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How to Not Be an Enabler of Addiction

When you’re watching your loved one or friend hurting, you will do anything you can to help them or try to make them happy for however long you can. However, when it comes to addiction, this mentality can lead to you making it easier for your loved one to get the very thing that’s causing them so much pain in the first place: drugs, alcohol, or both. There are over 19 million Americans who currently struggle with substance use disorder (SUD), many of whom are aided, however unwittingly, each day by friends and family in their continued use.

Many don’t know how not to be an enabler or even what the full breadth of that term means. If, like millions of people, you’re tormented moment to moment by the choice between making your loved one happy in the short term and doing what’s best for them in their addiction, here are some insights on how to not be an enabler of their drug or alcohol abuse.

What Does Enabling Mean?

In the context of addiction, the term “enabling” has taken on a life of its own, practically claiming the word for its own use as a pejorative, a term used to describe appeasing someone to make them or yourself feel better even if it’s hazardous to their health. However, it’s important to realize that enabling can go beyond giving in to your loved one and knowingly making it easier for them to use. In other words, you can enable your loved one’s addiction without knowing it, even when you have the best intentions and want to see them get clean and enter recovery.

How Does It Start and Persist?

Enabling is usually the product of entrenched familial or relationship dynamics and can signal fundamental flaws in different kinds of relationships, such as:

  • A parent wanting so badly to be their child’s friend that they look the other way or are lax in their enforcement of rules that are put in place to protect them.
  • A partner so afraid, controlled or manipulated by their boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse that they will do anything to keep the peace and make them happy.
  • A son or daughter so blinded by loyalty and misguided respect for their parent that they can’t see that sometimes their mother or father doesn’t know what’s best.

This level of enabling lays bare a certain type of codependency for which the enabler may want to seek professional treatment themselves. If you think codependency may be a factor in your enabling your loved one’s addiction, or your relationship with them in general, here are some warning signs that may help you better address the issue.  

How Do I Know I’m Enabling My Loved One?

It can be hard to distinguish between loving your friend or family and enabling their continued substance abuse. Some of the more common signs of enabling include, but are not limited to:

  • Going back on conditions you set for your loved one because of their substance abuse.
  • Giving them money, even if you think there may be a chance that they’re going to use it to buy drugs or alcohol.
  • Continuously letting them come back to live with you (or even letting them into your life) even though they’re not clean and can cause danger and drama in your home.
  • Making excuses for their behavior as their substance abuse worsens.
  • Lying about their drinking or drug use to spare them embarrassment.
  • Giving them rides to pick up drugs or alcohol.
  • Validating them or making excuses for them when their substance use lands them in personal, professional or legal jeopardy (it’s always someone else’s fault).

Each one of us wants to believe we’re in our loved ones’ corners, and we’re doing the best we can for them, but sometimes this blind loyalty can cloud the real problem.

How Do I Stop Being an Enabler?

Knowing how not to be an enabler can be tough, particularly when your loved one is going through withdrawal right before your eyes. If they’re sick, in pain or desperate, the last thing you want to do is feel like you’re abandoning them. Here are some things to remember:

  • None of this is your fault. Unless you inflicted abuse or trauma upon your addicted loved one, you’re not to blame for their addiction. By enabling them, however, you can be contributing to the worsening of the problem.
  • You’re not “turning your back” on your loved one. You’re turning your back on the chaos and dysfunction their addiction has created in your life.
  • You can help them find treatment. You can remain an active part of their lives by continuing to help them find treatment and recovery. Use your influence in their lives to encourage them to get help.
  • Set rules and stick to them. Each time you go back on your conditions, you signal to your loved one that their addiction can manipulate you as it has them. It’s important that you stick to your ground rules, so your loved one knows you’re serious.
  • Don’t give them any more money or assistance that can further their ability to use. This measure is often a series of judgment calls based on what you know about your loved one’s behavioral patterns, body language and trustworthiness.
  • Admit it to yourself. Your loved one has a problem and, whether you care to admit it or not, addiction is happening to your family. Ignoring is the same as enabling.
  • Seek outside help. There is strength in numbers. Enlist the help of other members of your family or circle of friends to help you take action to get your loved one into treatment.

As alarming as this sounds, it is possible to “love your addicted family member to death.” Being honest with yourself, putting your emotions to the side and dealing with the problem head-on can make you stronger and more empowered to help them.

Start Helping Your Loved One Now

Recovery Unplugged has seen firsthand what families go through in active addiction, which often begins with harmful enabling. Our trained and experienced interventionists will help you learn how not to be an enabler and work with you to guide your loved one toward treatment for alcohol or drug use disorder. We offer all levels of care, accept most insurances and have multiple locations across the country. Don’t let addiction keep you away from your loved one; they’re still in there and Recovery Unplugged is ready to help you get them back. Call our admissions staff 24-7 to learn more about what we can do for you and your family.

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