentioned but poorly-informed individuals may inadvertently enable addiction to progress by shielding the person with addiction from consequences that could potentially initiate change.”

While it may be hard to deal with, coming to terms with the fact that you may be enabling your friend or family member’s addiction can be the first step to fixing the problem.


Are You Enabling Your Adult Child?

A man sitting and wondering if he is enabling his adult childs addiction

Enabling is fixing problems for a friend or loved one in a manner that discourages or fights the growth of character or personal responsibility of that individual. An example of this would be if someone spends money on something that helps to fuel their addiction at the expense of not being able to pay for something that they do need such as a rent or car payment. If you are someone that steps in and automatically pays for their negligence it can stunt the individual’s personal growth because it protects the addict from the consequences of their actions.

While this may be hard to deal with and understand due to the feelings of desperation and helplessness that comes with caring about someone that is going through an alcohol or drug problem, it is essential to the development and well-being of the individual.


Giving money that is undeserved or unearned is one of the surest signs that you may be enabling these actions. Other signs include:

  • Keeping secrets about the addict’s behavior from others
  • Making excuses for their behavior
  • Constantly bailing the addict out of trouble
  • Attempting to control the addict
  • Making threats that have never follow through
  • Ignoring or minimizing the persona’s addiction


Enabling is a common problem among loved ones of addicts and it comes down to the fact that they just want to help someone they care about. However, in order to really help the person, they need to do it in a proper way that allows the addict to grow and learn from their mistakes. Helping should be just that, helping, not constantly rescuing from similar or the same mistakes time and time again.

Parents of addicts specifically need to be aware that improper actions may allow their child to take advantage of the situation being presented to them. Adult children that have addiction issues who remain dependent on their parents get into this situation because of the way the parents are dealing with the problem at hand.

Dependence on parents, especially among addicts, can happen at any age, it doesn’t matter if the child is 25 or 55 years old. It is natural for a parent to want to protect or help their child and that is understandable. However, if not done the right way it allows the child to take advantage of their parent’s generosity. While it may be hard to do, setting boundaries with your child can sometimes be helpful in dealing with this problem.


A few questions you can ask yourself if you are wondering if you are enabling your adult child include:

  • Does your adult child act with a sense of entitlement when it comes to money or gifts?
  • Does it feel like after resolving one problem with your adult child another one surfaces?
  • Does it feel like you are more invested in your adult child’s well-being than they are themselves?
  • Do you feel as if you are being used?


Helping Without Enabling

Finding the balance of not enabling your loved one while still helping them where you can is the key to helping them move forward on their journey. Because the line between helping and enabling is so thin, it may be hard to know where to start or what exactly to do after realizing that you may be enabling your child or loved one’s addiction. The end goal of helping your child is to encourage them to become independent people. while this may be hard for some parents to come to terms with as they feel they want to be needed, it is the best and most appropriate outcome for the child.

A few things to keep in mind when it comes to helping without enabling would be to remain supportive and understanding while talking and working toward the goals at hand. Being overbearing or even oppressive can have its consequences such as the addict shutting down or getting defensive. However, by showing a sense of calmness while being firm and non-controlling can help to motivate your child to achieve the goals that you both collaboratively set for them.

Here are a few specific things you can do that can help your adult child get over their addiction without enabling them:


Encourage Them To Seek Professional Help

You can’t do everything on your own and if your child or loved one is serious about getting over their addiction, professional help may be the best option. According to SAMHSA, only about a third of people who need substance abuse treatment actually received it. Researching local treatment centers can help them and show them that you are committed to the journey. Telling them you will support them during their road to recovery would go a long way.


Say No

This may be one of the hardest things to do, especially if you have been enabling them in the past. Learning to just say no to their requests for money because they spent theirs on their addiction may be the wake-up call they need. This is one way to stop minimizing the problem, it will help you and them come to terms with the problem.


Offer to Attend Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous Programs

Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous are designed to help not only the person with the disease but to build or rebuild the relationships with family and friends as well. The programs are meant to teach coping skills and provide support. An offer to attend the program together lets your loved one know that they are not alone in this battle.


Understand You Can’t Control Everything

By understanding that you can’t be the one to solely fix the issue, it can impact the way that you look at the situation. Knowing that you don’t have full control over what someone else does can cause you to act more collaborative and understanding of the situation. However, remaining firm is still necessary.

While some of these recommendations may seem harsh, tough love is sometimes the way to open someone’s eyes. It is clear that not being firm enough may cause you to fall back into a cycle of enabling. While your child or loved one may reject you at first after setting some of these boundaries, Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein explains that these people will likely come around later.


Nurturing Independence

A mother talking to her daughter about her addiction

As discussed, the point of helping your child or loved one who is an addict is to allow them to eventually gain independence and, in the cases of addiction, move on to a healthy lifestyle that is not influenced by drug or alcohol abuse.

While problems and crises will always occur on the this journey, it is important that if you choose to help in these times that there is still a plan for your adult child to continue on the path to being independent.

Remaining persistent in your efforts to establish independence for your child is key. One way to do this would be to encourage your loved one to be frugal with financial decisions and, if they are not currently able to pay their full bill payments, suggesting that they make increasing payments toward them until they can cover them completely themselves. This would handle one of the biggest enabling problems — financial illiteracy.

Another way to establish independence is remembering that you have the right to say no or change your mind. While you do not have full control of the situation and you can’t force to do something without backlash, knowing that you can partially withdraw from a dilemma is important to remember.

Here are a few other things that you can do to influence an independent lifestyle:

  • Encourage them to solve problems without the help of others
  • Take time when asked for a favor rather than immediately agreeing to it
  • Urge them to find a work environment that is suitable to their lifestyle

Creating an environment that encourages your loved one to become more independent is vital in the recovery process.


The Mental Illness Aspect

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, “There is a definite connection between mental illness and the use of addictive substances. Individuals with an existing mental illness consume roughly 38 percent of all alcohol, 44 percent of all cocaine, and 40 percent of all cigarettes. Furthermore, the people who have ever experienced mental illness consume about 69 percent of all the alcohol, 84 percent of all the cocaine, and 68 percent of all cigarettes.”

Dealing with a family member or friend that is going through addiction can be tough, mental illness only adds to the difficulty of the situation. However, it is something that one should prepare for.

According to SAMHSA, not even half of people that have problems with mental illness received treatment.

While the stigma that shrouds mental illness and addiction may make it hard to persuade your loved one to go see a specialist, mental health is an important part of the recovery process.

Stigma is dangerous for the millions of Americans affected by mental health conditions. It causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control, prevents them from seeking help, and even takes lives,” said Mary Giliberti, CEO of NAMI. “Although stigma is a virus that anyone can be exposed to, we do have a cure, and that is compassion and understanding.”

If mental illness goes unchecked or untreated, it can make the recovery process even more difficult and may continue to prolong the problem.


The National Alliance on Mental Illness, says that encouraging an individual to seek therapy can be a tricky situation and can easily be taken or go the wrong way. A few tips that they give for this process include:

  • Show support by using non-stigmatizing language
  • Be sensitive about their struggles and come from a place of understanding
  • Avoid talking to someone when they are in a bad mood, tired etc.
  • Explain specific areas of problematic behavior, don’t just beat around the bush


It is clear that there is a definite connection between addiction and mental illness. Obviously, this can have an effect on how you deal with your loved one’s situation as it is something that needs to be addressed. That being said, mental health treatment is something that should not completely impede your loved one’s ability to make progress on their path to recovery and independence. While it may make the path harder or the timetable longer, the goal remains the same.


What to Do Next

If you or a loved one need help to treating substance abuse disorder, reach out to Landmark Recovery. At Landmark, our drug rehab and alcohol rehab have the tools that can help save your loved one from their addiction and get them back on the path. Reach out to Landmark Recovery today, we have a admissions staff ready to take your call, hear your story and help you with your next step in finding solace for you or your loved one.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.