Are You Enabling the Addict in Your Life?

Enabling is a poor-quality glue. It not only doesn’t succeed in keeping the marriage, family, or friendship together, it allows the disease to progress to a more serious stage, and worsens the prognosis for a good recovery.” ~ Al J. Mooney and Arlene Eisenberg, The Recovery Book

Every professional program for family addiction treatment is filled with desperate individuals – not only the substance abusers themselves but also their long-suffering loved ones. These family members, partners, and friends are there because the actions of their addict/alcoholic have made their lives unmanageable.

But it would come as a big surprise for most of them to learn how big of a role they have played in the progression of the disease.

When a person’s substance abuse disorder has progressed to the point that help is needed, then two things are almost invariably clear –

FIRST, that person’s drinking and/or drugging is out of control, and their lives have become unmanageable as a result.

SECOND, that person’s family has probably helped the problem get to this point, by enabling the addiction for at least years.

What Is Enabling?

Simply put, “enabling” is when those people closest to the substance abuser – friends, a spouse or significant other, other family members, even coworkers – react and adapt in such a way that they actually make it easier for the drinking and drugging to continue.

What Are Some Examples of Enabling?

In general terms, the person enables another’s addiction by “turning a blind eye” or making excuses whenever the substance abuser’s behaviors become totally unacceptable. Examples include:

• Picking up the slack when the addict doesn’t meet their responsibilities
• Making disproportionate allowances – “That’s just the way he/she is”
• Forgiving hurtful actions when there is no remorse on the part of the substance abuser
• Enduring abuse of any sort
• Pretending to ignore suspicious behaviors
• Covering for them at work, school, or family obligations

Why Do People Enable Substance Abusers?

If you were to ask an enabler, they will respond somewhere along the lines that it was a form of protecting the substance abuser – they didn’t want their sick loved one to get into trouble.

They might say that they didn’t want to drive the substance abuser away and possibly deeper into their addiction. Or, they might say that they didn’t want to break up the family/relationship. Often, a wearied family member might just admit that they were tired of arguing and didn’t want to make waves anymore.

Enabling is not for the addict/alcoholic. In fact, it is one of the worst things that can be done for a person who abuses drugs or alcohol.

People enable someone else’s addiction because they are trying to meet their own needs – attention, love, stability, etc. Problems arise, however, because any emotional needs or perceptions have become warped over time, due to the distortions and damage caused by the disease.

Meanwhile, the disease inexorably progresses. The amount consumed and the frequency both increase. The consequences start to add up and become inescapable. It becomes harder and harder to forgive and forget, to make allowances, or to cover up.

How to Know If You Are Enabling A Loved One?

Help from Family but not EnablingLet’s break down specific questions that someone can ask themself to determine if they are in fact enabling the addiction suffered by their loved one and how to make the changes to stop.

Do I Give Them Money?

Substance abuse – whether in the form of drug addiction or alcoholism – is expensive. Most substance abusers spend all of their time and money chasing their next drunk or next high. It doesn’t even matter if they have a job or not, they will still be in constant need of money.

This is where you come in – the substance abuser will invariably come to you for “help”, always with a semi-believable excuse at hand. They’ll say that they had some unexpected emergency – a car repair, an overdue bill, a medical need, etc.

They will beg and they will plead, using every trick in the book – manipulation, guilt, shame, and flattery, making promises all the while.

Know this – if you give them money you are doing nothing more than allowing them to buy more alcohol or drugs. Their addiction will progress.

Do I Give Them a Place to Live?

This can mean several things – paying their mortgage or rent, or just giving them a place to live, condition-free. This goes beyond “helping” a family member in need. This is providing the addict with a home because they are unable to provide one for themselves.

Again, addiction is expensive. Without having to worry about the obligation and expense of paying their own way, the substance abuser is free to put all of their resources into buying more alcohol and drugs.

It is all right to help someone “get back on their feet, but if this is the case, then (1) there needs to be a plan in place as to how and when that’s going to happen, and (2) that person needs to be actively working towards that outcome.

Do I Provide Their Transportation?

If you are making their car payment, paying their insurance, or are constantly loaning them a vehicle, then you are granting them the mobility that they need to freely go to their dealer’s house or the liquor store.

Once again, they don’t have to pay for their transportation or their insurance.  That is more money that they can use to fund their ongoing active addiction.

There is also a second consideration – having a car to drive can be dangerous for a substance abuser lost to active addiction, in terms of driving under the influence, tickets, arrests, or accidents.

Do I Pay for Their Phone?

Whenever you love someone who is actively addicted, you are constantly worried about them. You may feel that if you give them a phone, you will always be able to reach them. Naturally, you want to talk to them and check up on them, and you want them to have the ability to get in touch with you if there is ever a real emergency.

The reality is much different. They probably hardly ever call, just to talk. Most likely, when they do call, is to ask for yet another favorite – more money, a ride, etc.

What you are doing for them is giving them an easy way to contact their supplier, free of charge. With that cell phone, they will be able to call their dealer anytime, day or night.

Do I Pay Their Legal Bills?

Invariably, people with Substance Abuse Disorder run afoul of the law – DUIs, possession, public intoxication, etc. Consequently, you may find yourself tapped for help when they need to get bailed out of jail, or pay their attorney’s fees, fines, and restitution.

When you foot the bill to clean up your addicted loved one’s legal messes, you send them the message that they do not have to be responsible for their own self-generated problems. As long as they have you, there is no need to change – they can drink and drug with impunity.

The alternative to enabling can be summed up in one word – STOP.

Love unconditionally, but stop supporting and doing for your actively addicted loved one without condition. For them to expect your help and support, they have to be working at their own sobriety. They also have to take responsibility for cleaning up their own messes and straightening up their own life.

Help For the Family

Loving a person who abuses drugs or alcohol is hard. It can be difficult knowing how to do the right thing. Fortunately, Lasting Recovery provides the best family addiction treatment San Diego has available.

Our nationally-accredited program addresses the disease of addiction on multiple levels, with individualized treatment programs that can be tailored to fit your unique situation.

If you live in Southern California and someone in your family needs a reputable rehab program to help them on their journey of sobriety, contact Lasting Recovery right away. Using the latest evidence-based treatment protocols, our licensed and trained professionals can help you restore control and manageability to your life.

Lasting Recovery – “Where Wellness Begins…”

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