Our instinct is to protect the ones we love from harm. However, when we try to “help” someone we love who is struggling with an addiction, we can actually cause their condition to worsen. In other words, our closest family and friends often enable addiction.
Enabling allows the individual to avoid unwanted consequences of their harmful actions. It gives them a fake sense of protection which leads to their continued destructive behavior; they feel secure in knowing that no matter how risky their behavior is, somebody will always be there to rescue them.
What is Enabling?
Enabling happens when you facilitate a loved one’s life to such an extent that it allows them to continue their destructive behavior. Fostering unhealthy behaviors can be extremely dangerous, both for drug users and their loved ones.
Providing assistance without an expectation, such as paying your loved one’s rent and not requiring they obtain employment, can actually discourage them from addressing their issues or seeking the professional help they need. The longer these dangerous habits remain, the higher the possibility for severe physical and emotional harm.
Signs that You’re Enabling Addictive Behaviors
The challenge is telling the difference between a healthy way to help or support a risky behavior. Enabling also has a profound emotional component, which can be a little more challenging to determine. It can come from guilt, fear, and sometimes even unconsciousness. Human beings often respond to a crisis by what they learned from their own experiences. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the chaos of addiction. For those reasons, it is crucial to be aware of your own actions and seek professional help if you:
- continue to see a decline
- continuously pay for different treatment modalities without success
- talk, plead, and maybe even threatened them with no results
- have given them many chances, and they broke every promise
- continuously make excuses for them and clean their messes
It is common to ignore your gut feeling and apparent destructive behavior in favor of another chance. When we care about someone struggling with addiction, they may take advantage of that emotional vulnerability and manipulate the situation for continuous support, both emotional and financial.
Being in Survival Mode
You are in survival mode, emotionally and physically exhausted, but doing the best you can. You might be feeling a love/hate relationship with the person. They are happy and loving with you when you are providing what they want, but when you say no, you fear their response. Every time you and your loved one engage in enabling actions, you are both just applying temporary relief for a long-term problem.
The truth is that you can’t remember the last time you felt secure, energetic, or unconcerned. You are constantly beating yourself up and wonder if you did something to cause this situation or are doing enough to solve it.
Dangers of Enabling
One thing is certain, without guidance and support, your life and the life of the person you are trying to protect will very likely continue to spiral downwards. Unfortunately, this decline often has tragic consequences.
Don’t allow addiction to be the determining factor of your fate and those you love.Don't wait. Seek professional help today. Every day that passes could be the last opportunity you had to get help. It's OK to need help.
5 Practical Tips to Help You Stop Being an Enabler
By now, you may realize that unconsciously you have been enabling a loved one to sustain addictive behaviors, while all along you thought you were helping. Now you are and wondering how to change this situation. You must remember that although you can’t change other people, you can definitely change how you respond to them and their actions. Another thing to remember is that you are human, and as a human, you also have limits and needs. Ignoring your basic needs is not just harmful to you, but it can also weaken your ability to help others.
Although we are providing you with helpful tips, remember that people are different, and so are their health needs. For that reason, consulting a professional with a clear understanding of the specific situation and all participants is always the best option to reach a safe and successful outcome.
Your primary focus should be on supporting recovery efforts by setting clear boundaries and not absorbing the consequences of bad choices. It would be best if you stopped the actions that have allowed this risky behavior to continue.
1. Seek Professional Support and Guidance
Mental health professionals can provide you and your family with the support and guidance you need in order to stay strong through these challenging times. It is also healthy to have a safe place where you can share your feelings and concerns. Additionally, being guided by a knowledgeable professional allows for a better chance of a positive outcome while taking away a bit of responsibility from your shoulders.
2. Stop Making Excuses
Making excuses for someone struggling with addiction reinforces manipulative behavior. Making up stories to justify somebody else’s bad choices should not be your responsibility. Let them deal with the consequences of their behavior. These unwanted consequences might lead them to choose a different life and a healthier path.
3. Set Clear Boundaries
Even though sticking to these new personal boundaries can be challenging, sticking to them is essential for everyone’s health, well-being, and especially safety. Boundaries mean being assertive, being able to say no when it matters and learning to safeguard your personal space.
4. Continue to Emphasize the Importance of Treatment
Find the best time to talk to your loved one about their substance use. Make sure to come from a concerned and loving point of view instead of an accusatory one. Try talking to them when they are in their best state of mind. Be assertive and firm about your boundaries and expectations without nagging or throwing accusations. Express nonjudgmental support and offer different treatment options. Give them space to be heard and feel like they have a say in their recovery. If they feel listened to and understood, they are much more likely to participate willingly.
5. Re-evaluate your Financial Responsibilities
Providing financial resources to someone battling a substance use disorder means you could be funding their drug or alcohol addiction. Drugs can affect the reward and decision areas of the brain so people suffering from addiction go to great lengths to continue using the substance. Therefore, they may lie or steal in order to stave off intense cravings. They are also less likely to maintain their previous level of functioning in their jobs and personal responsibilities. As a result, they are unlikely to financially maintain their addiction. By withholding unnecessary financial support, they might decide to seek help sooner.
By not allowing yourself to be an enabler to a loved one, you can begin to feel better about yourself and hopefully help them recognize that they need professional help. Try to remember that absorbing the consequences of someone else’s bad choices is not helping them resolve the issues. On the contrary, it allows the issues to progress that directly affect your loved one’s wellbeing. Fixing things for them might help the immediate situation but is highly damaging in the long run.
Take some time to learn more about how enabling develops and how to remedy the situation. Also, look for resources. You are not alone. Addiction affects everyone involved in different ways, and although healing may be a long, arduous process, it is often the most rewarding.
Do you have questions? Feel free to call us.You can also fill an email request online. Whatever way you prefer, we are here to answer your questions, understand your specific needs and hopefully guide you to get you where you want to be.
- What Is an Enabler? 11 Ways to Recognize One
- What Is Substance Abuse Treatment? A Booklet for Families
- GoodTherapy®: Enabling 101
- Psychology Today: Are You Empowering or Enabling?
Reviewed by Clare Waismann, RAS / SSUDCC, Founder of Domus Retreat®
All topics for the DomusRetreat.com blog are selected and written based on high editorial quality standards and cited source material. Clare Waismann, Registered Addiction Specialist (RAS), Substance Use Disorder Certified Counselor (SUDCC) and founder of Domus Retreat and Waismann Method® reviews articles for accuracy, credibility, and relevancy. Clare Waismann is an authority and expert on opioid dependence and related topics covered on the DomusRetreat.com blog. For additional information and disclaimers regarding third-party sources and content for informational purposes only, please see our Terms of Service.