How to Avoid Enabling Your Loved One When They Return from Treatment

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It’s a situation that’s all too common.

Your loved one comes walking through the door after spending time in recovery for a drug or alcohol addiction. You haven’t seen them in a month, maybe longer, and you’ve had some time to think. You missed them dearly, and it’s natural that you want do everything in your power to make them comfortable in the early days of recovery. Maybe you even learned some of the reasons for the addiction and saw your loved one in a vulnerable state. Whatever the feelings, you’re prepared to do everything you can to make the next few months as low stress as possible. The trouble is that this type of attitude can quickly lead to enablement.

What is Enablement?

Enablement is an activity or behavior that provides an opportunity for someone else to do something. It can become very difficult to draw the line between someone who wants to help and someone who is enabling. In addiction, enablement becomes increasingly important because if family members continue this behavior, the addiction continues as well.

Here are some tips to think about as your loved one returns home from treatment. Whether they spend 30 days in an outpatient program or 90 days in an intensive residential treatment center, you need to stand back and take a good, hard look at yourself and make sure that you nor anyone else in the family is enabling your addicted loved one. It’s okay to show love, support and care, but it’s not okay to enable.

Stop Supplying Money

You may be tempted to give your loved one money, especially if they aren’t working yet, but providing them with money is like giving them permission to buy drugs or alcohol. As long as their basic needs are met – they’re not starving or walking around in the nude – don’t hand over money. If you want to treat your loved one to something special, you can treat everyone in the family to ice cream or a movie so that the cash is monitored.

Don’t Pay Back Old Loans

If your loved one borrowed money from friends or family in the past, don’t feel that you need to smooth things over. You are not responsible for your loved one’s actions, and they may need to feel the uncomfortable effects of owing money to someone else in order to see the effects of their actions. The best approach is to sit down with a professional mediator who can determine what is the best way you can help. In many cases, it’s recommended that family members be supportive and either help their loved one get back on track financially to pay back old debts, or work on repairing relationships and moving on.

Avoid Making Excuses

Maybe your child is tired and doesn’t want to go to work. Maybe your spouse would rather stay home instead of attending his AA meetings. Whatever the case, do NOT make up excuses, no matter how sorry you may be feeling for your loved one. This behavior only further compromises things because it shows that you are willing to lie and make excuses for poor behavior. And as you know, making excuses allows addicts to hide in the shadows of their addiction.

Expect Responsibility and Accountability

You shouldn’t have to do anything for your loved one that they can do for themselves, whether it’s tidying up their room, mowing the lawn or bringing their clothes to the dry cleaners. When your loved one is sober and clean, they should be accountable for their actions and hold some sense of responsibility. The last thing you want is for your loved one to start taking advantage of you.

Refrain from Joining in Tempting Activities

If you have a loved one who suffers from a gambling addiction, you wouldn’t wave lottery tickets in their face. The same is true for addicts of drugs and alcohol. You don’t want to engage in these activities in front of them, or worse yet, with them. That’s not to say that you have to withhold forever, but in the early stages of recovery, you want to show that you are in full support of their sobriety.

Set Boundaries – and Stick to Them

It’s time to make some changes, and that includes re-establishing boundaries. Make sure they are realistic and that you will stick to them, because you don’t want to be in a situation where you back down. Tough love is one of the best forms of love you can give your family member right now, so show them that you mean business. You may have to have a strict curfew in place for your adult child or spouse, as well as rules about where they are allowed to go, when they should check in and authority over paying bills.

It takes time to become aware of how we may be enabling our loved ones, so you will need to take a step back and look at things objectively from time to time. Enabling our loved ones does more harm than good, but in almost all cases, the intentions are done out of love. If you have enabled in the past, don’t punish yourself. Move forward and learn from these behaviors.