Intervene

A blog for parents concerned about their teens alcohol and drug use




A Note On “Enabling” vs. Positive Reinforcement
Thursday, July 25th, 2013

By Jeffrey Foote, PhD, Co-founder and Clinical Director at Center for Motivation & Change

If you are a partner, parent or child of someone struggling with substance problems, and you live in America, you’ve probably heard this word “enabling” (possibly many, many times). And you’ve probably heard this described as central to your interactions in helping your loved one. Mostly, you have heard “DON’T DO IT”!, and if you are like most concerned family members, you feel vaguely guilty for doing something you’re not even sure you are doing (but you must be, right?).

By way of quick review, “enabling” actually means doing positive things that will end up supporting continued negative behavior, such as providing your child with money so they won’t “go hungry” during the day, knowing they use it to buy pot. Another example is going to talk to your child’s teacher to make sure she doesn’t get a bad grade, even though her bad test score was due to drinking. Or calling your husband’s work to explain he’s sick today, when he’s actually hung over.

These are examples of doing something “nice” for your loved one that actually (from a behavioral reinforcement standpoint) might increase the frequency of the negative behavior, not decrease it. The logic: if they act badly and nothing happens, or something good happens, this behavior is encouraged, even if what you are doing is “nice”. This IS enabling, and this is not helpful in changing behavior in a positive direction.

But everything nice is not enabling! And that’s the quicksand we have developed in our culture. Staying connected, rewarding positive behaviors with positivity, being caring and loving; these things are critical to positive change.

So what’s the difference? Positive reinforcement is doing “nice” things in response to positive behavior. Simple as that. When your loved one wakes up on time in the morning, when he takes his sister to school, when she texts you tell you she’ll be late, when he doesn’t smoke pot on Friday night, when he helps you make dinner instead of going for a quick drink with the boys on the way home. These are positive actions, and acknowledging them, rewarding them, being happy about them, is a GOOD thing, not enabling.

Enabling is a meaningful concept. It’s just overused to the point that families often feel their loving and caring is the problem. IT’S NOT! Caring about and staying connected in a helping way with someone dealing with substances is not only helpful, it’s one of the most powerful motivators for change.

To restate the slogan: Attach with love — just love the positive actions and step away from the negative.

***

The Center for Motivation & Change (CMC) is a unique, NYC-based private group practice of dedicated clinicians and researchers providing non-ideological, evidence-based, effective treatment of addictive disorders and other compulsive behaviors. CMC’s treatment approach is informed by a strong commitment to both the humanity and the science of change, providing a unique, compelling, and inspiring environment in which to begin the process of change. Staffed by a group of experienced psychologists, CMC takes pride in their collective record of clinical research and administrative experience but most of all are driven by an optimism about people’s capacity to change and a commitment to the science of change.

Learn more about Center for Motivation & Change and read about our unique and effective approach to treating addictive disorders, and meet CMC’s directorial staff and clinical staff. To find more resources for families, please see our Parent’s 20 Minute Guide, and our Family Blog.  And to learn more about CRAFT, see our CRAFT Family Services page. Find us on Facebook and Twitter for additional content and the latest updates.

Previous CMC Collaboration Posts:

Caring for Yourself in Order to Care for Someone Else

The CRAFT Approach: Encouraging Healthy, Constructive, Positive Changes for Your Family

Announcing a New Collaboration: Exploring Alternative Approaches to Dealing with a Loved One’s Addiction

Posted by Center for Motivation and Change  /  Filed under Addiction, CRAFT, Dealing with an Addicted Child, Enabling, Family members, parenting, Positive Reinforcement, Substance Abuse  /  Comments: more



Announcing a New Collaboration: Exploring Alternative Approaches to Dealing with a Loved One’s Addiction
Friday, June 14th, 2013

Forty percent of the calls that we receive on the Parent Helpline are from despairing moms and dads looking for a sensible answers to help them deal with their teenagers’ and young adults’ drug abuse and dependencies. By the time parents find their way to us, the “conversation” with their teen hasn’t worked, the abstinence contract has been broken, and they have heard all about “tough love,” “letting them hit bottom” and “enabling” — with enough gratuitous advice and ideological claptrap about how to “fix” the problem, that their heads are reeling.

Yet, their loved one’s drug problem continues to worsen, family difficulties deteriorate along with increased school failures and dropout, drunk and drugged driving, delinquency, and early pregnancy becoming all too common. And, while we all agree that there are no easy answers, the conventional wisdom, stubbornly insists on telling parents that emotional detachment is the holy grail of family recovery, the magic ingredient that they have missed out on – that as parents of addicts, to truly help their children, and in order to retain their own personal, physical, emotional and spiritual health, they must love their drug addicted child enough to let them suffer so that they can get better. Some parents, desperate for answers, try this with mixed results, but most parents that we talk to tell us that they wish that there had been another way.

But, finding another way isn’t always that simple. The treatment and recovery landscape can be described as being dominated by a singular approach that proposes that “denial” must first be broken before the afflicted individual can find the road to recovery.

But through the hundreds of phone calls we receive from parents who have been there, we have come to understand a few things about this. That is that:

• Active positive family involvement as opposed to detachment works better
• Motivational styles in reaching loved ones are more effective than confrontational styles
• Parents feel better about themselves when they encourage vs. confront
• Parents like motivational approaches better than confrontational ones
• Positive reinforcement works

It is for this reason, we are proud to announce a very special Intervene blog collaboration with The Center for Motivation and Change (CMC) to provide Intervene’s readers with an ongoing series of professionally written articles proposing alternatives to the traditional approach of dealing with a loved one’s addictive problems.

The cornerstone of CMC’s treatment approach is motivational, helping each client find a path toward change they can truly embrace. By providing the structure and tools to pursue that path, and through the use of respectful, flexible, evidence-based approaches, CMC addresses a range of issues to help each individual clear the often difficult obstacles to effective, life-enhancing, and long-lasting change.

Be on the lookout for CMC’s first post on Intervene – “The CRAFT Approach: Encouraging Healthy, Constructive, Positive Changes for Your Family” – coming soon!

Posted by Intervene Staff  /  Filed under Addiction, Alcohol, CRAFT, Dealing with an Addicted Child, Drugs, Enabling, Family members, Finding Treatment, getting help, parenting, Recovery, Substance Abuse  /  Comments: 1



Detaching With Love: How I Learned to Separate My Son and His Addiction
Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

My son Alex shoplifted to support his addiction. Needless to say he got caught several times. The first few times, when he was a minor, we’d get a call to come pick him up, and he’d get a ticket, and we’d pay a big fine and take him to court services for his probation and take him to a psychologist. This went on for a couple years.

When he turned 18, he was no longer a minor, and with his record they’d take him to jail. He’d make that phone call from jail, “Please come and bail me out. I’m never going to do this again.” Off we’d go. After a while, this was getting expensive. And my wife Darlene and I were not learning our lesson—and, by the way, neither was our son. We were doing the same thing over and over, and our son was doing the same thing over and over. Nothing was changing. He’d make the same promises, we’d take the same action, and we couldn’t understand why he kept using!

This is where the idea of “detaching” and setting boundaries started with us. We decided we weren’t going to pay bail next time.

But it wasn’t easy. As a mom and dad it is very hard to think of your child sitting in jail. In Jackson County, MO, jail he witnessed a person getting stabbed. The food is universally bad at jails, and without money on your books, you can’t even get a toothbrush to brush your teeth. He had food stolen from him and at times had to fight to keep it. He spent two days in solitary confinement for defending himself against an inmate who attacked him. Some jails put the mentally ill in with criminals such as rapists and murderers, and then put them all in together with the drug addicts. It makes no sense to me.

It’s hard to think of yourself as a loving parent when you know that for just a few hundred dollars you could get your child out of those situations. You wonder: if I don’t pay the bail, am I really a loving parent? But eventually, the day comes when you don’t pay. We once let our son sit in the “Johnson County, KS, Resort” for 11 days because we wouldn’t post a $50 bond. Sounds mean doesn’t it?

This is about detaching with love and not enabling. Your boundaries must match your values. It works for us this way. Overriding all is the value that we love our son. When you sit down to think about and discuss boundaries, this goes at the top of the page. Every single boundary is tested against that value.

Another value we hold close and taught our kids is that stealing is wrong. Stealing carries consequences, and it should. Bailing him out removes or minimizes the consequences. Contrary to our values, we were bailing him out. We hated what he was exposed to in jail; however, we had established a pattern: he got caught, he called, we jumped with cash in hand.

Darlene and I sat down and determined where we would go and where we would no longer go. This began to help us establish our boundaries. You can’t cover all of the possible situations; you just cover what you can and know that once you learn how to judge behaviors and fight the instinct to enable by rescuing, the exercise becomes easier and more natural.

Once boundaries are determined, you must sit down with your child, an addict that may or may not be high at the time, and explain where you will no longer go with him. In fact you can even start each sentence with, “Because we love you…” and then, for instance, “we can no longer bail you out of jail. All of your life we taught you that stealing was wrong and you know that in your heart, so we cannot support your actions by bailing you out of jail when you do something you have been taught all your life is wrong. I hope you understand this and can accept our decision.”

For each boundary we had discussed, the conversation went like that. Our son hated it when we turned off the TV and asked him to sit down at the table to talk. This satisfied our need to tell him of our expectations, and it told him what to expect from us. Yes, he still called, begged, pleaded and cried from jail, but what we had been doing in the past didn’t work and was bad for us and him. We had to change the rules, but that didn’t mean we loved him less. It meant we loved him more because it hurt us terribly to let him sit in jail.

Even with his begging and pleading we were still able to sleep at night and have a moment of down time. He was in jail and we knew jail was safer than being on the street scoring and shooting more heroin. We then began to see jail as “protective custody.”

We detached from Alex’s crimes and actions; we did not detach from him. We still loved him, took some of the $10-for-10-minute collect calls from jail. On those calls we always ended by saying that we loved him and asking him to please help himself. We were doing all we could and all we knew to do. Detach from the actions, crimes, drug use, lying and every other terrible thing a drug addict does to himself and others. Love and support the person inside, not the addiction controlling the life.

Today, Alex is two-and-a-half years sober.

Posted by Ron Grover  /  Filed under Acceptance, Addiction, Codependency, Confronting Teens, Dealing with an Addicted Child, Enabling, Family members, parenting, Patience, Substance Abuse, tough love, Uncategorized  /  Comments: more



The Language of Drug Addiction is Often Negative
Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Tough LoveThe language of drug addiction is laced with many terms that seem to be designed to scare everyone. Many words and descriptors of addiction make me cringe “Hitting rock bottom,” is a term I have written about before. Another term that I have recently been exploring and considering is “Tough Love.”

Tough Love is harsh. For a parent to do what is necessary isn’t “tough love” it is REAL LOVE. Real love is letting your child sit in jail (protective custody) when for only a few dollars you could get him out and spare him from the confines of jail. (Only to find them using again within two hours.) Real love is telling your child he cannot live in your home as he continue to use drugs. Real love is when you see your addict hungry, dirty and homeless, and you buy him a meal, give him information of people who can help and encourage him to seek help and not offering to “fix it” for him. Real love is selfishly taking the time to work on yourself so that when your addict has a “profound experience” you ARE able to help in the right way instead of just falling back on old habits of enabling.

Addiction is a disease. When we see a parent sitting bedside of a child with cancer taking chemotherapy, holding his hand, wiping his head, combing his hair as is falls out, holding the pan as he gets sick, we admire that parent and comment how much they must love their child to be by his side. That parent doesn’t love their child any more than you or I. That parent is only doing what they can and must to help their child get better; just like we are doing when we practice tough love real love.

Real Love is why you are here reading these essays written by parents and professionals who have walked this path before you.

Tough love is easy, throw them out and leave them to the world.

What words in the world of addiction make you angry? Share with us below.

Related Links
Moving Away From Enabling
How a Child’s Own Reasons for Change Lead to the Most Success
Losing Your Mind Doesn’t Help Anyone

Posted by Ron Grover  /  Filed under Addiction, Dealing with an Addicted Child, Enabling, parenting, Taking Care of Yourself, Uncategorized  /  Comments: more



Part I: Forgiveness: My Struggles to Make Amends with Myself and My Addict
Thursday, September 29th, 2011

ForgivenessDealing with the aftermath of my stepfather’s drunken escapades in my childhood became as common as getting out of bed in the morning. My family thought it was “normal” to scream at each other, to throw dishes across the room, and to pretend it didn’t hurt when these type of things happened. My mother seemed as if she had forgiven my stepfather’s behavior every single day only to have it occur again the very same day. My middle brother was a drug addict at this time also. He would bully my grandmother into giving him every last dime of her life savings, would rob our home — the home he lived in — and scream at all of us when we refused to let him in the house. He even stole from my piggy bank when I was 10-years-old.  Addicts have one purpose — to get more drugs, period. In this case too, my mother seemed to want to forget and continue to enable him.   It was an endless cycle.

When you are a small child growing up in a home plagued with addiction you get a very distorted picture of what it means to forgive. We do whatever is necessary to survive the emotional rollercoaster we are on, while resentment builds inside of us. When we are old enough to understand the addiction we just want to forget everything that ever happened. It would be great if I could wave a magic wand and erase all those terrible memories. But I have had to live with them.

They have altered my ability to trust, to believe in others, to feel worthy of love, and to forgive. I was so angry at the people I should have loved the most. I hated my stepfather for his embarrassing and painful displays of drunkenness. I hated my brother for being so weak and conniving. I hated my mother for not being strong enough to protect me from them. As an adult, I was isolated and angry. I ran away from my family because I wanted to be the complete opposite of them. I wanted to attract good.

Let me tell you that you can run to the ends of the earth and it will never be far enough to avoid yourself. The only true way to heal from your loved one’s addiction is to forgive — forgive the person, forgive those affected by the person, but most of all you have to forgive yourself. It took me over thirty-five years to truly begin forgiving. Sure I had said hundreds of times before that I was over all of the negativity, but I hadn’t really learned how.

Have you forgiven yourself and your loved one with a drug addiction?  Share your story of forgiveness below.

Read Part II of my blog post next week to learn to how I forgave myself and those around me.

Related Links:
Acceptance: Regaining Trust and Rebuilding the Family Unit
Dealing with Feelings: 5 Ways I Cope with My Young Adult’s Drug and Alcohol Addiction
Moving Away From Enabling
Time to Get Help

Posted by Michelle A. Woycitzky  /  Filed under Acceptance, Addiction, Alcohol, Enabling, Family History, Forgiveness  /  Comments: more



Moving Away From Enabling
Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

The best thing you can do for yourself or any addict you care about is to not enable their drug addiction. Parents can fail in this regard when they are unable to accept a family member’s addiction as a serious problem. With the best of intentions, parents can unknowingly support their teen’s drug use by enabling. As sad as it is for parents to see this; it is equally an enigma to an addict as they find that their mental condition progressively responds only to their cravings. It’s important to do everything you can to stop feeding the lifeline to addiction – it can really save lives.

Too often, young addicts steal — and as a result many parents enable by not holding the young addict accountable for their actions. Often times the thought of jail, shame and the fear of loss paralyzes a family. Those who live with a drug addict and have endured many violations understand a level of madness that can’t be explained. It is a sobering thought to find that jail isn’t more dangerous than life on the streets for a young addict.  A parent’s instinct is to protect their child at all costs, but drug addiction doesn’t rationalize what a second or third chance means. This disease has a course of its own — unless interrupted by an intervention. For many diseases, intervention comes in the form of medicine and care. Cancer doesn’t ask permission to be brutal, neither does addiction.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted by Bill Ford  /  Filed under Addiction, Co-Occurring Disorders, Dealing with an Addicted Child, Enabling, Recovery & Relapse  /  Comments: more



My Son’s Addiction: What Is vs. What Ought To Be
Monday, March 15th, 2010

Most of us live in two worlds: the world of what is and the world of ought to be. This is not an issue that only parents of addicts face — this is a reality of most everyone. For many, residing in two worlds at the same time causes great frustration and anger. There are some that fail to even recognize that there is a difference, they spend their lives trying to mold their existing reality into a life of what ought to be.

The problem as a parent of an addict is living in the world of ought to be disrupts your perspective to what is happening with your son or daughter that is an addict. The world of ought to be continually puts us in a place where it is impossible to help our addict. It causes frustration and anger with the addict, the world and ourselves. Ought to be causes us to lose our grasp on the reality of our situation. We are the parents of an addict; this is the reality we cannot avoid. All of the what ifs, and should haves mean nothing when you are trying to help a child who is addicted.

An addict lives their life in the world of what is minute to minute. The pain of addiction, the worry of getting their next fix, a life without purpose, this is the world of reality for an addict – the world of what is.

As parents of an addict, living in the world of ought to be gives us permission to do things that hurt our addict and perpetuate their addiction. Ought to be allows us to enable our addict. Ought to be allows us to excuse our addict’s behavior. Ought to be distorts our thinking and our reality. Inside my child is a good kid they just have this addiction problem, so we ought to be treating them as a good kid and everything will work its way through. If we do that then they ought to see the problem and they will stop. I have fallen into that trap so many times.

Living in the world of what is forces me to see the situation as it is and not the way I wish it to be. When I am living in the world of what is I am an effective helper for my addict. Recognizing the truths of what is helps me to stop enabling and forces me to deal not just with my son as I want him to be, but to recognize what truly is the reality of my addicted child’s life. Without that perspective, I cannot relate to my addict’s pain and I cannot help myself.

Posted by Ron Grover  /  Filed under Addiction, Dealing with an Addicted Child, Denial, Enabling, Taking Care of Yourself  /  Comments: more



Alanon Helped Me Deal with My Addicted Child
Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

I have a daughter. She is the second of our four children and she is beautiful. I can remember back 21 years ago to the day of her arrival onto this earth, into our family, and it is one of my most precious memories. Her birth was fun, filled with joy and we were surrounded by people who love us. As the doctor guided her out into this world and held her slick shiny body up for me to see, I felt such happiness, such pure unadulterated joy that I had been given a girl child.

At 12 years old that same beautiful girl child took her first drink of alcohol. Little did she know that she had opened a door to years of drama and turmoil, years of ruined relationships, loneliness, and feelings of defeat. Years of being in pain. By the time she was 14 that beautiful girl child of mine had become a black-out drinking drug user.

We rationalized that she was experimenting. Lots of kids go through wild phases, but deep inside I think we knew that this was more than that. We were afraid and ashamed and in denial…not a good combination. We worked so hard at controlling and managing what had so obviously already spun out of our grasp. We didn’t want anyone to know the depths of our fear. We hoped and prayed it would pass. But it didn’t.

We sought counseling and thankfully we were directed to Alanon Family Groups. Alanon is a 12 step program for the families and friends of alcoholics and/or addicts. Little did I know I was about to be given a road map that would lead me back to sanity. Because I had most certainly resorted to crazy behavior all in the name of saving my daughter.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted by Annette  /  Filed under Dealing with an Addicted Child, Denial, Enabling, Family History, Recovery & Relapse, Taking Care of Yourself  /  Comments: more



The Second Parental Deadly Sin – Enabling
Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Enabling means to make able or possible, to give power.  It is a major environmental factor in addiction. Enabling allows the addict to continue in his disease by preventing him from experiencing the negative consequences of his behavior.  Giving in to my daughter Lauren, who had a spiraling addiction, was a recipe for disaster. It mortifies me to think about how I handed out money and gave her rides to be with her drug-dealing boyfriend during her using days. I think the scariest thing about enabling is that most parents don’t even realize they’re doing it — and that was certainly true for me.  I believe my enabling was just another way for me to protect myself while being fed by the lies and deception that Lauren used to hide her using. 

Facing the truth was too hard and I wanted to be able to trust my daughter and give her the freedom that any typical teenager should have.  The problem was that what we were dealing with was anything but “typical.”  

Many times I hear parents say, “But I want my kid to like me.” Dealing with a rebellious teenager is tough enough for most parents; add to that a growing addiction and you are faced with something beyond your control.  Coming from an alcoholic upbringing myself, I struggled at times with codependent tendencies, including weak boundaries and difficulty asserting myself with my kids.  Living with an active addiction in my teen triggered those inclinations.  I was an easy target as my daughter developed into a master manipulator in her quest to acquire the drugs she needed to fuel her addiction. 

Lauren needed professional help for her addiction and I needed help just as badly for my enabling ways around her disease.  One addiction counselor told me that my daughter was not ready to change because she liked her life.  What I didn’t realize was how much I was responsible for providing the comfortable environment in which her disease was thriving.  Once I implemented some “Tough Love” principles and set boundaries with money and rides, and mandated a recovery program for her if she wanted to live in my home, it rocked her world and things started to change.

Many teen substance abusers are able to reach a point where they want to recover because they cannot stand to lose any more of their former privileges. Only when addicted teens are faced with real consequences can they start to make a change.  There is help for parents available in the form of free meetings with other families who are dealing with family addiction. The purpose of these groups is to learn from one another how to stop being codependent and how to end enabling behavior.

Five ways to stop enabling behavior:

1) Attend meetings for families of addicts.
2) Get professional help for yourself.
3) Establish “Tough Love” consequences in your home.
4) Stop providing money and privileges for your substance abuser.
5) Develop a support system with other parents of addicts.

Posted by Karen Franklin  /  Filed under Dealing with an Addicted Child, Enabling, Family History, Recovery, Taking Care of Yourself  /  Comments: more



The Perilous Pitfalls of Enabling Your Child
Friday, June 12th, 2009

Have we raised the most spoiled generation of children in the history of humanity? After ours, of course.

Certainly you need a new laptop, darling, yours is a month old.
Those jeans are pretty shabby after one wash and what, you can’t text Mars on your cell? Poor thing.

 
Bad enough when the teen has normal issues, but when they’re in the clutches of addiction, enabling takes on an entirely new and dangerous meaning: spoiled brat embarrassing you in the mall on a Saturday afternoon versus drug overdose in the emergency room on a Saturday night.

We’re all at the mercy of our own overpowering love, seizing upon the slightest progress as an epiphany — so the new friend has a tattoo of Satan on her forehead, least she has a nice smile — and rewarding that with slavish generosity.

And they know it. Addicts manipulate. Teenage addicts, off the charts. Worn out from this endless war, we appease those emotional terrorists in the bedroom down the hall. Maybe they will leave us alone if we only…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted by Gary Morgenstein  /  Filed under Enabling  /  Comments: more






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