To enable is to give (someone or something) the authority or means to do something, usually out of love or to be helpful. While an enabler means well with their actions in most cases, when it comes to substance abuse, being an enabler can prolong a loved one’s addiction and allow them to push recovery further away. Most enablers don’t realize their actions could be hurting someone they love who is struggling with addiction, rather, they may feel that their actions are out of love, concern and protection.
How to recognize enabling
Enabling comes in all forms and it can be intentional or unintentional. Sometimes it’s handing over cash seemingly for rent or groceries while knowing the money will most likely be used to fuel the addiction. Other times it may be bailing someone out of jail or creating alibis and excusing this person’s negative actions. While enabling can be based out of love for the struggling person, engaging in this type of behavior can be just as harmful as the addiction itself. The enabler often discourages the struggling person from confronting their addiction and seeking help, and in some cases, can lead to psychological, mental and physical harm. Karen Khaleghi Ph.D., author of “The Anatomy of Addiction” outlined these questions for people coming to terms with their own enabling or someone else’s enabling:
- Do you often ignore unacceptable behavior?
- Do you find yourself resenting the responsibilities you take on?
- Do you consistently put your own needs and desires aside in order to help someone else?
- Do you have trouble expressing your own emotions?
- Do you ever feel fearful that not doing something will cause a blowup, make the person leave you, or even result in violence?
- Do you ever lie to cover for someone else’s mistakes?
- Do you consistently assign blame for problems to other people rather than the one who is really responsible?
- Do you continue to offer help when it is never appreciated or acknowledged?
What to do to stop enabling
It’s a tough habit to break, but it’s essential to helping the person with an addiction come to terms with their actions and seek professional help.
Set boundaries. If you are living with someone struggling with an addiction, stand your ground with them. Stop driving him to and from the bar, don’t lend them money, let them know that their actions have consequences and that it is up to them to make things right. Avoid lying for them to others at all costs and instead let them know they are responsible for their own life at work and at home.
Focus on you. Keep yourself busy, pick up some hobbies, do things that make you happy and healthy and take your mind off of the stresses of everyday life. Remember that you are not held accountable for someone else’s actions. Make sure you are honest with yourself. Come to terms with your feelings and let the person know that they need to seek help. It is perfectly acceptable to offer this help and encourage them through their recovery, but know that ultimately it has to be their choice whether or not to seek help and if they say no right now, it’s not on you to fix it.
Let consequences happen. The natural, human inclination is to protect our loved ones. Sometimes that night in jail or waking up to EMT’s reversing an overdose is the wake-up call someone needs to realize that they need help, and they will ask for it.
Being close to and/or loving someone struggling with an active addiction is not an easy role to play. Recognizing the signs of enabling, and putting a stop to behavior helping to fuel the addiction, is an important first step in allowing your loved one to make an important first step in the direction towards recovery.