Helping and enabling are two actions that can easily blend together. When friends and family attempt to help a loved one, they often make it easier for the addiction to continue. Enabling comes in many forms, but it is never a good idea, even if makes you feel better. It prevents the addict from reaching rock bottom or clarity, and they can continue using their drug of choice comfortably without any real consequences for their behaviors.
What is the difference between helping and enabling?
Helping is doing something for an individual who cannot do the action on their own. Enabling is doing something for an individual who can and should be doing the action on their own.
People enable their loved ones because they are scared of what may happen to them. While it can be one of the most difficult things to do, removing yourself as the enabler is necessary if you want your loved one to discontinue abusing drugs and alcohol. Your role is to support your loved one, encourage sobriety and praise them when their responsibilities are met. It’s a difficult balance, but it IS possible to love and support your family member without enabling them.
Below are four signs that you’re enabling your loved one’s addiction.
1. You Provide Financial Support
If you’re providing your loved one with money and you don’t know what it’s for, this money may very likely be going to drugs and alcohol. It’s not uncommon for addicts to lie about where the money is going, so don’t believe that your hard-earned cash is necessarily being used to pay off medical bills or a car payment. This situation is made worse if your loved one doesn’t work and is using you for financial support.
What can you do? Stop giving your family member money. If it’s something specific that they are requesting, see if you can handle the payment on your own. For instance, pay a car bill online without handing over cash. If you cut off the financial supply, also be sure to protect your credit cards, checking account and assets around the home.
2. You Make up Excuses – to Everyone
Do you find yourself cleaning up your loved one’s messes all of the time? When they miss work? When they skip a family event? When they need to be bailed out of jail? Addicts need to take responsibility for their own actions, and when you’re always there to catch the fall, they never learn this accountability. Your excuses also fuel the behaviors because addicts view this is as a sign of acceptance.
How can you stop? Stand strong and remember that you do not approve of drug and alcohol use. The next time your loved one finds themselves in a predicament (which won’t be long), walk away and tell them that you are not responsible for getting them out of trouble. They may become agitated and angry, but you are not to blame.
3. You avoid talking about the addiction
Addiction is scary. Whether you’ve had addiction in the family or are dealing with it for the first time, knowing how to deal with an addict is one of the most challenging things you will face in your lifetime. However, by not talking to your loved one about the severity of their addiction, you are enabling their behavior.
Ask yourself why you are afraid to approach the issue. Are you scared? Are you unsure of what to say? Think of how you can work on your end to be able to bring up the issue in a constructive manner, such as by enlisting the help of a professional counselor. Tough love is necessary when addressing an addiction, and your loved one will ultimately need you and other family members to come together in an intervention to encourage treatment.
4. You indulge together
This is common when dealing with alcoholics because alcohol is legal and socially acceptable. Maybe you’re enjoying a few drinks to unwind and relax, but for your loved one who cannot control their behavior, you’re really just providing an easy outlet: a place for them to drink and a partner to do it with. Worse yet, indulging in any drug or alcohol use makes your loved one think that you are accepting of the behavior.
Should you stop indulging completely? With your addicted loved one – yes. In fact, even when addicts are recovered from drug and alcohol abuse, you must be respectful of them. Recovery takes a lifetime; it’s not an event. Show that you do not approve of their behavior by not engaging in any risky behavior. Instead, support healthy habits and constructive activities.
Cutting off support is never easy at first, but keep in mind that your efforts are actually leading your loved one toward recovery and helping them in the long run.