Are You an Enabler? 10 Signs that You Are Enabling Your Love One’s Addiction

woman looking concerned - are you an enabler - no more enabling - signs you are enabling your loved one's addictionThere is a fine line between enabling and helping an addicted individual, so let us first distinguish the two. Helping people with an addiction means acting in their best interest. It means paving the path for them to truly conquer this debilitating battle against substance abuse. In most cases, helping entails talking openly about an individual’s substance abuse problem, and further seeking outside, professional help as it is needed: through a counselor, behavioral therapy, or an addiction treatment center.

Enabling, or supporting an addiction, on the other hand, is when a loved one (a parent) makes it easier for the person with an addiction to continue their damaging, drug-using lifestyle. Most often, enabling is an inadvertent act, and is disguised by common, well-intended actions that one feels are actually “beneficial” to the addict. This is where the line starts to blur. Enabling commonly comes in the form of a family member providing help when their loved one should (and is able to) handle the task on his or her own.

The problem many people with addicted loved ones struggle with today, however, is their tendency to take wanting to help to a whole other level. They spin their efforts by taking their loved one’s disease of addiction upon themselves, acting as though it is their problem that needs to be fixed. Some start tending to every want and need of the addict, while others become ashamed and try hide their loved one’s addiction altogether.

It is easy for family members to enable a loved one’s addiction, and if you feel as though you may be facilitating the perpetuation of the alcohol or drug abuse problem, know that you are not alone. While some acts of enabling are obvious, such as drinking with your loved one or buying he/she alcohol, others are not as easily recognizable—or are just more easily rationalized. If you want to truly help you’re your loved one overcome substance abuse, try to be honest with yourself. Consider the following signs of enablement:

  1. You put your loved one’s needs before your own. You take on his or her day-to-day responsibilities and normal obligations, and leave yours to a lesser priority. You may find yourself changing your schedule to finish your loved one’s errands, to finish his chores (because he slept late) or to complete his homework assignment.
  2. You make excuses for your loved one. You may find that you do not just physically clean up after his messes, but you also do so in a more situational kind of way. You make excuses for your loved one when she cannot attend a family party, or wake up for school in the morning because “she isn’t feeling well.” If your loved one doesn’t finish an assignment or studying, you may call them out of school for the day. You also may find yourself lying to other family and friends about your loved one’s habits. The issue is, these are all opportunities that can help the addict realize the extent of their problem. You must let your loved one bear, and even feel the pain of, the consequences to help him or her realize the truth. Right now, you may just be giving your loved one little reason to change.
  3. You minimize your loved one’s drug-using habits, or ignore his addictive and potentially dangerous behaviors altogether. You look at what your loved one’s doing positively, like the fact that he still has a job, and ignore the extent of his negative behaviors. You may overlook the fact that his clothes smell like smoke, or that the empty bottles in his room are not a big deal as long as he still gets to school in the morning.
  4. You avoid the addiction altogether. This can be simply avoiding your loved one when he comes home at night, to avoid talking. It may even come in the form of you taking control and punishing your loved one, without ever discussing why. You may say he cannot hang out with certain people, or issue him a set curfew, but never address the reality that his problem is causing you to set these strict guidelines.
  5. You have difficulty expressing your emotions with your loved one. This may be out of fear of what your love one’s reaction will be, as you try to avoid frightening situations that may come as a result. You may decide you to want to “keep the peace” by staying quiet. You avoid talking about the addiction with your loved one and also to others, and
  6. You blame yourself. You blame your actions, your past, or you blame your choices. Instead of finding fault in your loved one, you take on that blame yourself.
  7. You blame others, or other situations. It’s his friends, it’s his school, it’s the neighborhood— you blame anything else in order to protect your loved one from the shame that addiction often bears.
  8. You begin to resent your loved one. You act on feelings of hurt and anger.
  9. You financially support your loved one. Whether you are spotting rent for the month, or giving your him or her free use of the car and home, money for groceries and gas, you are still enabling their addiction. While all these things that seem acceptable for a family member to provide for their love one, it will not help their drug or alcohol habits. The problem is, if you don’t cut back on certain means, your loved one will get used to the idea that they are fully being taken care of. They will use their own funds for things like drugs and alcohol, or recycle yours for that same reason.
  10. You are enduring your loved one’s addiction. You believe that this is just a phase — that he or she will grow out of, or snap out of, this. You think that if you give it time and wait it out, his or her drug-using habits will dissipate. Unfortunately, most substance problems do not just go away on their own. Addiction is a chronic disease, and warrants professional support and care. One of the biggest ways you may be enabling your loved one’s addiction is by not seeking out the help that he or she deserves.

You may think that your efforts of help are not being appreciated, or recognized, and yet, you continue to try. This is normal. But the single, most effective way you can help your addicted son, daughter, spouse, or relative now is by finding outside help. There is no denying it. Someday, you will be thanked for paving the path towards a drug-free life.

Gordon DicklerAuthor: Gordon Dickler
Gordon Dickler is the Admissions Coordinator for Turning Point, a young adult drug rehab that “utilizes phased integration to fuse primary treatments and independent living.” Gordon has helped hundreds of families navigate the difficult road of choosing a program that suits their child’s needs. With great compassion, knowledge, and experience, Gordon communicates clearly how taking the right steps now can bring healing to hurting hearts and homes. Gordon’s personal recovery, combined with his educational background in substance abuse counseling and social work, provide him with a unique ability to relate to, and assist, clients and families who are struggling with addiction. He can be reached at 203-937-2309.

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