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enabling
February 28, 2020

Are You Enabling a Loved One’s Addiction?

Helping the people we love with life’s challenges is one way to show how much we care. It’s only natural that if you see a spouse, a family member or a friend struggling, you want to offer them as much support as possible. However, if that person is living with a drug or alcohol addiction, it’s essential for you to recognize the fine line between helping and enabling.

What Is Enabling?

The term “enabling” refers to any action or behavior that can cause an addiction to worsen. For example, if the addict can no longer afford to pay their bills because they lost their job, stepping in to lend them money will allow them to continue buying drugs or alcohol to further their habit.

Anything you do or say to downplay the extent of the problem – including ignoring it entirely – counts as enabling. The result is a dysfunctional, lopsided relationship that allows the addict to avoid confronting the destructive consequences of their substance abuse.

Signs of Enabling Behavior

There are many types of enabling, but here are some of the most common.

  • Covering for them: An enabler might try to shield the addict from any negativity resulting from their addiction, such as lying to their boss to excuse an absence from work.
  • Justifying their actions: Making up excuses is another way you might be sending the addict a subconscious message that their addiction is not a problem. You might tell yourself your loved one “deserves” to use drugs and alcohol because they have a high-pressure job, or that they will be able to put their addiction aside after a major life milestone such as the birth of a child.
  • Avoidance: Instead of convincing your loved one to seek help via an intervention, you prefer to pretend the addiction doesn’t exist. You might think confronting the problem head-on seems too aggressive and feel it’s best to maintain the status quo, but you are tacitly allowing the addict’s life to spiral further out of control.
  • Picking up their slack: If the addiction reaches a point where the loved one is unable or unwilling to participate fully in their life, agreeing to take over their duties gives them more time to pursue their addictive habits.
  • Misplacing the blame: Blaming other people or situations for problems the addict has caused protects them from any of the harmful ramifications of their illness.

How to Stop Being an Enabler

If you’ve realized you have been causing a loved one’s addiction to worsen, what can you do to turn the situation around? Enabling is a bad habit, and, like any habit, you can take steps to break it.

The first thing you should do is to stop making excuses for an addict’s behavior. Instead of apologizing on their behalf to a friend they’ve drunkenly started an argument with, let them deal with that fallout on their own. Stop calling their boss and saying they have a stomach virus if the reality is that they’re too hungover to go to work. Don’t lend them money when they fall short at the end of the month. Openly state that you will no longer support their unhealthy lifestyle.

Next, you should learn how to set healthy boundaries, then reinforce them. You’re not a bad person for saying no or sticking to your guns. Make it clear to your addicted loved one what the consequences will be if they overstep those limits, and don’t backslide.

Finally, find yourself a therapist or support system. Living with an addict creates conditions of chronic stress, which can make you physically and mentally unwell. Individual or group therapy can give you a beneficial outlet for self-expression and take some of the burden off your shoulders.

Where to Get Help for an Addicted Loved One

If someone in your life has been stuck in a cycle of substance abuse, you may feel desperate and not know where to turn. Beach House can get your loved one into our evidence-based treatment program with one simple phone call to our admissions counselors. If you’re ready to stop enabling an addiction and start enabling recovery, reach out to us today.

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