June 24, 2019
Q: How do I make sure I’m not enabling my daughter’s drug use?
A: Stop worrying about enabling! That’s my short, oversimplified answer to this question.
In most cases, the fear of enabling does much more harm than good. There’s nothing wrong with loving, caring for and wanting the best for your daughter, whether she uses drugs or not.
Enabling is a positive thing in every other context I can think of but one: addiction. When it comes to addiction, we often turn to popular but damaging approaches such as tough love.
Let’s remove drugs from the picture for a minute. If your daughter was trying to lose weight, for example, would you be expected to cut her out of your life if she ate an unhealthy snack, or skipped a workout? I understand drug use is much more destructive and often comes with a range of irrational and difficult behaviors like lying and stealing. However, studies show that supportive, non-confrontational approaches yield better results for everyone involved. (We recommend reading Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change, which covers the science behind motivation at length.)
As loved ones, we’re often mislead with outdated, ineffective advice. I understand the tendency to gravitate toward tough love – we’re continually told it’s the only acceptable way to deal with addiction. It’s considered a better alternative to enabling, at least.
I used to subscribe to tough love myself. But I found out, as many people do, that in most cases it doesn’t work. Confrontational tactics don’t foster long-term change. Instead, they tend to fuel resentments and break down healthy communication.
To be clear, I’m not advising loved ones to condone someone’s drug use or other destructive behaviors. Boundary setting is a crucial step for loved ones who are grappling with someone’s addiction.
Unfortunately, blame and confusion are very much part of the loved one experience, in large part due to labels like enabling. It’s important to move past the bad advice and seek effective support.
The bottom line is there are plenty of positive coping and communication strategies that are effective, empowering and mutually beneficial. If you’d like to explore those strategies with a peer coach, you can get in touch with us here.