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Are We Enabling if We Don’t Charge Him Rent?

father encourages daughter who's taking out the trash

AiR member rcvr posted a comment about the fine line between enabling and supporting:

“Our son has just started in recovery from heroin addiction. He lives at home (moved back last year) and for now we are feeling positive as he seems committed to changing but we know it's early in the process.

We are struggling with the line between enabling and support – he's back at work, has a good job, but is really in debt. I want to charge him rent partly so he doesn't have extra money floating around that tempts him to buy even though I know it's not in our hands to control that. However this will keep him in debt even longer yet I want him to have the reality of what's out there – no free rides. Any suggestions on this? He is 26 years old and works as a mechanic. 

PS your website has been extremely helpful for me and I really felt it's been the best resource ever offered to families struggling with addiction issues. It's so hopeful in what seems like a hopeless situation much of the time. Thank you so much for all you have done and continue to do. Much appreciated.”

Thank you for the kind words.  I love positive reinforcement!

The immediate crisis is over, and your son is making a good faith effort towards recovery. You barely have a chance to sit down and take a breath when you are forced to confront this entire new set of concerns, many of which revolve around money (or job, rent, car, those things for which you need money).

You want to help your son get a start, after all that is what any parent would want, but you are probably a little tapped out when it comes to supporting a child who has most likely already cost you so very much. 

We’ve worked with families who raise exactly this issue. Getting off drugs doesn’t magically translate into a functional life. Your Loved One must acquire additional skills to be successful in the world.


As you’ve probably heard me say, the time to protect and fix has passed. The time to parent has also passed.

How do you partner with your son so that he feels supported yet responsible and you don’t feel burned.

Debt doesn’t disappear in early recovery. In fact, for many, things seem to fall apart just as you get sober. It’s a dark cloud that hangs over things and makes it harder to get on your feet. It can make someone who’s newly sober think “what is the point?”

The recession also hasn’t helped. More young adults are back living with their parents.

Debt can be managed. Is your son talking to those he owes and working out an arrangement for repayment?

I understand parents want their children to be financially stable…that can take time however. The debt is their business not yours. Let it be.  


Living at home is contingent on continuing recovery activities and staying sober.  That is a given. And it is transitional.  Living at home is short-term until more permanent housing is found. A room in a group house is probably around $500/month in most areas of the country.

The conversation can go something like this:

“We are proud of you. We feel so good about the progress you are making. We like having you live here AND living here is transitional until you can afford and find a more permanent place to live. We'd like to take it week by week. 

For your part, you’re going to have to show a good faith effort at staying sober and doing your recovery work.  For our part, we promise to keep out of the details of that.  If we have a concern, we’ll let you know.

Secondly, we also need you to help out with the bills a little. We realize that money is tight and that you have debt, so we’re going to ask for only $100/week (or $50/week), payable at Sunday dinner each week. 

Thank you for listening to this and for being clean and sober. We are so proud of you."


The key here is, this is less about the amount than it is about the transaction: your son pays something and you feel like he is not getting a free ride.  It also makes sense to want to keep the amount of money in his pocket low…..

In all the years we’ve been working with families, I’d say our informal polling has found that families are about evenly divided between which is harder: having them home or having them live away from home. Neither is easy.

When they are home, the urge to overly focus on your loved one can be exhausting. When they live away from home, the worry of not knowing if they’re okay can be equally exhausting.


Lastly, decide together as parents on what amount of use or non-payment you will tolerate from your son. For example: a brief lapse in sobriety with continued recovery activities may be tolerated; two weeks of non-payment of rent may be the limit.

If you feel you can say it, then add this to the conversation.  It helps to keep things transparent, should you have to ask him to leave.

This post is long enough, but I can imagine your next questions, which I will address in the coming weeks:  how can we be sure he isn’t using? Where will he go if we kick him out? What if he won’t leave when we ask him to?



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"...)