One of life’s greatest difficulties is when you have a family member, loved one or friend that suffers from addiction. You may feel sadness, anger, hurt, and frustration while simultaneously worrying and wanting to help them. Learning how to best support an addict is trying and hard. But it can be hard to not wonder what is an enabler?
What is an enabler?
Walking the line between empowering and enabling is trying. According to a study published in 2013 by Lander, Howsare, and Byrne, “enabling means to accommodate the addicted individual in order to protect them from facing the full consequences of their drug use.” Are you letting an addict live with you because you’re worried they’ll end up on the street, or even worse, dead? Then chances are you are an enabler. As a result, while you care, you are contributing to keeping their addiction alive.
Questions to Ask
Recognizing that you are an enabler is the first step in helping your loved one seek the recovery they so desperately need to overcome their addiction. Here are some tough questions to ask yourself if you think you may be an enabler. Have you ever helped your loved one obtain or purchase their addictive substances? If you give someone money and they’re using it to purchase alcohol or drugs, or you’re driving them to meet their drug dealer, or to the liquor store, this is enabling. We understand that your motives are that you worry about the addict getting behind the wheel and you’re trying to protect them, but the bottom line is that you’re contributing to their addiction. Have you given your loved one a home or place to do drugs and have you just turned a blind eye to the addiction? If you’re in denial about your loved one’s addiction, then it gives them greater power to be in denial too. Denial leads to death. If you let someone live in your house and do drugs, so they’re not on the street, or you allow someone use your car because you want them to be “safe,” you are an enabler. If you know your loved one is in the bathroom doing drugs, but you don’t want to admit it, you’re enabling. Do you lie or try to cover up their addiction? Have you ever called your loved one’s employer or made excuses to friends about why he wasn’t at work? If you’re lying or covering up for a loved one, you’re giving them the power not to face their addiction head-on. Do you make empty threats? Do you threaten to set boundaries, such as no longer giving the addict a place to stay or money, but you don’t follow through with your threats? If so, then you’re enabling their behavior. Do you take care of your loved one in unreasonable ways? Do you try to find the addict in your life jobs, pay their bills or clean their home? It may feel like you’re helping, but you’re only helping them maintain their addiction. Has the addict gotten better or made substantial progress? If your loved one is not getting better or made any progress in overcoming his addiction, then your “helping” is not improving the situation. You may have temporarily helped your loved one stay off the streets, keep their job or avoid getting arrested, but you’re also a contributing factor to them maintaining their drug use. Do you feel stressed out maintaining interactions with your loved one? If you are financially drained, and your emotional well-being has greatly suffered because of your relationship with an addict, this is a sign that it is not a healthy relationship.
How does enabling hurt an addict?
You may be wondering why enabling hurts an addict. It’s simple. When you enable, you remove the natural consequences an addict experiences for their addictive behavior. You’re cleaning up their messes and not making them face the reality of their decisions. This gives them no reason to change their actions or behaviors. Without consequences, people don’t change. Thus, by removing consequences, you fuel their denial. Denial kills. To make an addict want to seek treatment, they have to have the pros of rehabilitation. Attending a substance abuse treatment center in Utah outweighs the cons. If you enable them, there are no reasons for them to go to treatment. When you stop enabling, you “raise the bottom,” which means that the addict will begin to experience the consequences of their addiction and be more motivated to seek treatment. Additionally, enabling isn’t good for you. You become entrenched in unhealthy patterns, and you get stuck in a terrible enabling routine.
Alternatives to EnablingIf you’ve decided to stop enabling, congratulations! It’s one of the hardest steps you’ll take. But you should know it doesn’t mean you can’t love, help, and emotionally support an addict. To know if your actions are enabling, step back and ask yourself, “Does what I am about to do, make it easier for them to continue using drugs or alcohol?” If the answer is “yes,” then you need to rethink your actions. Here are some healthy habits to incorporate:
- Change is Coming – Let the addict know you’re changing. You will not enable anymore. They need this head’s up, so they know what is about to happen. Be specific telling them what you no longer will do for them. For example, giving them money, a place to live, a car, buying groceries, making excuses for them, driving them to pick up drugs, etc. Make it clear to the addict you are not abandoning them. But you will no longer play an active role in their addiction. Let them know when they are ready to seek help and get treatment, you will be there for them with encouragement and support.
- Don’t Fuel Temptation – If you are enabling an alcoholic, don’t drink alcoholic beverages in front of them. Don't invite them out to a bar. Don’t fuel the addiction. Monitor your behaviors.
- Encourage Sobriety – Let the addict know you will not spend any time with them if they are high or drunk. Only participate in fun activities that support sobriety.