One of the hardest things to do when your loved one is an addict is to stop enabling them. We just want to help the ones we love and enabling seems like the easiest way to do that. But if we really think about it, enabling an addict actually doesn’t help them. It hurts them.
Enabling essentially allows the addict to continue their detrimental habit without any consequences and with little discomfort. When we clean up after an addict, we’re basically saying, “It’s okay that your drug use creates a huge mess in our home. I’ll just clean it up for you and we can carry on as usual.” It sounds silly when we put it like that, right? But that’s essentially exactly what we’re doing when we don’t actually think about our enabling behaviors.
What Does Enabling Mean?
Enabling is doing for someone else what they can and need to do for themselves. It seems like a simple enough act to understand. Yet, we still have a really hard time distinguishing between supporting and enabling. Put simply, supporting means letting someone know you’re there for them while enabling means you take care of the person and allow them to remain irresponsible. Enabling someone actually shields them from experiencing all or any of the negative impacts of their destructive behaviors and habits.
Parents are especially likely to struggle with enabling when the addict is their child. Parents are hardwired to care for their children, including helping them, cleaning up after them, and protecting them from harm. So, when their child is struggling with addiction, the parent, by default, wants to help and protect them. Parents will do things like lend the addict money, make excuses when he doesn’t show up at family gatherings, and offer to let the addict come back and live with them while he “figures things out.” While the parent may think they’re doing the right thing, they’re actually enabling their child’s addiction. If the addict has money and a comfortable place to come home to and doesn’t have to deal with facing the judgment of others, why would he stop using? He won’t. He gets to enjoy his addiction without facing any consequences outside of any negative physiological side effects associated with his drug of choice.
- Keeping secrets from others about the addict’s behavior
- Making excuses for that behavior
- Seeing the problem as the result of something else, like mental illness or a bad home life
- Making threats without any follow-through
- Giving money to the addict that is unearned or undeserved
- Bailing the addict out of trouble
Enabling Hurts the Addict
As mentioned earlier, enabling actually hurts the addict. First and foremost, enabling an addict’s behavior prolongs the addiction. As long as the addict can comfortably and easily use his drug or drink of choice, he will. So, if you funnel money into an addict’s addiction or continue to lie and keep secrets for him, the addiction will continue. And the longer an addiction lasts, the more time it has to wreak havoc on the addict’s mind and body. The addiction is not and will never be your fault. But continuing to enable the addict is your fault.
Enabling Hurts the Enabler
Enabling an addict comes at a cost to the enabler’s wellbeing. The enabler doesn’t just shield the addict from the full impact of their consequences. The enabler actually absorbs that impact. He’s the one that has to stress over what to tell other people, how to keep allotting money for the addict, and take time out of their day to clean up physical and emotional wreckage.
On top of that, enabling can cause a person to become codependent. Codependency happens when a person is controlled by someone else and their addiction. Someone who is codependent truly believes that love and acceptance are contingent upon taking care of someone else. They put the feelings and wellbeing of others before their own. This is extremely harmful to a person’s own self-worth. It also creates fodder for the addict to become more dependent, thus catalyzing the harm towards the addict.
It’s extremely important to realize that you can’t be someone else’s strength while they struggle with addiction. Enabling such a dangerous disease and shielding the addict from the full impact of its consequences will deplete you of your own strength while pushing the addict further down the black hole of addiction.
Resources for Loved Ones of Addicts
Addiction is a family disease. It can cause unbelievable amounts of emotional distress for anyone close to the addict. So it’s hard to just stop enabling the addict. We get it. But it’s crucial for the addict’s wellbeing as well as your own to stop enabling and find other, healthier ways you can show support.
Al-Anon is a fellowship program for the friends and family of addicts. Finding a local Al-Anon meeting in your area is a great way to get support and learn other ways to help your loved one. Al-Anon members do not give advice or direction to other members because no one can really tell you how to live your life, especially when everyone’s situation is different. Instead, they share each other’s stories in hopes that it can be of use to someone else.
New Start also has many blog articles for loved ones of addicts that offer support for people looking for ways they can help themselves or their loved one in the wake of addiction.
If someone you know and love is struggling with addiction, New Start can help. Call our addiction staff at 855-737-7363 or reach out to us on our live chat. Your loved one is not alone in this struggle, and neither are you.