If you or a loved one has an alcohol or substance use disorder, you might’ve come across the term enabler. How can you know if you are enabling drug addiction? How do you stop enabling someone?
You might desire to know if the actions you are taking are beneficial in your loved one’s life. It is vital to learn the difference between helping and enabling. If you’re able to recognize that you’ve been an enabler to your loved one, you’re more able to explore useful tips on how to stop.
What Does It Mean to Enable Someone?
When friends or family members enable their loved ones, they make it easier for them to upkeep their problematic behavior. For example, when a spouse covers for their partner that is experiencing a nasty hangover from drinking the night before, that is enabling the behavior. It’s important to note that it’s very easy to fall into the trap of enabling drug addiction in a loved one. Likewise, it’s paramount to discover how to stop enabling someone.
Am I Helping or Enabling Drug Addiction in My Loved One?
Oftentimes, it’s common for family members and friends of the person struggling with addiction to feel that they are helping when they are enabling drug addiction instead. It makes the situation direr when a person is giving their loved one gifts to enable their addiction.
When there is any step of action done that protects the individual struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, it’s enabling them. In retrospect, when the person is protected from the consequences of their actions, the enabling can cause that individual to delay deciding to get help. Think of it this way: it’ll be more helpful for your loved one to not enable, but assist them in choosing to better their future.
Some of the common signs that a person is enabling their loved one are the following:
- Covering for them or making excuses for their behavior
- Providing them with financial help
- Taking over their responsibilities
- Ignoring their behavior
For example, say you and your wife are scheduled to attend a wedding that you both already RSVP’d to. Your wife decides to search for her next cocaine pursuit around the time you’re both scheduled to leave for your cousin’s wedding. A part of you thinks it’s no harm in allowing your wife to get out of the obligation without any strings attached, but that’s not the best way.
To make matters worse, if you attend the wedding without your wife, someone is going to ask where she is. Once you realize that’s inevitable, you begin stifling through excuses in your head on why your wife is absent from the wedding. This stems from maintaining a sense of control over the situation.
When you’re an enabler, you don’t want your loved one to endure conflict. Instead, you manage it on behalf of your loved one and make up excuses for their behavior. Going back to the scenario, from the mind of the wife addicted to cocaine, her husband’s enabling is a godsend.
An enabler isn’t considered a bad person; but more of a person that feels stuck in an uncomfortable situation.
An individual offering financial assistance is a form of enabling their loved one’s addiction. It might seem innocent enough on the forefront by providing them with financial help, but it’s not. In all actuality, the funds that are being provided are in turn fueling their addiction. When you provide any kind of financial assistance, it can be dangerous. With this approach, there is a level of advisable caution.
It might seem extremely comfortable to take over your loved one’s responsibilities when they are too high or hungover to do so. These types of responsibilities or chores might be cutting the grass, taking out the trash, washing the dishes, etc. However, it’s not good to do so, because it’s letting the addict know that it’s okay to continue with their addiction.
If your loved one is sneaking out of the house at all hours of the night, that is your first red flag. Usually, people don’t enter into a drug state with pride.
People will brag about their intense drug use if it’s for recreational use, if they feel like they have it under control, or if they’re in the company of other users. Generally, if it’s in the company of users, it’s probably the same ones that roped the person into drug use. It’s not probable to deny the facts of drug use occurring and expect things to change.
It’s a difficult process to try to help your loved one get off drugs and we understand how painful it can be. There are several reasons why a person might ignore the behavior of their loved one. Whether it’s out of pride or not wanting to admit that a family member has an addiction or fear, the truth is light.
When you ignore withdrawal from usual social obligations such as being fired from countless newly-acquired occupations or missing work in a short period, it’s fueling the fire. The sooner you choose to approach the addiction, the easier it’ll be to get through to the person.
Causes of Enabling
Generally, there isn’t a single factor that causes individuals to engage in enabling a loved one with a substance use problem. In the majority of cases, it starts as a real desire to be helpful. When someone is in pain or even behaving in a way that can lead to negative consequences, a person’s first instinct might be to search for a way to protect themselves, which in some cases leads to enabling behavior.
Oftentimes, enabling is a result of codependency. Codependency requires an excessive reliance on an individual who often requires additional support due to an illness or addiction. Enabling might appear as a way to avoid emotional pain or cope with it.
How Can I Avoid Enabling Drug Addiction in My Loved One?
You might have realized that you have enabled your loved one with their addiction, and wonder how can that change. In a powerful way, it can be empowering to learn how to stop enabling a loved one’s drug or alcohol addiction. Always remember, you can’t change another person, but you can change your reactions and behaviors towards them.
What Can You Do?
- Allow the individual to deal with the consequences
- Offer support geared to recovery efforts
- Set helpful boundaries
What Shouldn’t You Do?
- Rescue the person from legal consequences
- Take over their personal responsibilities
- Don’t argue, plead, or scold
- Makeup excuses for them
- Don’t loan money
Stop Actions That Allow the Drug Behavior to Continue
For example, are you paying your loved one’s bills due to missed time from work because of drinking or them losing their jobs due to their addictions? Are you providing shelter and food for them? If so, you may be enabling them.
Think of it this way: you’re providing a safety net that allows them to skip work without consequences or lose their job. So to ensure you don’t enable your loved one, there are some practical steps you can take.
Let’s say, your wife is struggling with an alcohol use disorder and has lost her license because of it, giving her a ride to a job interview or AA meeting would be helpful. It’s not enabling her because this is something she can’t do for herself. So, when you help, you are supporting recovery efforts.
On the contrary, researching the requirements for her to get their license back, looking up scheduled AA meetings, or searching for jobs, are examples of enabling. This is enabling because these are things individuals can do for themselves.
Let’s say your husband has a nasty hungover due to drinking one too many beers the previous night. Now he’s in no condition to attend his job the following morning. So, you call in for him, informing his boss that he has some kind of flu bug when in reality, he’s hungover.
This type of conversation is enabling because it’s allowing the person with an alcohol use disorder, AUD, to avoid the consequences of their actions. It’s common to say, “If I don’t do this for them, they’ll lose their job.” Sometimes, losing something helps to put things in perspective. It could be the turning point for the person finally getting help.
If you say or respond negatively to your loved one’s mistake, you leave room for a reaction. However, if you remain quiet and go on with your daily duties as if nothing happened, they are left with nothing to respond to except their own actions. It’s essential that you don’t give your loved one an emotional escape, instead stay calm and avoid blowing up.
It’s not uncommon for family members to feel deserted due to their loved one’s addiction. One scenario that might occur is the family might begin drinking with the person who has an alcohol addiction. This situation rarely is effective because addiction is powerful, and the act of trying to keep up to avoid feeling left out isn’t feasible.
For example, stating, “If you don’t stop drinking, I will leave” is a threat and ultimatum. However, saying, “I will not allow any drinking in my home” is setting a boundary. Remember, you’re not able to control if your loved one stops drinking or not, but you can decide what type of behavior you will and won’t accept in your life.
A powerful aspect of Al-Anon is members learn that they don’t have to accept intolerable behavior in their lives. You might not be able to control the behavior of another person, but you do have a choice when it comes to what you find unsuitable. Remember, setting boundaries is an act that is done for your benefit, and not as a method to control.
To set boundaries effectively, it is helpful to be able to detach to some degree. Detaching is letting go of another person’s concern. It will allow you to look at the situation more objectively.
New Directions for Women Help Combat Enabling Drug Addiction
Here at New Directions for Women, we understand the tedious and tiring ordeal of caring for a loved one with an addiction. However, there is hope. We welcome all women who are seeking help from addiction. Let us help you combat enabling drug addiction. Contact us today.