It’s natural and normal to do everything you can to help a loved one who struggles with addiction. Each of us has the urge to care for those we love by nurturing, defending and protecting them. If you have a loved one who struggles with addiction, it can be hard to know exactly how to help them, though.
You may wonder if constantly offering rides when they’re drinking is prolonging the problem, or if lending money for rent is actually making it easier to buy drugs. These are all questions loved ones face when handling the problems that arise with addiction.
In this article, we’ll explain the definition of “enabler,” and how to know if your actions are doing more harm than good in breaking an addiction.
The definition of an “enabler”
The action of enabling occurs when a loved one prevents someone who struggles with substance abuse from experiencing the full impact of the natural consequences of addiction. Using the term “enabling” makes no claim as to the loved one’s motive. Nearly all support people, even when helping incorrectly, have a sincere desire to offer assistance in a way that ends an addiction, rather than prolongs it.
Enablers often do so unknowingly, and thus make remaining in an addiction easier. Typically, someone who struggles with an addiction will need to feel the full weight and disruption addiction causes before ceasing to use substances. Inadvertently, enabling can prevent someone from seeking treatment or professional intervention in any manner.
What is enabling addiction?
Each relationship comes with unique circumstances. While no one has experienced your exact situation, there are some common threads in the way enabling behaviors tend to occur. Enabling addiction often looks like one of the following.
Ignoring the addiction
One of the most frequent enabling behaviors, especially in the early stages of an addiction, is entirely avoiding the topic of addiction, or living in denial of the severity of substance use and the problems it causes. Individuals who experience pushback from supportive and trusted loved ones are more likely to refrain from drug use longer or to have accountability in getting help.
While confronting the issue of addiction is surely uncomfortable and can potentially lead to hostility or damage in the relationship, allowing your loved one to remain in a habit of addictive behaviors is worse.
Denying the issues that come up
Enabling behavior includes denying the reality of an addiction, and denying the harm that it causes. When your loved one is faced with a substance use problem, there are terrible consequences that could result. Addiction can lead to severe sickness, loss of a job, broken families, overdose or the death of someone else due to driving while intoxicated.
Avoiding thinking and talking about the harsh consequences of drug use only exacerbates the issue, and leaves the window of opportunity open for worsened problems to occur.
Making excuses for your loved one
Justifying your loved one’s behavior to yourself or someone else is only that—an excuse. Justifying behavior is enabling addiction because it alleviates discomfort you may feel or shame regarding the social stigma of substance use, but in the long run, it only takes accountability for recovery off of your loved one’s shoulders.
There is a healthy amount of social pressure that can be used positively during addiction recovery. Making excuses for your loved one not only digs you more deeply into a habit of lying, avoiding topics or feeling ashamed, but it provides a strong motivator for change for your loved one from having any effect.
If you are constantly making excuses for them, saying they are missing from events because they are feeling ill or are simply having a bad day, you allow their struggle to continue without consequence.
Taking on responsibilities
One of the most common enabling behaviors that can be observed in parents, siblings, friends or significant others is taking on responsibilities. Whether it’s cleaning the house, paying utilities or grocery shopping, doing essential daily tasks on a consistent basis for someone who is dealing with an addiction can sometimes do more harm than good.
There are instances when assisting in responsibilities is helpful, but make every effort to avoid taking on your loved one’s duties until he or she begins professional treatment and is making efforts to get sober.
Although it may seem difficult, when your loved one is still actively abusing drugs or alcohol, it may be better to let his responsibilities lapse so he becomes more aware of how his addiction is negatively affecting his own life as well as the lives of those around them.
Ignoring your own emotions
Addiction isn’t just affecting your loved one. Addiction is taking its toll on you as well as the other people in your life. As a result, you may feel exhausted, angry, fearful, hopeless or frustrated. Suppressing your emotions in an effort to help your loved one only more deeply entrenches the wounds addiction has caused.
Consistently ignoring your own emotional needs without ever establishing boundaries can make you feel quickly overwhelmed. Not only does this make withdrawing any support in the future a tempting option for you, but it allows your loved one to spiral further into an addiction, completely disregarding the feelings of his or her support people.
Your own feelings toward the addiction can be used to intervene and make a strong case for your loved one to begin treatment. Share specific ways your family member’s addiction has caused harm to you.
Financially supporting your loved one
It’s not uncommon for young adults who battle substance abuse to experience financial problems — whether it is from not being able to hold a job due to their addiction or falling into debt as they finance their addiction.
It may be tempting to loan them money so they are able to make rent payments, buy groceries, and get by financially. However, despite your good intentions, all that does is teach your loved one that their struggle with substance abuse can continue because they’ll feel that they can rely on you to help them through when things get rough.
What to do if you fit the enabler definition
If you’ve realized through this article that your actions are enabling addiction, there are steps you can take to reverse any accidental harm that has been caused.
Don’t justify behaviors or live in denial for another day. Reach out to Silvermist Recovery to get your loved one connected to treatment.