Many times, family members and loved ones try to help an addicted loved one, but unknowingly make the situation worse. Dealing with alcohol or drug addiction in the family is a difficult and complex situation, any many people find themselves enabling a loved one and ultimately contributing to the addiction.
So, if you’re reading this article because someone you love is addicted or in recovery, you’re probably asking yourself, “Am I an enabler?” Keep reading to find out.
What is Enabling?
Enabling behaviors are any behaviors that shield the alcoholic or drug abuser from fully experiencing the consequences of their substance abuse.1 Although you may feel like you’re helping the addicted person by protecting them from those harmful consequences, you’re actually contributing to their addiction and giving them more reasons to continue what they’re doing.
In contrast, helping an addicted loved one can be much more difficult. It often means letting them experience the consequences of their drug abuse, such as losing a job, a spouse, or their home. It’s painful to watch someone experience these things, but if they never do, what will motivate them to get sober?
For example, if you are paying your son’s rent because he lost his job as a direct result of his alcoholism, you are enabling his behavior, therefore giving him no reason to seek help for his addiction. However, if you were to stop paying his rent, he would be forced to realize that he will be homeless if he doesn’t get his act together. No one ever wants a loved one to experience homelessness, but sometimes, that may be what it takes for someone to make a change.
Why Do People Enable Addicted Individuals?
Enabling behaviors often stem from a feeling of being responsible for their loved one’s addiction. For example, you may feel like your mom’s substance abuse is your fault because you weren’t able to provide her the comfort and security she needed. As a result, you may feel responsible to care for her and protect her from her own addiction.
Enabling behaviors may also come from a sincere desire to help, but a lack of knowledge and education can quickly derail these efforts and fuel the addiction instead.
14 Signs You’re Enabling a Drug User
In the midst of all the chaos caused by the addiction, you may not even realize you’re enabling a loved one. According to the University of Pennsylvania Health System, there are many ways you can unintentionally enable a loved one’s addiction and some are more obvious than others.
Here are 14 of the most common enabling behaviors, some of which you may recognize in your own life.
- Making excuses for a loved one’s behavior.
- Expecting a loved one to be able to control his or her use. (Essentially, denying that the addiction exists.)
- Using with the person in order to monitor their drug or alcohol usage and safety.
- Justifying a loved one’s addictive behaviors.
- Suppressing feelings of concern, fear, or anger regarding a loved one’s substance abuse.
- Avoiding problems simply to keep the peace.
- Minimizing the situation and refusing to accept the severity of the substance abuse.
- Protecting a loved one’s public image to make others believe everything is okay.
- Avoiding the addiction by self-medicating with drugs, alcohol, exercise, food, etc.
- Blaming, criticizing, and lecturing a loved one.
- Taking over responsibilities for a loved one such as paying the rent, buying groceries, cleaning the house, etc.
- Treating a loved one like they are a child instead of an adult.
- Attempting to control every aspect of a loved one’s life.
- Convincing yourself to “just be patient” or “wait it out” because things will get better.2
The Damage of Enabling
Some of the behaviors listed above are well-meaning and are done with the intention of helping a loved one. However, they actively cause more harm than good.3 Some of the biggest ways enabling behaviors cause damage is by:
- Taking away the person’s motivation to change
- Keeping the person from taking responsibility for his or her own actions
- Making it easier for the person to abuse drugs or alcohol
- Turning the household into an unsafe environment for other family members
- Causing financial stress
- Causing other members of the family to feel neglected
- Delaying addiction treatment4
A dysfunctional family dynamic can also contribute to codependency among family members who are affected by addiction, and the stress of it all can cause trauma, anxiety, depression, or even substance abuse among other loved ones who feel unable to cope with it all.
Clearly, the damage caused by this enabling is widespread. Enabling behaviors don’t just hurt the addicted individual—they have a negative impact on the entire family, affecting the overall health, well-being, and happiness of everyone involved.
How to Help a Loved One
When you find out that your actions have been contributing to a loved one’s addiction, it can be difficult to figure out how you can help instead. Although your intentions may be good, foregoing your need to take care of your loved one’s substance abuse problems is the best way to help them.
The first step of healing is to identify any enabling behaviors that are present in your own life and start making changes immediately. For example, stop offering to pay for a loved one’s rent, don’t make excuses for the person when their boss calls asking where they are, and leave the vomit-covered clothes on the bedroom floor instead of washing them. Changing enabling behaviors is hard, but in the long run, it will provide better opportunities for your loved one to get the help he or she needs to recover.
Changing Enabling Behaviors
If you’re struggling to change harmful enabling behaviors that are affecting a loved one who is actively addicted or in recovery, there is help available. Family therapy is a highly effective way to address enabling behaviors, identify them, and actively work to change them alongside your loved ones. A counselor can also help you establish healthy boundaries that will minimize the stress and harm caused by a loved one’s substance abuse by helping you to detach yourself from the addiction.
Attending support groups like Al-Anon may also provide valuable resources and peer support at a time when you need it most. These groups can provide you with a connection to other people who have similar life experiences and can offer practical advice and wisdom to help you cope.
Recovery is a lifelong process for the entire family. Fully committing to your own health and wellness while your loved one works to sustain his or her recovery is essential for lasting recovery and personal growth.
If you or a loved one is looking for recovery support or treatment for drug and alcohol abuse, contact Eudaimonia Recovery Homes today for help.