Ask an Expert: What Do I Do If My Dad Is Enabling My Brother?

By Rita Milios 02/08/15
Today's question is on how to stop a father from enabling an addicted son without creating a feud in the family.

Hello, I am hoping that I can get some help (either from one of Experts, or a referral to another online forum) regarding codependency and enabling. My older (and only) brother is 34 and has been living at home with my parents for the past two years and hasn't worked in several years (for the years prior, he jumped around from girlfriend to girlfriend who would support him). He had numerous surgeries to fix his back-the result of being reckless and making poor decisions - and is now addicted to heroin (though he refuses to accept it). He has been using heroin for at least five years, and prior to that, was/is addicted to opiates.

Although my parents do not give him money, he steals valuables around the house, and recently, we found out that he sells drugs to support his addiction. Long story short, my parents are on different pages on how to deal with the situation. Although they have attended counseling appointments and NarAnon meetings, my father does not want to kick him out and wants to believe my brother when my brother says he is clean. My mother, on the other hand, is at her wit's end and feels that she can only care for herself and can't make my brother get better, especially when he refuses help. My dad, I believe, is codependent on my brother because he retired a few years ago and is filling a void in his life by being in the cycle with my brother.

My question is what to do when my parents are on two separate pages? I believe my mother is right; my brother needs to leave. My dad is enabling him by allowing him to stay at home, paying for his cell phone, and refilling his prescriptions. Having found out recently that he is selling drugs, and after recently damaging my father's car, I believe that things are escalating and getting worse quickly. I'd recall other past scenarios when I thought that things couldn't get worse, but you've heard them all in some iteration I'm sure. Thanks. - John


Rita Milios: I am so sorry, John, that your family is having such a difficult struggle. I know it is hard for you to stand by and watch your parents being in conflict because they differ in their opinions of how to help your brother. I know it is also hard to watch your brother sink deeper into addiction. There is no easy way to solve this dilemma.

Unfortunately, you are right in thinking that your dad is enabling your brother. You may be right in thinking that your dad is possibly trying to fill a void in his life by being codependent with his addicted son. But this way of demonstrating love and concern will only encourage, rather than discourage, further drug use. Your mother has the right idea, but unfortunately, she is outnumbered here. You cannot dictate to either your dad or your brother what actions they should take. But you can at least try to educate your dad by leaving information about codependency and enabling behavior around the house. (This may prove to be useless, as you say your dad has attended counseling and NarAnon meetings and still maintains his position.)

The other thing (and more important thing) you can do is to support your mother. She needs all the encouragement and stress relief that you can offer. Perhaps a drastic action may be called for on the part of your mother, to really bring home the point that she “can only take care of herself.” Discuss with your mom how she can follow through with specific actions to “take care of herself.” Does she need to be out of the house for a while? Could she visit a relative to distance herself from the chaos and get some stress relief? Perhaps a drastic move such as this would get the message through to your dad about how serious the issue is. At the very least, your mom should seek counseling for herself to help her deal with her own emotional turmoil. (It would not be a bad idea for you to consider the same.)

“Tough love” is hard for those who must implement it. But until your brother suffers enough as a consequence of his action, rather than being shielded from unpleasant consequences, he will have no incentive to change. You and your mom need to show a united front and take a stand, to indicate that the two of you will neither enable your brother’s addiction, nor will you allow yourselves to become collateral damage in its wake.

I wish you all the best.



Rita Milios, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in private practice, author of more than 30 books, and frequent professional lecturer and on-camera expert. She also facilitates workshops and training for clinicians, therapists, writers, holistic practitioners, businesses and associations. She is known as "The Mind Mentor" because of her unique approach to “mind tools training.”    Full Bio.

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