Maintaining a relationship with someone who is addicted to drugs and alcohol requires a substantial amount of physical, emotional and mental strength. Unfortunately, many family members and friends of addicts cause serious harm with otherwise well-meaning behaviors. This is called enabling, and it can be detrimental to your own well-being, as well as that of the addicted person and others involved.
What Does It Mean to Be an Enabler?
An enabler is someone who has good intentions and wants to help an addicted loved one. But instead, their actions actually make it easier for that person to continue their destructive behaviors with little or no consequence. Enablers also often lose their sense of self because they are so focused on fixing the life of the addicted person they care about.
In many instances, the enabler is a spouse, a best friend, a sibling, or even a parent. You may find yourself in this position one day, and although it can be difficult to acknowledge, taking a step back out of the fire is really the most healthy thing for both parties involved.
Examples of Enabling
Depending on the situation, enabling behaviors can be present in a number of different ways. If you know a loved one is suffering from substance abuse problems, yet you continue to do some (or all) of the following things, you have become an active enabler in this person’s life.
- You encourage them to come out partying or drinking with you on a regular basis.
- You lend them money for drugs or alcohol.
- You pick up the messes they leave behind by cleaning up vomit, washing their dirty clothes or repairing objects they broke while under the influence.
- You prescribe pain-relieving medication for far too long simply to help them avoid uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
- You lie to cover up the damage done by this person or to protect them.
- You make excuses for their irresponsible behavior.
- You bail them out of jail.
- You pick up financial responsibilities for this person, such as paying their rent or buying their groceries.
Harmful Consequences of Enabling Addictive Behavior
No action comes without consequence and enabling a person’s addiction will not only have negative effects on their life but also on yours.
Enabling behaviors discourage addicted individuals from seeking help or treatment. When you shield an addict from the consequences of their actions, they never really feel the destructive and harmful effects of those behaviors. As a result, they may never have the motivation to make any changes because they can’t see how harmful their addiction is.
Both the enabler and the addict become resentful. Carrying the burden of always picking up the pieces will leave you feeling stressed, worn down and emotionally exhausted. Additionally, your actions may set the expectation that you’ll always be there to fix the problems that arise as a result of the addicted person’s behavior. If this fails to occur, the addict may feel slighted. Eventually, all of this tension will result in resentfulness on both ends.
You may develop mental or physical health problems of your own. Maintaining a relationship with someone who is addicted to drugs and alcohol is mentally and physically taxing. Ongoing stress and anger in your life could lead to depression, ulcers, anxiety, headaches and other health problems.
Practical Ways to Love Without Enabling
Making the decision to not enable a loved one’s addiction is a courageous choice. It will be difficult and you will make mistakes, but choosing to end the cycle of enabling is an extremely valuable way to help your loved one overcome their addiction while also protecting and taking care of yourself.
Here are a few ways to build a more healthy relationship with an addicted individual.
- Love them without “rescuing” them. It’s important that you let this person experience the damaging consequences of his or her addiction, however painful that may be to watch. This is the only way they will truly see how their addiction is affecting their life and the lives of those they care about. When you feel like giving in, remind yourself that you are doing this because you love them and care about their future and well-being.
- Have a backup plan to deal with difficult situations. Oftentimes enablers feel helpless to the manipulative behaviors of the addict. Instead of falling into a trap, make a plan for how you will respond in various situations. Making a conscious decision to not be manipulated can be difficult, but it is necessary to protect yourself and others involved.
- Set strict boundaries for yourself. Know what you will and won’t do to help an addicted friend or family member. Never put yourself or others in danger to cover up for someone else and decide how far you’re willing to go before you put your foot down.
- Join a peer support group in your community. Joining a support group can help you learn healthy ways to help and interact with the addicted person in your life, as well as identify some of your own enabling behaviors. There will be others in your support group dealing with the same issues and sharing these experiences is a great learning opportunity.
- Communicate clearly and openly with the addicted person. If you’re going to make changes in the way you treat and interact with this person, it’s important to clearly communicate what you plan to do differently and why. This helps eliminate misunderstandings. It is wise to have this conversation at a time when the addicted person is sober.
- Attend family counseling sessions. Living with addiction is extremely difficult. An outside mediator can help you and your family members work through issues and communicate more effectively with each other.
If you are concerned about the well-being of a friend or family member who is suffering from substance abuse, an intervention may be an appropriate next step. Please contact Hill Country Detox today to speak to an addiction specialist. We can provide recommendations for intervention support, as well as detox and long-term addiction treatment options.
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