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When Helping Hurts: 7 Signs You’re an Enabling Parent

It’s only natural – you want to do everything to help your child. And that’s especially true if she’s struggling with an alcohol or drug problem. Despite your best intentions, sometimes your behaviors can actually enable her substance abuse and, in many cases, even make it worse.

Recognizing and Stopping Your Enabling Behaviors

Instead of blaming yourself or falling apart, it’s important to take action. You have to identify the enabling behaviors and make conscious decisions to avoid them going forward. If you don’t, it only adds fuel to the fire of addiction – and that’s the polar opposite of what you want for your teen.

Wondering what enabling behaviors look like? Here are 7 classic signs of an enabler:

#1 Ignoring Harmful or Dangerous Behaviors

The signs of addiction might be right in front of you, but it doesn’t matter if you choose to be willfully ignorant. Whether you see her drinking dangerous levels of alcohol, displaying signs of a substance abuse problem or mentioning thoughts of self-harm, you have to address it. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away.

#2 Fear-Based Actions

Happy parent and child hugging together  Being filled with fear often leads to doing things that do not help an addicted teen. While refusing to express your concerns or consciously choosing not to take action might seem like the easiest approach, these decisions (or lack thereof) only bring more pain and difficulty down the road. Sitting idly by while she drinks, babysitting because you’re “worried she might do something dangerous” – like driving while drunk – might temporarily ease your own conscience, but it certainly isn’t doing your child any favors.

#3 Lying to Others to Cover Up Her Behavior

Let’s say your teenage daughter wakes up on Saturday morning, too hung over to make it to work. Would you call her place of work and tell lies on her behalf? Would you tell her boss that she’s too sick to come into work? Or how about making excuses for her when she fails to show up for a family gathering or other important event? By covering up her behavior, she will never have the opportunity to experience the consequences of her actions.Don’t rob her from knowing how it feels to pay the price for her bad behaviors.

#4 Loaning Her Money

You should never loan an addicted teen money, especially when it’s the result of her own poor decisions. She might spin the most fantastic yarn, swearing that she just needs the money to buy food or other essentials…but in your gut, you know exactly where the money will ultimately be spent. Handing over money to her sets the precedent that you will bail her out of trouble – no matter what she’s done. And the odds of ever seeing your money again are slim at best, even if she promises to pay you back.

#5 Not Following Through on Ultimatums

Have you threatened to kick her out of your home if she drinks or uses drugs again? If that’s a scare tactic you’ve used before, then the chances are pretty good you’ve threatened this eviction more than once. If make empty threats, yet you never back any of them up, how is she supposed to ever take you seriously? When she realizes she can still use drugs or drink – without being kicked out or punished in any way – why would she alter her behaviors? As a loving parent, it’s important to establish yourself as an authority figure – one who means what they say.

#6 Blaming Others for Her Actions

No matter what your teen says or how she tries to manipulate your feelings, she is totally responsible for her actions. Period. Her “friends” might make things more difficult by drinking or doing drugs around her, but we all have freewill. And that means she has the choice to say no or remove herself from those situations.

#7 Taking Care of Her Responsibilities

Whether it’s paying her court fines or doing her homework so it’s not late, you cannot be her caretaker. Making the choice to drink or do drugs is not an excuse to get out of performing everyday tasks or obligations. Instead of doing it yourself and “making the problem go away,” have an honest conversation with her. Let her know that substance abuse is interfering with her ability to function on a day-to-day basis and you’re no longer willing to bear the brunt of the load for her.

When you stop remedying her problems by making them your own, she can finally start to realize the repercussions of her substance abuse. Once that happens, she’s one step closer to sobriety.