There is a significant difference between helping somebody with addiction and enabling addiction. However, when somebody you love is struggling with addiction and mental health symptoms, it can be extremely challenging to recognize the difference between helping and enabling. Learn more about being an enabler below as well as the ways that you can support your loved one without prolonging their struggles with addiction.
Definition of Enabling
So what exactly is an enabler? Simply put, an enabler is somebody who enables or supports a family member’s, friend’s, or loved one’s destructive behaviors. These can be behaviors that hurt—or have the potential to hurt—you, the individual with an addiction, and others around them.
But the important thing to understand if you have enabling tendencies, you most likely are only trying to help the person who you care about. Oftentimes, people who get caught up with drugs and alcohol are turning to these substances for a reason. In fact, having untreated mental health conditions can greatly increase one’s risk of developing an addiction.
Naturally, you want to support your loved one and help them with their struggles. You can see that they are in pain and that they aren’t sure what else they can do to ease their discomfort. This is where enabling often comes to the surface—you are unknowingly letting them know that they will not have any consequences for their actions and that they don’t need addiction treatment.
Signs of Enabling Behaviors
While it’s largely a case-by-case issue, there are certain signs of enabling addiction. As you read, keep in mind that these are all natural reactions, and if you do these things, that does not mean that you are a bad person. However, it might mean that you’re accidentally enabling addiction and need to change your behaviors.
1. You make excuses for their behaviors.
When you are close to somebody who struggles with addiction, it can be all too easy to excuse their behaviors. For example, if you know that they had a really tough day at work, you might not say anything when they go to the bar to order a drink, or two, or three. They’ve had a hard day, you tell yourself, so it’s okay if they drink too much or use drugs, right?
This is a clear sign of enabling addiction because you are showing to them that turning to drugs or alcohol is something that is okay when it is “justified.” For somebody with a substance use disorder, there will always be a reason or an excuse for using. Thus, while you cannot control their behaviors, making excuses for them only perpetuates the problem at hand.
2. You fund their addiction.
People with mental health conditions and substance use disorders might ask you for money to help them out in trying times. After all, addiction is expensive. Additionally, untreated addiction and mental health often interferes with somebody’s job, leaving them unemployed and unable to purchase drugs or alcohol easily. So, if you find that your loved one keeps coming to you for money, you might be enabling (and even funding) their addiction.
3. You protect them from any consequences.
Nobody wants to see their loved ones get in trouble or have health complications. But addiction can reach a point where the person puts themselves or others in danger. Sometimes, the law interferes. If you have bailed out family and friends from drug charges, driving under the influence, or engaging in other illegal situations, their addiction will convince them that nothing that bad will happen if they drink or do drugs again.
Many addicts describe the moment before finding recovery as “hitting rock bottom.” However, how will they ever reach their rock bottom moment if you continue to rescue them? Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should leave them in a situation where they could get hurt. Instead of swooping in to save them yourself, though, you can turn to other resources, such as notifying law enforcement or mental health professionals if you believe that they are in immediate danger.
4. You don’t set or follow personal boundaries.
Do you find yourself forgiving your loved one for doing something that hurt you? Or maybe you’ve never felt comfortable expressing emotions to them because you don’t want to make their symptoms (or their behaviors) worse. This can create a potentially toxic relationship that leaves you scarred. Remember, mental illness might explain the person’s behaviors but it does not excuse them.
5. Their addiction becomes yours.
Along the same lines as above, if you are enabling addiction, you often get consumed by the other person’s struggles. It is not healthy if you are constantly thinking about their addiction, worrying about their safety, and thinking of ways that you can “save” them. This is when their addiction becomes your own, either metaphorically or literally if you are also a recovering addict.
How to Stop Enabling Addiction
It’s important to understand that addiction is a mental illness—people with substance use disorders are physically and mentally dependent on alcohol or drugs. The addiction essentially makes them feel as though they cannot live or function without the substance. Even though they might have the best intentions, it requires professional treatment to truly break harmful habits.
This is also not to say that you cannot or should not support your family and friends who are going through the process of recovery. But organizations like Al-Anon can help you to understand that it is not your responsibility to “cure” somebody’s addiction. Ultimately, the only way that you can stop being an enabler is to allow your loved one to find their way to a mental health and addiction treatment center.
Treatment facilities like Baton Rouge Behavioral Health Center are ready to help you and your loved one find the help necessary to heal your relationship. Between mental health treatment, addiction treatment, and dual diagnosis treatment, your loved one will finally be able to heal from their past behaviors and they will understand that they need to work hard to prevent them from occurring again in the future.
In addition to a variety of treatment options, such as crisis intervention, cognitive behavioral therapy, and medication management, our mental health experts invite families and friends to learn more about addiction and take part in the recovery process. This will help you to understand that you can show that you love the person who struggles with an addiction while also encouraging living a sober life.
For more information on how to stop enabling addiction, contact us by phone at 225-300-8470 or submit a confidential contact form for support and the next steps you can take to truly help the people you love.