Having a close friend or family member struggle with addiction is never easy. Like many people, you may think that you’re making the best of a bad situation by cleaning up your loved one’s messes, fixing their problems, and providing temporary assistance to keep their lives from getting worse. This is known as enabling.
Unfortunately, these are all actions that can keep a person from recognizing their need for help. Rather than helping people get better, enablers keep addicts from experiencing the full consequences of substance abuse. Enabling also supports the denial that addicts already contend with. Worse still, enabling behaviors can additionally be dangerous to enablers themselves.
One of the best ways to help an addict is by stepping out of the way and allowing them to experience the consequences of their drug or alcohol abuse. This includes letting them clean up their own physical, financial, and legal messes. It also means being honest when sharing your opinions about their behaviors. If you’ve been making excuses for a loved one and covering up their mistakes, you may be causing more harm than good.
Luckily, you can stop enabling behaviors at any time. When you stop enabling, you’ll no longer have to shoulder the responsibility for their actions. You won’t constantly feel resentful or overwhelmed, and your loved one may come to terms with the need for professional assistance.
Helping vs Enabling
Enabling often feels like helping. After all, when people are in the throes of addiction, they have an obvious need for help. If enablers don’t step in, most addicts will face a job loss, housing loss, and serious legal actions. They might not eat regularly or tend to their personal care.
However, there’s a very clear difference between helping vs enabling. Helping is assisting someone with activities and responsibilities that they can no longer handle themselves. If a person faces mobility loss or loss of cognition, you can reasonably assist this individual with basic self-care and other daily tasks.
Conversely, when you do things for a person that they’re perfectly capable of doing for themselves, you’re enabling them. This is certainly true when a person’s refusal or seeming inability to complete a task is due to drug or alcohol use.
For addicts, decreases in cognition, basic functioning, and general health are often self-inflicted. The best way to help someone who’s self-destructing due to drug or alcohol addiction is by encouraging them to address their addiction head-on. Tough love and addiction often go hand-in-hand. Until addicts are allowed to hit their personal “rock bottoms”, they can often eke their lives out comfortably while everyone else suffers the consequences of their actions.
Signs and Examples of Enabling Behaviors
Enablers often feel conflicted. It can be difficult to know whether or not you’re enabling. Although it might seem as though you’re doing the right thing by offering a helping hand, you’re probably dealing with mounting resentment. Resentment is a common sign of enabling. When you engage in enabling behaviors, you’re often putting your own life and needs on hold. Other signs of enabling include:
- Lying to cover for an addict’s actions
- Suppressing your own emotions
- Blaming other people or things for an addict’s decisions and behavior
- Ignoring dangerous behaviors
It’s important to consider the short and long-term repercussions of each action that you take on behalf of an addict. Although enabling someone right now might make life a little easier, setting boundaries and encouraging them to seek treatment will have a far better outcome in the long run.
How Can You Stop Enabling an Addict or Alcoholic?
One of the greatest fears among enablers is that if they stop “helping”, things will invariably get worse for the addict. For instance, if you don’t clean up after your son, daughter, or spouse, they might live in squalor. If you don’t give them small amounts of cash to continue feeding their habit, they might engage in activities for money that place them in greater danger. Sometimes enablers continue to financially support the habits of their loved ones because they don’t want them to experience the physical or psychological discomfort of withdrawal.
Guilt is another common driver for enabling behavior. This is especially true among parents of addicts. You may feel as though your child might not be addicted to drugs or alcohol if things had been better at an earlier point in time, or if you had parented differently. However, allowing guilt and fear to keep you from making the best decisions for an addicted loved one now can be incredibly detrimental. If you’re dealing with difficult emotions like guilt and fear, consider:
- Talking with a personal counselor
- Joining a support group for families of addicts
- Enrolling you and everyone else in your household in family counseling
Addiction is a family disease. Each person in your home likely plays an important role in the addict’s life. There are enabling family members, mascots, or people who use humor to deflect stress and heroes who constantly try to infuse the situation with hope. Going to family counseling when there’s an addict in the home is a great way to help everyone heal from the trauma of addiction. It’s also one of the most effective ways to identify enabling behaviors and put them to a stop. Best of all, family therapy is something that everyone can commit to even before an addict has chosen to get help for themselves.
Another great way to help someone you’ve been enabling is by staging an intervention. You can work with an intervention specialist, an addiction counselor, or a support group in your area to plan this event. During an intervention, everyone in an addict’s life sets clear, firm boundaries. They also offer help, and they state the consequences for failing to refuse this help. Even when interventions don’t push addicts to seek treatment, they give enablers and everyone else in the household the freedom to take back their lives and autonomy.
Enabling behaviors are incredibly easy to adopt. No one wants to see their loved ones suffer the consequences of addiction. However, stepping in to do things for an addict that they’re perfectly capable of doing for themselves isn’t helping.
At Mississippi Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center, we offer a variety of services for both addicts and their families. Call us today to speak with one of our admissions counselors. We can help you find the resources you need for successfully staging an intervention. We can also assist you in finding the right inpatient or outpatient program for your loved one.