Are You Enabling Addictive Behaviors?
When there is someone in your life who is struggling, the last thing that you want to do is see them suffer. It can be a natural inclination to want to help resolve the problem or provide assistance to lessen the pain. When someone is in active addiction though, help from loved ones can unknowingly turn into enabling.
Addiction is a disease that affects everyone involved in one’s family or chosen family and often people fall into roles that may perpetuate alcohol or drug use. Loved ones may be well-meaning in their actions without realizing that they have fallen into an enabling trap.
Building awareness of these traits can help break the cycle and create a pattern of boundaries supportive of recovery.
Who is an Enabler?
An enabler could be anyone who is involved in the support system of someone who struggles with addictive behaviors. This could be a significant other, parent, sibling, friend, or adult child. Enabling behavior often indicates that a support person is acting in a way so that their loved one does not face the natural consequences of their actions.
The enabler often is acting out love for a person however, this love transforms into a deep fear. An enabler might be witnessing their life spinning out of control and feel responsible for their safety and security. This creates a problematic pattern in which the person struggling with addiction could view their substance use as sustainable.
Addiction is a disease in which they might not be able to see the full effects of their actions without some pitfalls. The more someone tries to “help” the more futile their actions may feel as the enabler will begin to feel overburdened and like they are doing all of the work (because they are). The enabler then becomes a part of the addictive pattern and could actually impede recovery.
Red Flags of Enabling:
Difficulties Saying “No”
When your loved one asks for something or money, it can be difficult to refuse. They might even try to guilt-trip you or could become abusive if you do not comply with their request and the easiest solution can be to go along with it.
You might feel compelled to rescue them from their current situation. However, if they don’t have to pay their bills and they know their needs are met, they are more likely to continue in their addiction. Taking a stand of not bending to their every wish or need can help them see that their choices aren’t working.
Minimizing Concerning Behavior
The nature of drug and alcohol addiction often pairs with dangerous behavior. You might be ignoring it with the hopes that things will just get better on their own. However, when someone is purchasing illegal drugs they are putting themselves at risk and potentially you at risk if they are in your home. Not to mention that death or hospitalization due to overdose or drinking and driving is a real possibility. Someone who enables may feel numb to these risks and may not bring them up to keep the peace in the relationship.
Protecting from Consequences
People in addiction will often find themselves in unfortunate situations. You might feel compelled to make excuses for them, like calling them in sick if they are hungover or lying to other family members about the extent of their use. This could also be financial like paying their rent so they don’t get evicted.
You may be quite familiar with a pattern of making excuses for them or even to yourself like “If we just do this then they will get better” or “It’s really not that bad”. You may even blame their problems on other people like their boss was “so mean” and that’s why they lost their job.
Maybe you have a million concerns and fears about the person you love but you feel unable to share your true feelings. You might feel like you are bottling up all of your own emotions in order to protect them or to keep them in your life. There may be the wish to confront the behavior, but the desire to provide safety for them trumps this urge. There can be a fear of losing the addicted loved one due to conflict or treatment.
Your Own Life is Suffering
When these behaviors persist, it is a draining process. It feels like the more and more you help, the more that is asked of you. Your own finances are affected, you are dealing with the guilt from lies, you’re fearful, and the relationship with the dependent person is probably not satisfying. They even might be physically or verbally abusive in addiction and you are feeling like you are in your own hole that you can’t get out of. Remaining in these toxic patterns does not create the change that you and your loved one are needing.
How to Change the Pattern
If you noticed any of these red flags in your own relationships it might be time to make a change. After being in a pattern of enabling it takes a conscious plan to do something different. Here are some ideas to help break this cycle and move towards recovery in the family or relationship.
- Seek Support: This is a difficult experience to go through on your own. A helpful and free resource is connecting to support groups like Al-Anon. This 12-step group has been created for the loved ones of alcoholics and addicts. The group can provide support, and also goes over literature on letting go of control. You can also consult with a professional treatment team about potential next steps for your situation.
- Set Boundaries: Putting these in place will help protect you and change the expectation of the relationship. Maybe it is time to start saying “no” to their requests. It is time to consider your own needs and values. This may even mean separating from this person, especially if you are being abused. Your own challenges and finances should come first and this person needs to learn that they are responsible for their own choices.
- Offer Help that Empowers: It can be possible to still provide assistance without enabling. Let this person know that you will only offer help that involves them getting sober or being in recovery. This could be taking them to an Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous meeting or researching with them different ways they could receive treatment. It may be time to draw the line that if the request isn’t about changing their behavior then there is a boundary in place.
- Remain Consistent: You have let this person know that you will not help continue a path of destruction and now it is time to stick to it. An addict is likely going to push on the boundaries that you have put in place. It is up to you to remain firm in the expectations you have decided on. If your loved one does decide to go to treatment these boundaries are still relevant and needed as well.
Make the change today to stop supporting addictive behaviors. Launch Centers is here to help you and your family, contact us to learn how we can help.