Does this scenario feel familiar? Someone you love has a drug addiction. You’ve tried to help this troubled individual countless times. You’ve loaned out money, you’ve offered your couch as a place to crash, and you’ve begged and pleaded at him or her to change. Maybe you’ve even helped them detox. Perhaps you’ve bought them drugs, just that once because they promised to enter treatment if you did.
You know you’re enabling, but you don’t see what other choices you have. After all, you care about this person deeply. You spend sleepless nights worrying about his or her safety. You don’t know what you would do if something terrible were to happen.
And so, you continue with the cycle of giving and giving and giving- all while loathing and resenting the process you feel stuck in. But where do you go from here? How do you provide love and support without enabling?
What Is Enabling?
It may seem like a simple concept, but enabling can be complicated. You may be doing it without realizing it. After all, it can be challenging to distinguish the fine line between supporting and enabling. That said, the line is an essential one, and it’s vital that you understand it.
Enabling occurs when your behaviors hinder someone from experiencing the real truth or consequences of their behaviors. In addition, it often means shielding, protecting, or downplaying the severity of one’s destructive choices.
There are numerous examples of enabling. Here are a few common ones:
- Keeping secrets about the addict’s behavior to avoid problems or “keep the peace.”
- Bailing out the addict financially or legally
- Blaming others for the addict’s behavior or addiction itself (i.e., partners, friends, employers)
- Seeks and attempts to control the addict’s behavior
- Makes ongoing threats or ultimatums with limited to no follow-through
- Provides caretaking for the addict
- Ignoring undesirable addict behavior (i.e., denying the problem or downplaying its effects)
- Prioritizing the addict’s needs above anyone else’s needs
- Blaming external situations for the addict’s behavior
Why Do People Enable Addicts?
Most of the time, it’s because they love them. They love the addict so much that they are willing to go to any length to “better” the situation. Unfortunately, love is not a cure. Those struggling with addiction must be accountable for their choices if they want to change. Nobody else can do the work for them.
People also enable addicts out of fear. They worry that, if they don’t take care of their loved one, something bad will happen. For example, a caring mother may offer her home to her child because she believes it’s a safer choice than living on the streets. This gesture is a normal one.
Unfortunately, the addict may take advantage of her generosity and continue to use in the family home. The addict may also lie and steal from family members to continue the drug habit. Is this fair to that mother? Is her suggestion helping- or harming- her child?
Many loved ones want to shield the addict from pain. They believe that pain will only create more excuses to keep using. While this may be true, the efforts to protect pain often backfire as well. Addicts will quickly learn how- and who- they can manipulate to get what they want. As a result, they don’t often feel inspired to change their behavior. Instead, they feel more encouraged to keep doing what they’ve already been doing.
How Can You Stop Enabling?
Enabling, like drug addiction, can become its own nasty habit. Loved ones can essentially become addicted to the addiction. They often sacrifice their own mental health and identities to save or rescue the individual. However, it’s a one-sided bargain. As a result, the enabler tends to feel resentful, lonely, and jaded as a result of such unsuccessful efforts.
Learn About Addiction
The more you understand addiction, the more objective you can be in supporting your loved one. Unfortunately, there are many pervasive myths about addiction, including the beliefs that:
- Willpower is all one needs to ‘beat’ addiction
- Forced treatment does not work
- One needs to hit rock bottom to seek help
- Abstinence is the only method for success
- A certain person, place, or thing caused the addiction
It is important to educate yourself. This education can come in the form of seminars, reading material, meetings, or even therapy.
If you are a family member, know that most professionals consider addiction as a family disease. This theory postulates that each member plays a role in reinforcing the addiction. As a result, recovery is most beneficial when everyone identifies how they play a part in exhibiting problematic behavior.
Seek Healthy Support
Peer support groups like Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, or Codependents Anonymous provide friendship and resources for loved ones struggling with the perils of addiction. Both groups offer ongoing meetings where you will learn from other like-minded individuals. You will also gain a better understanding of how addiction works.
Participation is not necessarily required. You can simply attend a meeting and just listen and observe. However, many people benefit from sharing stories, connecting with peers, reading literature, and working with a sponsor.
Talk To Your Loved One
Boundaries are only as good as your ability to enforce them. As difficult as it may be, it’s your job to convey your expectations with your loved one. Know that talking to your loved one may require some challenging conversations.
If you haven’t already shared your concerns, it’s essential that you find a neutral time to express how you feel. Be honest and firm. Your emotions are valid, so you don’t have to try to conceal or minimize them.
Aim to keep the conversation about how you feel. Do not accuse, blame, or attack your loved one for undesirable behavior. Doing so will likely result in defensiveness or denial- neither of which will help your conversation move forward.
Stop Making Excuses And Covering Up Undesirable Behavior
Of course, you worry about how the consequences of addiction will impact your loved one. This worry has probably led you to deny, rationalize, or make ridiculous excuses for certain behaviors. It has likely also led you to “fixing” problems to avoid your loved one having another stressor on his or her plate.
This enabling behavior needs to stop. It’s not your job to play babysitter. You cannot ‘guard’ the behavior. If you struggle with this concept, know that some difficult consequences can often be the culprit for seeking change. If your loved one never experiences unfortunate consequences, why should he or she have any motivation to stop?
Create Your Financial Boundaries
No matter how you cut it, addiction is expensive. Funding a habit that isn’t even yours can be catastrophic for your wallet.
You have a right to set financial limits. If you’ve been forking over your credit card or bank account information haphazardly, there’s a good chance your loved one is taking advantage of your money. This behavior doesn’t help anyone.
Instead, consider what you want your financial boundaries to look like. There isn’t a right or wrong. However, you may want to start with the following limits:
- Refusing to bail out your loved one from jail
- Refusing to pay any legal fees (lawyers, tickets, fines) as a result of the addiction
- Requiring rent or other relevant payments if the loved one still lives with you
- Limiting or withholding money your loved one if he or she is actively using
Discuss Treatment Options
There’s a strong chance that you want nothing more than for the addict in your life to get help. Maybe your loved one agrees that he or she has a problem and is willing to seek treatment. But what if that isn’t the case?
You may need to consider staging an intervention to demonstrate both your emotions and your boundaries. For an intervention to be successful, each person will need to share his or her expectations for change. Each person will also need to list the consequences if the addict opts against getting help.
Interventions must be taken seriously. If you cannot follow through with your boundaries, your words become meaningless. Do not use this method until you are ready to cope with whatever outcome arises.
Enabling While In Treatment
If your loved one does get help, it is also essential that you still take care of yourself during this time. Addicts can still be highly manipulative while in treatment. They may demand certain requirements (such as money) from you. They may threaten to leave or get high if you don’t follow through with their desired expectations.
It’s a good idea to have your own support network during this time. You will also have access to your loved one’s treatment team. They can help provide you with advice and guidance on how to offer support without enabling.
Many people struggle with enabling behaviors. You are not a bad person, and you are not alone! Do you want to learn more about how treatment can help support your loved one? Learn about our treatment facilities today by calling Recovery Connection at (866) 812-8231.