Enabling after treatment is a behavior that families and loved ones of addicted persons often find themselves enveloped in. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of working at a transitional living program for young adults who completed a long-term drug and alcohol treatment program. The families and clients were excited to begin a life of recovery outside of treatment. The clients were equipped with the tools needed to find a lasting recovery. The families had explored their own issues, like codependency, enabling after treatment, poor boundaries, etc. The stage was set for success. Unfortunately, not all of the clients remained sober. Ultimately, the choice to continue to stay sober was up to the individual. There was a common denominator for those who did not remain sober. That was family involvement, and specifically, enabling after treatment.
It took a great deal of courage to get the loved one into treatment. The family had to confront the addiction, look at their own enabling behaviors, create and hold boundaries, and let go of a certain amount of denial. However, the skills and mindsets the family adapted to get their loved one into treatment did not always last afterwards. The newly sober individual would almost always slide back into old behavior in some way or another. One area that individuals would commonly backslide in was having an attitude of entitlement. The individual would often feel they deserved something after completing treatment. Personal responsibility is so important to lasting sobriety. Unfortunately, no one can do it for the addict. Despite everything the family wants and does for the addict, their recovery is contingent on the work they do to maintain and grow in their recovery. The family was coached on breaking the cycle of entitlement and allowing the addict to stand on their own without enabling after treatment. The family would be reminded that they have already given their loved one all the support needed by allowing them the opportunity to have a safe and supportive place to transition to after treatment.
Some families would fall back into the trap of enabling after treatment. They would buy their loved ones cars, give them money, try to fix their emotional problems, or pay their restitution. This behavior fueled the individuals’ entitlement and reduced any sense of gratitude the individual had acquired. The addict would equate their family’s behavior with the notion that they did not have to do the work, both as a member of society and with their recovery. The clients who both worked hard and did not encounter enabling after treatment almost always remained sober. Nearly without exception, the individuals whose families reverted back to enabling after treatment would relapse after a period of time. Those clients were denied the opportunity of how to work through challenges and to come out successful on the other side. They were cheated of the opportunity of developing real self-esteem. This period of the individual’s recovery may look rocky and be incredibly scary for the family. It is important to understand that all things pass and recovery is possible even when it may not feel that way. Enabling not only fuels addiction prior to treatment but after as well. It is important to stick to the boundaries that were set and understand that the family does not have to be alone in this process. There is support in al-anon, nar-anon, and families anonymous that can make this phase of the journey easier. It is also important for the family to understand that they are not responsible for their loved ones’ success. Nor are they responsible to fix every problem. Often times, the best support they can give is to listen, step back, and say there is a solution and we believe that you have the ability to find the solution to your current problem. Then, turn the problem over to the care of their higher power.