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When you have a loved one who struggles with addiction, you naturally want to do everything you can to help them. However, there is a fine line between helping and enabling their behavior.
What is Enabling?
When we enable an addict, we’re indirectly and unintentionally supporting their addiction. Enabling is a form of support that allows the addict to keep using, even though it hurts us and our relationship.
We may enable an addict by not confronting them about their addiction, or constantly giving into what they want. In the end, enabling an addict causes us a lot of pain and suffering for both the enabler and the addict.
Supporting vs. Enabling
Supporting an addicted loved one means that you are helping them realize they have a problem, and that they need professional help for their addiction, rather than trying to solve the issue on your own.
When you effectively support an addict, you allow them to feel the consequences of their actions, rather than sweeping it all under the rug, and taking responsibility every time their addiction causes them trouble in life.
Enabling means covering up for them and providing aid while sheltering them from the consequences of their own actions.
It’s easy to feel sympathetic towards someone who is struggling financially or emotionally, but enabling that person only makes things worse. The more you give, the harder it becomes for either of you to break free from the cycle of dependency.
It also unintentionally encourages substance abuse since your loved one doesn’t have to face any negative consequences for their behavior.
Signs That You Are Enabling an Addicted Loved One
If you are enabling an addicted loved one, there are certain signs that will start to show. These signs might include:
- Downplaying the severity of the addiction
- Tolerating verbal or physical abuse
- Refusing to confront the addict’s behavior
- Putting their needs before your own
- Providing them with money or housing
- Allowing them to take advantage of you and your resources
If you notice any of these signs, it’s time to seek help for yourself and/or the person you love.
How to Stop Enabling an Addict
As a loved one or friend of someone who is an addict, it can be hard to know what to do or how to help. Here are a few ways you can start helping an addict break the addiction cycle.
1. Set Healthy Boundaries
If you are enabling an addict, it’s time to set healthy boundaries. This might mean taking a break from the person, saying no to situations that make them uncomfortable or triggering, or even setting strict limits on how much contact you have with them.
Owning your role in the addiction cycle and doing whatever is necessary to break free is essential for healing and recovery. It can be difficult at first, but eventually this will help create a healthier relationship overall.
It’s important to understand that addiction is a disease, and not simply a moral failing. Therefore, it’s important to let your loved one talk about their addiction in a rational and non-judgmental way. This is the first step in helping them to acknowledge and accept their addiction.
2. Stop Making Excuses for Them
When it comes to addiction, there are no excuses. No matter how much you love and care for your addicted loved one, you cannot control their behavior. It’s up to them to face the consequences of their actions and break free from the addiction.
You need to be firm, but understanding with them at the same time, not seeking to shame them, but making sure they understand the negative effects of drug or alcohol abuse on their health and well-being, and on those around them.
If they refuse help or treatment, then it’s time for you to distance yourself from your loved one. You must be prepared for a difficult conversation, but one that is ultimately necessary in order to save your own relationship and protect those around them who may become casualties of this destructive cycle.
3. Stop Bailing Them Out
If someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it’s important that they realize that help isn’t always available just because they’re struggling. They are on their own in this regard and will have to face the consequences of their actions head-on.
If they know that they can always depend on you to bail them out of a bad situation, or give them money whenever they need it, they will have no motivation to change their ways.
4. Attend Family Counseling
Family counseling is an important step in helping family members deal with an addict in their family. It can help slipping into a dysfunctional family role that often comes with addiction, and can help the addict get the support they need to overcome it.
Talking honestly about the situation is key – if you’re not upfront, chances are your loved ones won’t be either and this will only serve to prolong the damage caused by addiction. Attending counseling can also be helpful for you in dealing with the situation, and give you the support that you need.
5. Encourage Rehab
It can be daunting for a loved one to confront the reality of addiction – after all, it is often seen as a personal problem. However, if your loved one is addicted to alcohol or drugs, encouraging them to seek help from rehab centers will prove much more effective than trying to fix the problem on your own.
Not only will rehab offer treatment and support for your loved one’s addiction, but it can also help them understand the severity of their condition and how serious it is. Rehabilitation not only helps a person stop using a substance, but also teaches them new skills that they can use in the future to move forward in life.
Benefits When You Stop Enabling
Ending your enabling behavior allows addicts to take responsibility for their own actions, and pushes them towards rehabilitation/treatment instead of relapse. This is possible when everyone involved understands the enabling behavior, its harmful effects, and the option to end it.
When enabling behavior ends, it allows the addict to move forward in life, and will hopefully allow them to see the severity of their addiction and how it affects others.
Your Mental Health Will Improve
It is often difficult for family members to balance the needs of their loved ones with their own mental health. When you are constantly on edge about your loved one’s addiction, and are putting so much pressure on yourself to help solve the problem, you can experience extreme stress and anxiety.
Creating boundaries and distance between you and your addicted loved one can actually be very beneficial for your mental health, since you will no longer feel responsible for your loved one’s actions.
The Addict Becomes Less Dependent on You
One of the biggest challenges an addict faces is feeling like they can’t survive without your support. When addiction is enabled, it becomes easier for the person to get their needs met in a way that does not involve you.
Eventually, when they realize that they are capable of living without your help, it gives them the motivation to fight and try again on their own terms. Stopping enabling can also help break any codependent cycles that may have developed.
Them becoming more self-sufficient and less dependent on you will also help ease the burden that you have been carrying. This can lead to an improvement in your relationship with your addicted loved one as well.
Addiction Treatment for Your Loved One
If you’re worried about your loved one and want to help, here are a few steps you can take.
First and foremost, be there for them as they go through rehab. It will be a difficult journey, but it may be the best decision they ever make. You may also want to enlist the help of friends or family members who can support you or your loved one during this time.
Stopping enabling an addict can be a difficult process, but it is one that is essential for their recovery. By understanding the different stages of addiction and how enabling behavior affects an addict, you can start to make the changes needed to help them get clean and sober.
Remember, addiction is a disease, and like any other disease, it requires treatment. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, please reach out to our addiction treatment experts for help.