Who doesn’t want to help a loved one overcome a life-threatening addiction? However, there’s a fine line between “supportive” and “enabling,” and many people inadvertently cross it. While well-intentioned, stumbling into this pitfall can ultimately interfere with recovery while causing physical and psychological harm to the addict and the enabler alike.
Wondering if you’ve crossed the line? Read on for an overview of enabling, along with tips for identifying if you’re an addiction enabler.
What is Enabling?
PsychCentral defines enabling as “Removing the natural consequences to the addict of his or her behavior.” This can lead to a number of detrimental outcomes. Why? Because the thing about consequence is: We learn from them.
Continues PsychCentral, “Professionals warn against enabling because evidence has shown that an addict experiencing the damaging consequences of his addiction in his life has the most powerful incentive to change. Often this is when the addict ‘hits bottom’—a term commonly referred to in Alcoholics Anonymous.”
In other words, when enablers step in to “save the day,” they’re really delaying the whole bottoming-out part, facilitating their loved one’s continued downward spiral.
The fallout of enabling isn’t just limited to dire consequences for addicts. Enablers often end up taking on additional responsibilities in an attempt to make up for the addict’s shortcomings. This can lead to resentment on both sides as well as skewed family dynamics.
All of which begs the question: Are your attempts at being supportive doing more harm than good?
You Might Be An Enabler If….
1. You are financially supporting your loved one.
Feeding an addiction doesn’t come cheap—particularly as tolerance increases and addiction grows. Giving your loved one money is just the start. Enablers may even overlook attempts by their loved ones to acquire money through deceitful means, such as lying or stealing. This can mean everything from giving an addicted person money for “medical expenses” or “rent” when it’s more likely funding a drug habit to overlooking items and money that go missing around the house. All of these support the addiction while shielding the addict from the fallout of failing to meet their financial responsibilities.
2. You attempt to protect your loved one by removing consequences.
Just because someone is an addict doesn’t mean their accountability goes away. Attempting to protect them from the consequences of their choices simply perpetuates a dangerous cycle. If you’re taking on extra responsibilities to compensate for your loved one’s decreasing accountability while making up excuses for their lack of involvement, then you’re probably a part of the problem, not the solution.
3. You use drugs and/or alcohol around your loved one.
You and your loved one may be long-time users. However, if they develop an addiction but you do not, continuing to use substances in their presence is problematic for a number of reasons. For starters, being in the presence of drugs or alcohol may be both a temptation and a trigger for an addict. If your loved one is trying to stop, meanwhile, they may interpret your using as support of their habit.
4. You ignore or deny that there’s a problem.
We’ve all heard the expression, “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.” Indeed, it can seem easier to ignore the problem of addiction than to acknowledge it. After all, you may be concerned that your attempts to deal with the problem head-on may result in a confrontation or in your loved one pulling away. Factoring in how emotionally and mentally overwhelming it can be to try to communicate with an addict, looking the other way may seem like a more manageable way to go.
Additionally, some addicts’ loved ones convince themselves that the addiction “isn’t that bad” or write it off as something other than what it is.
When it comes to addiction, however, another adage also applies: “It if looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck.” If you have even the slightest inkling that your loved one is an addict, they probably are.
5. You tell yourself that your loved one can handle the problem on their own.
“This is the last time, and then I’ll quit.”
Every person who’s ever loved an addict has probably heard that. In fact, they’ve probably heard it about 100 times. The thing about addiction recovery is—it’s almost impossible to do it alone. Every time you fall for this excuse (or pretend that you fall for this excuse), the addict falls deeper into the web of addiction.
The sooner you stop believing that your loved one is the exception to the rule and start understanding the immense role treatment and rehabilitation can make in achieving sobriety, the better off you’ll all be.
One last thing to keep in mind? Your loved one won’t be traveling the path to addiction recovery alone. The repercussions also impact you, which is why finding a treatment program that acknowledges the role of an addict’s family in recovery is so important.
We’re Here to Help
Contact us today to learn how Harris House incorporates family therapy into each individualized treatment plan.