When treatment professionals talk about enabling an addict, they mean acting in ways that seem to provide help to an addict but actually allow them to continue the addictive behavior. All those in treatment need loving help and support, but enabling does not help addicts overcome their behavior; it actually helps them stay addicted, which is the opposite of what enablers really want.
Why Enabling Behaviors Happen
There are several reasons why enabling behaviors happen. First, the enabler may want to help the addict stay out of trouble or avoid a negative consequence of their use. Giving money to an addict, letting them continue to live in your house while using, and covering for them with the boss when they are too sick from using to go to work are examples of this kind of enabling.
Guilt can be another reason why people enable their addicted loved ones. They think that somehow the addiction is partially or totally their fault and reason that they must do whatever the addicted person wants in order to make it right. Their guilt is misplaced, but the addict soon becomes very good at playing on those guilty feelings to manipulate the loved one into doing what they want.
Finally, some are enablers because they are people-pleasers and cannot stand to be part of any conflict, so they cannot say no or hold a loved one accountable for addictive behaviors. This is called co-dependency and is an unhealthy dynamic in which the enabler becomes as addicted to the approval of the addict as the addict is to the substance.
How to Tell If You Are An Enabler
You may be an enabler:
–If you cannot say no to someone’s requests even though you can see that it is harmful or detrimental to the person.
–If you find yourself giving so much to an addict that you do not have enough left for yourself. (This could be time, resources or money.)
–If you lie for someone to cover up his or her use or negative consequences of it.
–If you are feeling more and more resentful and unappreciated for your help.
–If you live in fear that the addict will blow up at you, leave you, or not accept you if you tell the truth.
How to Stop Enabling an Addict
Although it may feel very uncomfortable or even terrifying, you can make a choice to stop enabling a loved one’s addictive behavior. If you can successfully break the pattern of enabling behavior, you will force the addict to find another way to continue the behavior and this may even lead him or her to seek help and get treatment for the addiction. Breaking the enabling cycle is, in essence, saying to the addict that you love him or her too much to enable the behavior any more.
Setting boundaries is not easy, and you may want to get help from a therapist to decide how to change enabling behaviors and engage in healthier ones. Your loved one may react very badly to this change in your behavior. A healthy person knows he or she cannot control other people’s behavior but has to do what is right for everyone in the situation even if the addict does not like it.
Recovery Village at Palmer Lake is a Colorado drug rehab facility that helps addicts break the cycle of addiction that is sometimes enabled by those around them. Contact us for more information about our programs, including family therapy that can address enabling behaviors and how to stop them.