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Is Rewarding Enabling My Loved One?

Children Walking

My question, concern, is unrelated to this post. I’m fairly new to AIR and not sure of question protocols.

Our addicted son has been in two treatment programs, IOP’s and sober livings. He never makes the full 90 days of sober living without relapse, which, as I become more educated through counseling and support groups, I am realizing that the actual relapse has happened long before the drug use in his thinking process. He’s been addicted to Adderral, Xanax and I think meth. He lives with a friend who has a good job and owns his home, I don’t think he is an addict, but not certain. I know his family and have known the young man for 10 years. My son is 25, cannot hold a job and is constantly going from one place to another. He is a gifted strength and conditioning coach when he’s focused and not on a bender. He has no car, no insurance and considerable debt. He has stolen, lied and frightened my husband and I, physically, when high. Read the full comment here.

You have come to a site that does not believe in tough love. We also prefer to see the term “enabling” as a neutral term that can be applied to enabling sober behavior as well as not enabling drug use. We would have had you answer the door the day after you received this advice. If your son had looked straight, it would have been a moment of light and happiness on your part to see him that way.

Having the family stay away is based on the belief that families are not helpful in this process. Old schoolers would see you as enablers of use, exclusively. In their eyes, the family = bad news.

We actually think the opposite is true. The family is an important, largely untapped, resource. They can play important roles as an early warning system, bridge builder, and interventionist.

The family must also be considered in the broader portrait of addiction. Your health matters too. So we would want to tell you that taking care of oneself is not just a luxury, it’s not just for “new-age” folks, it’s essential no matter who you are. Dealing with the repercussions of a Loved One’s addiction takes its toll on the rich and the poor, on the young and the old… No matter who you are, you will need resilience to face the road ahead with hope and positivity. Self-care is of top priority if you’re going to help your Loved One walk over the bridge you’ve built with them, and take the hand up you’ve extended to them.

You can help your son. You can enable the positive things you see him doing. Just like a family member can enable use, so too, a family member can enable non-use. It is only logical. And this is what you have found out on your own. You are doing CRAFT by seeing your son, and having a light time over some food or at the gym. You are careful not to give him money and to back away if you see him high. This is CRAFT. This is what we would encourage.

Your son has promised and not delivered, he isn’t where he needs to be in terms of his sobriety, he has lied and been terrible to you and your husband in the past. He hasn’t made an amends to you, and it sounds like there are still grudges towards him.

We would ask you to try every day to wipe the slate clean. What is he like today? If he is not high, do more of what you are doing to connect with him. If he is high, say so if you can, and walk away. Tell him you’ll try again tomorrow to be with him.

About the marijuana. There certainly are changes afoot when it comes to marijuana. Many people are trying it now that it is legal. That doesn’t make it safe for people with addiction, though I wouldn’t worry about it for now. If he feels it keeps him from using other drugs, if it is reducing the use of benzos or meth, let it go for now. Your son is using dangerous drugs. The benzodiazepines are dangerous to withdraw from. Your son has already had seizures probably related to this drug. He needs a detox when he withdraws from benzodiazepines.  Methamphetamine is an extremely dangerous drug. If your son feels the pot helps him not use meth, it is a step in the right direction.

Yes, we should all (probably) stop all drugs for all time. Look at the graph below for how this typically happens. Your son relapses. Let’s take away the judgment and be there to help him back up on the beam.

Please look at the Learning Modules to see how CRAFT works on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis. Your son is ill with addiction. It may take him years to get 1 year sober. We would want you to stay in his life, helping usher him into more treatment when he asks for help. Your son did not grow up to be sick with addiction. He is having the inevitable trouble addressing it.

One last thing. You say your son has been physically agressive towards you in the past. Please look at Learning Module 1 and Learning Module 2 on safety first. You are the judge of whether it is safe to try the different tactics CRAFT suggests with your son. Your observation skills and ability to gather information about your son in the moment sound pretty sensitive. Well done – this goes a long way towards accomplishing the ultimate goal of helping your son along the road to recovery.

inspired by stephanie covington


In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. My hope is that the term “enabling” is abolished in any discussion of issues around substance abuse disorders.
    The term is a symptom of inadequate and dangerously impaired problem solving. It makes broad assumptions. It applies a course of action without the careful thought warranted to a serious health condition.
    The first easiest assumption to identify is that a family member has more power than they really do over the disease itself. In all serious health issues loved ones wish for control, to find an answer, to bring wellness. There is a story on the Alanon book, SESH, that describes a person with a SUD becoming well after a parent stopped “enabling”. These kinds of stories are not necessarily true. The cause and effect are manufactured in restrospect. There may be some relation, but not even that for sure. I believe this approach is harmful.
    National Alliance on Mental Illness has good materials on problem solving, analytical problem solving. Families faced with the serious complex disease of SUD’s need support in doing their own problem solving, with good information. The first premise in NAMI guidelines are to problem solve without including trying to include any approach that includes solving a symptom of the disease
    So my desire is to set the term enabling arise, aside, clear the table and problem solve. Define the problem. Problem solving does include underlying issues generic to each person’s beliefs, attitudes and emotions. I believe the NAMI model might be a good way to start.

  2. This trajectory of sobriety is my favorite graphic. It cements in my mind and heart the fact that relapse happens and is often a part of recovery. Not everyone recovers the first time they try. Having an awareness of that fact guides me not to be overwhelmed by relapse but rather to see it as a temporary hurdle. Meanwhile all the good work that’s been done is still a part of the story.
    Tough love is pretty harsh if it’s only about exclusion which is punishment. Establishing boundaries can be tough for families but it keeps an option for connections that everyone can understand.
    I’m coming to realize that it is the community connection that is at the core of recovery. Over and over I hear that the connections made in meetings, counseling, treatment programs, detox then CSS and TSS, even a sober friend are where our loved ones find their footing. When my loved one expresses a wish or a dip I want her to know that I love her and support her recovery. I also want her to make that connection with the people who have understood her and worked with her and given her hope in the past. My daughter doesn’t do meetings but she does have a sober friend she turns to and I am thrilled she has that connection. I wish she had more connections. Maybe some day she will.