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"Parents are 'enablers' and 'co-dependent' for helping their addicted children."

The Tired Narrative: 

By helping a loved one struggling with addiction, concerned parents and friends are engaging in "co-dependency."In order to stop "enabling"  addiction one must "detach with love"from the person who is addicted.

Addiction is often called a "family disease," and co-dependent family members are obsessed with controlling the behavior of their loved one who is using drugs or addicted. Co-dependency and enabling are manifestations of the "family disease" and prevent a loved one with addiction from "hitting rock bottom."

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The Informed Narrative: 

Co-dependency is a term that pathologizes normal human behavior.

If a loved one is struggling, it is only natural to want to help them. It has no documented set of criteria and is not a real diagnosis.

The concept gained notoriety during the late 1980s and early 1990s as the self-help movement took off. Co-dependency eventually became part of support groups for families coping with a loved one's addiction, like Al-Anon and CoDa (Co-dependency Anonymous). 

It is no doubt difficult to set healthy boundaries with loved ones. But strategies like providing loving supportsterile syringessafe housing, and overdose reversal drugs, can help people stay alive while they navigate their substance use disorder. 


Pathologizing efforts to help a loved one struggling with addiction can be dangerous. Cutting them off, detachment, and other attempts to accelerate one's pain and suffering may result in irreparable harm. The science repeatedly finds that empathy, compassion, and practical strategies to keep someone alive during their addiction work better than punishment and isolation. 

Connect with Expert Sources:

Maia Szalavitz, Neuroscience Journalist


Brooke Feldman, in recovery, social worker 

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