“Enabling is helping a person in a way that feeds the dysfunction. Helping is being there for someone in a way that does not support the dysfunction.” — Dr. Noelle Nelson
Addiction is a family disease. If you have a loved one that is suffering from addiction, you know this all too well. Whether a family member or friend is addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, you know how challenging it can be to enforce tough love. Whether you give your son money to purchase food or allow your friend to stay in your home rent-free, without intention, you are likely fueling their addiction.
Although you may deeply love the individual who needs help, when you enable an addict, you can actually love them to literal death. While you try to “help” your loved one, your efforts can make it easier for them to continue using, further progressing their disease.
What Is Enabling?
Although providing addicts with money or a place to stay is enabling, this act can go much deeper. Enabling is acting in a way that delays the moment that an addict is forced to confront the weight of their current situation. Meaning, you encourage an addict to continue using, either directly or indirectly. There comes a time when an addict must choose — their life or treatment. If they are able to continue using, they are not likely to choose the latter. Based on the biology of addiction, it can be very challenging for addicts to regain control, unless they’re forced to (i.e. they end up in jail or become homeless).
While the brain physically changes because of addiction, researchers have discovered several treatments that can help people to stop using, which are particularly effective when used in combination. Of course, treatment will depend on the severity of one’s addiction, as well as the individual person. From mindfulness meditation to behavioral therapies, nutrition support to EMDR, there are many options available — but to benefit, an addict must take that first step.
The Most Common Signs of Enabling an Addict
When it comes to the cycle of addiction, being more mindful of your role could potentially save a loved one’s life.
Here are some of the most common signs that you’re enabling someone with an addiction:
Lying to others to cover up an addict’s behavior
There are many reasons someone would lie to cover up the severity of a loved one’s addiction. For example, you may lie to your neighbor or friends about how much your daughter drinks out of embarrassment — or you may lie to your children about their father’s drug use to shield them from his addiction. Addicts lie and manipulate, not those who are meant to help them.
Blaming situations or people other than the addict
Did your son drive drunk and hit a stop sign, but somehow it was another person’s fault? Did your friend just overdose for the second time, yet it was their dealer’s fault? During an addict’s road to recovery, they must take responsibility for their actions. If they are never held accountable, they will never grow. After all, one of the core facets of addiction is one’s unwillingness to take responsibility. There can be responsibility without blame. However, it is the addict that must venture onto a path of self-responsibility.
Providing them with money to support their habit
If someone were to tell you that you were financially supporting a loved one’s addiction, you may think, “I would never give them money for drugs or alcohol — I give them money for food, gas, etc.” Although it’s easier to think this way, the reality is, you’re fueling their habit. An addict will find ways to eat and get from point a to point b, which is why any disposal money they have, will go to their habit. The same is true when you provide them with a place to stay, and ultimately, a place to use. In this case, an addict will never hit rock bottom, and sadly, they need to.
Doing nothing at all
Doing nothing is doing something. Although it is much easier to turn a blind eye and allow an addict to continue doing what they do, once you are ready to take action, it may be too late. Downplaying the severity of their addiction and ignoring it will worsen the situation. Whether you actively seek support for your loved one or implement tough love, your actions will influence what happens next. Any form of enabling will only prolong your loved one’s struggle.
What to Do Next
Acknowledging the role you play is the first step towards helping an addict recover. Remember, anything you do that protects an addict from the consequences of his or her actions is enabling — and enabling is not helping.
At this point, you may realize that you have been enabling a loved one. Although you probably thought you were helping. From now on, it’s imperative that you stop making excuses, stop taking over any personal responsibilities, and stop rescuing them from any legal consequences. Instead, you need to learn to support their recovery efforts, set boundaries, and allow your loved one to deal with the consequences of their addiction.
Many times, when an enabling system is completely removed, an addict with seek help. If and when your loved one decides to take action, the best thing you can do is to be there for them. At Pinnacle Recovery, we offer a wide range of addiction treatment programs, specializing in inpatient rehabilitation, trauma recovery, AA programs and AA alternatives, experiential therapy, family therapy, dual diagnosis addictions, and more.
Our group and family therapy will allow you to build a strong support system — one that is critical to a successful recovery. These sessions will help you understand what it is you can do during and after treatment to ensure your loved one’s sustained success. If you’re ready to start helping instead of enabling, we’re here to help.