Addiction affects more than just the addict. Family and friends can be impacted too, in ways they may not even realize. Relationships are affected and sometimes the addicted person will push away those who care about them most. What you may not think about, though, is how you may be enabling their addiction without realizing it.
Families and close friendships are special relationships meant to build each other up and show unconditional love. However, support and care can become twisted when a loved one is suffering from an addiction. Unknowingly, your shifting and bending to support your loved one and keep them safe could be enabling a drug addict or alcoholic.
How do you know when your actions have become enabling, and how do you know how to stop enabling someone? Here is some information about this issue and how you can help the person you love without unwittingly aiding their addiction.
What is Enabling?
It’s completely natural that you would want to help your loved one. However, according to Families Against Narcotics, enabling goes a few steps beyond helping. Helping is assisting the addict with a task that they truly cannot perform themselves, whereas enabling is assisting them with something they can and should be doing themselves. When the lines become blurred, then you may find yourself in dangerous enabling territory.
If you are wondering how to stop enabling a drug addict or an alcoholic, here are some warning signs and things you can do to provide support without enabling or actively encouraging their addiction and destructive habits.
Warning Signs of Enabling
Enabling goes beyond supporting the addict through their tough time, and strays into behavior that is harmful to you and your loved one. When you enable an addict, you are providing them with the opportunity to use their addiction as an excuse or lean deeper into their problem. It is important to remember that you are not the cause of the addiction, and you are not responsible for anything beyond caring about them and helping them realize they need to seek help.
With that in mind, here are some common examples of enabling behavior that parents, family members, and close friends often find themselves performing:
- Rationalizing the person’s irrational behaviors and actions
- Giving or loaning them money
- Making excuses for them
- Paying their bills or legal fees
- Cleaning up after them, especially consistently
- Lying for them
- Blaming yourself in some way for their behavior
- Continuing to give them “one more chance”
- Threatening actions against them but never follow through
- Covering up for them with work, school, etc. to avoid embarrassment
All of these behaviors are common and understandable, but they are all also inherently enabling an addict’s bad decisions. It can be difficult to stop these behaviors even after you have discovered them, and many people find themselves slipping back into them as they try to support their loved ones.
The most important thing to remember is that you cannot “fix” their addiction. All you can do is change how you react, and how you can convince them to get professional help.
How to Stop Enabling
Now that you know some of the major signs of enabling, here are some steps you can take to find the balance of helping without hurting.
1. Stop making excuses for them
This can be the most difficult habit to shake, as it often becomes second nature to defend them or keep all prying eyes away. Frequently the things you are making excuses for are incidents that occur while they are intoxicated or high, which can result in memory loss. This is very common with alcoholics. Alcohol can affect memory after only a few drinks. Many drugs can do the same thing.
One of the first steps to seeking help is often realizing the consequences of their actions as a result of their addiction. Unless they are actively putting their life in mortal danger – seeking out even harder drugs or engaging in reckless behavior (at which point a more serious intervention may be necessary) – then they need to understand what the addiction is making them do.
If they fall asleep in the yard, leave them there. If they are obnoxious at a social gathering, refrain from trying to smooth it over. Once they are sober, they need to be able to face the music.
2. Consider attending a group for yourself
Groups like Al-Anon exist as support programs for those whose lives have been affected by someone else’s addiction. Al-Anon is specifically geared towards those who have been affected by alcoholism, but other support groups exist for various purposes and addictions.
These groups allow families to meet others going through similar hardships, and how best to handle their situations in healthy, non-enabling ways.
3. Try to limit one-on-one time
Gather your own support group of others also close to the addict. If you surround yourself with other people, you can more readily intervene when necessary to try and convince your loved one they need help. You will also limit the risk of exposing yourself to their manipulation if you do not spend alone time with them, thereby helping you cease enabling.
4. Change your financial relationship
If you often lend them money, stop doing so. If they repeatedly ask you for funds and there is any risk that they might spend it on drugs or alcohol, don’t give it to them. No one can fully understand the repercussions of their actions unless they suffer the consequences, and that includes missed bills and a lack of funds for their drug of choice. Do not enable them by giving them what they want, especially if they are refusing help.
Enabling an addict seems unimportant while you’re doing it, because it often comes from a place of love. However, it swiftly becomes far more dangerous than not helping at all, and hurts both you and your loved one. Knowing the signs and knowing how to stop enabling someone are the first steps on the journey to their recovery – and yours.