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Are you enabling substance use disorder or supporting recovery? The Professional's Perspective

This is a guest post from family counselor/interventionist Ricki Townsend

Parenting a child of any age who has become ensnared by alcohol or drugs is so counter-intuitive. As parents, we’ve been focused from Day One on keeping our children safe. We grab them when they are headed toward the busy street. We pick them up when they fall down. We make sure they are fed and clothed and sheltered. But when drugs or alcohol muddy the water, we have to learn a new set of rules to keep us from enabling their substance use disorder. Those rules can help us – and them – head in the direction of recovery.

How do you distinguish between enabling the brain disease of substance use disorder and setting healthy boundaries? A good rule of thumb I’ve learned from the “legacy” parents who attend our Sunday meetings is to ask if our behavior supports their addiction or their recovery. For example, if we pay their rent in a house full of drinking buddies, that behavior enables their alcohol abuse. In contrast, if we pay their rent in a sober living home that has random drug checks, curfews and mandatory AA meetings, that behavior supports their recovery. If we let them use our car because they totaled their car while driving under the influence, that shields them from the consequences of their poor choices. If they have to ride a bike or a take a bus – trust me – they will truly experience the consequences of their actions. And they may just get a taste of humility along the way. At the very least, they will understand that you are sticking by your guns when you say, “We will support you in recovery, and this is what it looks like.”

I know these are difficult boundaries to lay down. But, as the AA Open Letter from an Alcoholic reminds us, “Don't let your love and anxiety for me lead you into doing what I ought to do for myself. If you assume my responsibilities, you make my failure to assume them permanent. My sense of guilt will be increased, and you will feel resentful."

We need to give our beloved children the best chance to find recovery. And that means when drugs or alcohol are calling the shots, then we need to change the way we act. WE need to get out of their way and give THEM some very compelling incentives to find their own path.

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