It’s entirely natural that someone would do anything they can to help a family member or close friend struggling with addiction. Many people have an empathetic desire to assist a loved one who is struggling, but all too often, this desire leads to enabling behaviour that causes more harm to the addict in the long run.
Not only is enabling dangerous for the user, but it can also be harmful to the family members who are trying to help. When a drug or alcohol user is enabled by others, that person is less likely to turn to professional help to address the problem. Eventually, addictive behaviour can lead to physical, psychological, and mental harm.
Signs that You’re an Enabler
Unless you understand the cycles of addiction and enabling, you might not recognize the signs that you are helping your loved one in the wrong way. Here are a few signs that indicate that you are enabling your loved one’s addiction:
- You ignore problems or behaviour that are negative for the addict and other people in the situation. Sometimes, you might be in denial about the severity of the situation. Do you choose to look the other way or make excuses for the addict when bad things happen?
- You hold back emotions that should be expressed. Stifling your emotions about the situation increases your stress levels. Consider therapy or support from an addiction recovery specialist to learn to manage your response when your loved one’s behaviour impacts your life.
- You lie to cover up the behaviour of the addict. You might feel obligated to shield the person from the judgments of others, but lying can start a domino effect that impacts many other consequences that might be faced.
- You blame the situation or other people instead of placing responsibility on the addict.
- You give the addict too many chances to try again. Even when the addict’s intentions are good, addiction will continue to dominate their actions.
- You put the addict’s needs ahead of your own needs. Too often, enablers prioritize the care of their loved ones over their personal needs. This pattern can lead to mental and physical difficulties.
Tips for Breaking the Cycle
If you’ve identified enabling behaviour on your behalf, it’s time to break the cycle of codependency. Changing your response to the addict’s behaviour is an essential step to bringing the addict closer to recovery. Follow these tips if you suspect that you are enabling the addictive behaviour of a loved one:
- Don’t Clean the Messes: If the addict makes a mess of their surroundings when they are intoxicated, don’t clean the house or remove the evidence. Allow the mess to stay until the person is sober enough to see the consequences of their actions.
- Choose Long-Term Results over Short-Term Band-Aids: Often, enabling alleviates short-term pain, such as uncomfortable conversations or hurt relationships. But, it is necessary to move through the short-term pain to achieve long-term results. Have the difficult conversation as soon as you can; the choices you make now could lead the person down a path of recovery that results in a sober lifestyle in the future.
- Hold the Person Accountable: Don’t let your loved one off the hook every time negative situations arise from their choices. In order for the addict to understand the consequences of their actions, they need to experience them and truly understand their accountability.
- Learn About Addiction: Many people don’t know how to productively support a loved one with an addiction. As you learn more about how addiction works and the best ways to respond to someone trapped in addictive behaviour, then you can change your actions, which might encourage the person to seek professional help.
You don’t need to carry this heavy responsibility without help, which is why it is important to choose the right treatment program to support yourself and your loved one. Find a program that offers a treatment program specific to the addiction, such as drug or alcohol rehabilitation. A personalized treatment plan might be the right solution to help your family member or friend get back on track to maintain sobriety.