Saturday, August 24, 2013

Q&A: Helping Vs. Enabling

QuestionMy son is in jail for repercussions of his opiate abuse. any suggestions on how I can help him when he gets out?  I personally Don't like the word 'enable'.  what's a mother to do?

~ Anonymous

Answer:  Let me begin by saying I'm not an addiction specialist, so please continue to seek advice from a professional in that arena.   

Addiction is a family disease.  Consider entering a rehab program for loved ones of addicts, such as the Betty Ford Center.  If that's not possible, try to attend some form of counseling regularly, preferably with an addiction-literate psychologist or counselor.  Talk therapy can help you form a more functional relationship with your son while providing emotional support for you.   

It's a very fine line between helping and enabling, especially for a parent.  The goal is to love him without loving him to death.  Here's a short list of Do's and Don'ts to get you started:

Listen and be there physically when he needs to talk.  "Listen" is the key word.  Avoid judgmental statements or unsolicited advice.  Sometimes people just need to vent and feel heard.  Physical affection is good too.  A gentle embrace or pat on the back goes a long way. 

Invade his privacy, make accusations or force your ideals/opinions on him.  He's an adult who must make his own decisions and deal with their consequences.  (Within reason, of course.  If he violates any of your major boundaries, you must follow through with swift consequences each time.  Only you can decide what those are). 

Be positive about his recovery and encourage healthy hobbies.  Support him in whatever rehabilitation program he chooses, even if it's just outpatient meetings or online support groups.

Provide financial help of any kind while he's still using.  Again, he's an adult who should be supporting himself financially, though it might take a while to get on his feet after prison.  Addicts have no motivation to stay sober if they're living comfortably on someone else's dime.  It has to be his decision to get clean, but you can influence it by removing the luxuries of the lifestyle.
Focus on your own health and happiness.  Make time for relaxing activities that don't involve your son.  You can't let his disease rob you of your life.  This is one of the hardest aspects of loving an addict, but remember:  you can't help anyone else if you're not healthy yourself.   

Lose hope if he relapses.  Relapse is a normal part of recovery for most addicts.  Just make sure he's educated on harm reduction practices to decrease his chances of dying.  (For instance: taking the same dose of drugs as before can lead to overdose after a period of abstinence). is a great place to start. 

Hope that helps!  Best of luck to you and your son.

~ Mary Microgram

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