Friends, family members, and significant others of an individual dealing with substance abuse often fail to realize that they are acting as enablers in their loved one’s life. To make the decision to treat their addiction, an individual must come to terms with how their addiction affects their life. Someone that is dealing with addiction will be less inclined to seek help if they never face the consequences of their actions.
Though loved ones are often inclined to help their family member or friend as they face addiction, there is a fine line between actions that enable and acts of love.
In terms of addiction, enabling occurs when a loved one’s acts of kindness encourage an addict to keep using. Though they may seem helpful, these enabling actions are something this individual should be doing on their own, but are instead relying on their friends and family for these things.
Financial responsibilities and social obligations often fall to the wayside for someone that is dealing with addiction. Instead of having to face these consequences, a loved one may explain away this behavior, apologize for the individual’s actions, and handle any outstanding expenses. Though these actions are helpful in the moment, from a long-term perspective, they only serve to enable these behavioral patterns, thereby continuing the cycle of substance abuse.
When Loving Becomes Enabling
For many friends and family members, loving can easily become enabling. Whether you’re a spouse, relative, or close friend, it’s often hard to recognize the moments where these actions become destructive.
The following instances are examples of enabling:
- Making excuses for an individual’s unacceptable behavior or mistakes. Oftentimes, the desire to avoid conflict or keep certain “family secrets” drives someone to constantly cover or apologize for their loved one’s mistakes.
- Inadvertently encouraging them to depend on you. Constantly coming to the rescue for an individual dealing with addiction encourages them to rely on you more as they have come to expect that you will solve their problems.
- You put your needs or desires aside to help them. Wanting to help someone is natural, but if their needs take priority over yours, you are acting as an enabler in their life.
- Your desire to help is motivated by guilt, fear, or pity. Addiction is often a frightening situation. Many enablers may feel guilty that their loved one is experiencing a difficult situation. Others are motivated to act because they pity this person or they are afraid of the potential consequences if they don’t step in and help.
- You continue to help even when they don’t appreciate or acknowledge your actions. The more your help goes unappreciated, the more you will begin to resent the addict. Though this resentment won’t necessarily end the enabling actions, they will further complicate the relationship.
How to Support, Not Enable
Loving someone without enabling them is a complicated line to walk. As you aim to help your loved one through their addiction, you must be sure that your actions aren’t pushing them deeper into their dependency. However, loving them without enabling them doesn’t mean turning your back on your loved one. You should continue to show them love by allowing them to realize how their actions affect their life and the lives of others around them.
Consider the following suggestions for loving without enabling:
- Keep your word. If you and your loved one both planned to participate in an activity and they refuse to go, keep you word and choose to participate with or without them.
- Reclaim your autonomy. Whenever possible, avoid finding yourself in a situation where you are endangered by their actions.
- Choose the long-term endgame over any short-term inconvenience. It may be inconvenient to discontinue enabling behaviors in the moment, but from a long-term perspective, this is the best way to ensure your loved one gets the help they need.
- Don’t try to take on their problems. A loved one dealing with addiction must face their consequences. It isn’t your responsibility to take on their problems and they must come face-to-face with the consequences of their actions.
We all need support in the hardest times in our lives. Putting an end to enabling behavior as you continue to help someone dealing with addiction is the best way to support them. The only way for them to break this addiction is if they truly want to get help. Until then, love them but leave room for them to see that this substance use disorder isn’t healthy.