Well-Meaning Friends And Family Members Can Mistake Help For Enabling
If you have a relationship with someone who has an addiction to drugs or alcohol, it can be easy to get caught in the trap of enabling, which leads to codependency. When you see someone you care about struggling with a substance abuse problem, your first instinct is to want to help and offer support. However; this “help” and well-meaning “support” can actually have a reverse effect on the situation and make things worse.
To put it another way, the Substance Abuse And Mental Health Association (SAMSHA) reports that “the disease of addiction is often poorly understood, and the behaviors of a person with addiction are often bewildering to family and friends. Well-intentioned but poorly-informed individuals may inadvertently enable addiction to progress by shielding the person with addiction from consequences that could potentially initiate change.”
When it comes to enabling and codependency, we want you to be informed so that you can make better choices for you and the person you care about. The ultimate goal for any addicted person is to get them into recovery so they can regain control of their lives and find freedom from the death grip of drugs or alcohol.
The Definition Of Enabling And Codependency
In relationship to drug addiction and alcoholism, most people have heard the term “enabling,” but they are not exactly sure what it means – let alone know how to recognize it when it happens. When you care about someone with a drug or alcohol problem, you feel desperate, hopeless, and helpless. You become willing to do almost anything to lessen the pain and manage the problems caused by the addiction. Indeed, it is quite common to confuse helping with enabling and unintentionally forge codependent relationships.
Webster’s definition of enable is “to provide with the means or opportunity; to make possible, practical, or easy.” When you think of it this way, the word “enabling” actually means the same thing as the word “empowering.”
By enabling someone to do something, you are empowering them to do it. When you provide the means or opportunity for someone else to achieve something positive, it can be a good thing. You enable them to reach a higher potential. However; when you enable or empower someone to engage dysfunctional and self-destructive behaviors, enabling becomes counterproductive and brings about undesirable results. It also leads to codependency.
According to a WebMD article, “Codependent relationships signify a degree of unhealthy clinginess, where one person doesn’t have self-sufficiency or autonomy,” says Scott Wetzler, PhD, psychology division chief at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
A List Of Examples Of Enabling Behavior That Lead To Codependency
To help explain what it means to enable someone with a drug or alcohol problem, it might be most helpful if we provide a list of examples of enabling behavior. Here are some scenarios where friends, family members, and co-workers might be guilty of enabling:
- Spending a considerable amount of money to bail someone out of jail because they were charged with possession of illegal drugs, driving under the influence, or any other crime associated with drug or alcohol abuse
- Calling in to someone’s place of employment to tell them the person you care about sick, when they are actually too hungover to work after a night of binge-drinking
- Giving money to an addict to cover their living expenses, putting gas in their car, or buying them groceries because they spent all of their own money on a drug binge or alcoholic bender
- Covering for a colleague who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol at work or doing their work for them because they are unable to manage their own workload
- Allowing someone to use illegal drugs in your home because you think it would be safer than if they used drugs on the street or in their car
- Promising to kick the addict or alcoholic out of your home if they continue to use drugs or alcohol, but failing to follow through
- Tolerating mental, verbal, or physical abuse from someone who is high or drunk because “they didn’t mean it”
- Buying someone drugs or alcohol when they beg you to because they don’t have any money
- Making excuses or apologizing to friends and family when someone behaves badly while they are under the influence
- Giving someone a ride to go purchase alcohol or illegal drugs
- Allowing someone in active addiction to stay at your house so they can continue to support their habit
- Ignoring or minimizing the person’s addiction by pretending it doesn’t exist or acting as if it isn’t really “that bad”
- Giving an addict your prescription medications so they can catch a buzz
- Using drugs or drinking alcohol with someone when you know they have a problem with addiction
- Lying on behalf of an addict or alcoholic so they can be shielded from the consequences of their own behavior
- Cleaning up messes someone created in a drunken or drug-induced rage or cleaning their house for them because it is in a terrible state of disarray
- Setting boundaries with the person who is addicted, but failing to enforce them
- Allowing someone to continue to steal from you without any legal action
- Being sympathetic to someone who continues to bemoan their drug or alcohol problem when they refuse to do anything about it
- Taking late night calls from someone who is drunk or high because they have gotten themselves into a predicament
- Buying someone hotel rooms so they have somewhere to stay
- Continuing to finance a car so the addicted person will have a vehicle even though they aren’t making payments
These are just a few of the most common examples of enabling behavior, which leads to codependent relationships. If you are engaging in any of these examples of enabling, you are hurting – NOT helping.
When an addicted person is enabled by family and friends, it will inevitably drive them deeper into chemical dependency and rob them of experiencing the devastating repercussions of their own consequences.
Why Enabling Will Never Be A Solution To Battling The Disease of Addiction
Addiction is a complex brain disease that can only be treated with specialized addiction treatment services. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “repeated drug use changes the brain, including parts of the brain that give a person self-control. These and other changes can be seen clearly in brain imaging studies of people with a drug addiction.” For this reason, someone struggling with chemical dependency needs professional help to overcome their problem.
No amount of enabling will ever fix or cure the disease of addiction. It will only make the situation worse. Any effort you put forth to lessen the pain of an addict or alcoholic will be futile. The only real way someone with a drug or alcohol problem will be motivated to get help is when they are forced to feel the pain addiction is causing them. This can only happen if the people closest to them will allow that to happen.
The challenge in dealing with an addicted person is that they usually can’t see that they have a problem because they are blinded by denial. They will minimize the severity of their addiction and tell themselves it isn’t that bad. As a result, you may find yourself engaged in a constant battle trying to show the person they are sick.
To Enable Recovery, You Must Stop Enabling Addiction
Quite often, denial is cultivated through enabling relationships. To effectively break the power denial has over an addict or alcoholic, you must stop shielding them from the reality of their addiction. The antidote to denial is acceptance.
For someone with a chemical dependency to become willing to get treatment for their problem, they have to first accept the fact that they need help. This usually only happens through a process of painful confrontation with their own consequences.
When it comes to interacting with someone who has a substance abuse problem, you want to enable and empower recovery – not addiction. As long as you are protecting someone with a substance abuse problem from the reality of their circumstances, you will never force them to come to terms with it. They will never get help. They will never get well. And, their addiction might kill them.
We know you sincerely want the person you care about to recover from the disease of addiction. To bring this to fruition, it’s time to be strong.
How To Stop Enabling The Addict Or Alcoholic In Your Life
Putting an end to enabling behavior can be scary for those who have been caught up in the negative cycle of enabling and codependency. When you enable an addict or alcoholic, you have the illusion of control. You think you are preventing things from getting worse, so you continue to participate in unhealthy, enabling behaviors.
Now that you know that enabling will only make the situation more serious, you have to make the brave decision to start making different choices. You have to shatter your illusion of control. The reality is, you have absolutely no control over someone else’s substance abuse problem. The only thing you do have control over are your own choices.
Here are a few suggestions for you to stop enabling addiction and start empowering recovery:
- Start attending Al-Anon or Nar-Anon meetings. These 12-step fellowships are designed to educate and support family members and friends who have a relationship with an addicted person. These programs teach coping skills and provide peer support.
- Encourage the person you care about to get professional help for their addiction. Do some research and find a treatment center that can help them stop the madness of addiction. Tell them you will support them in their recovery journey.
- If they refuse to get help, take a stand. Tell the addict or alcoholic in your life that you are no longer willing to participate in their addiction. Set boundaries and STICK TO THEM.
- Learn how to say no. Stop loaning money. Stop covering for them. Stop lying for them. Stop excusing their behavior. Stop minimizing the problem. Stop letting them live at your house and continue to get high or drug. Stop empowering addiction.
- If you have a loved one who is homeless because of addiction, this can really pull at your heart strings. The Salvation Army is an excellent resource for those who are living on the streets. They provide free substance abuse treatment and can help an addicted person find food, shelter, and employment.
Putting a stop to enabling behaviors can be very painful. After being in a codependent relationship for an extended period of time, it will be uncomfortable to start participating in healthy behaviors. Your initial gut reaction will be that you are being unloving, uncaring, or unsympathetic. This is not the case. Though it may not feel like it at first, the greatest gift you can offer someone in active addiction is to force them to come face-to-face with their own consequences.
Addiction Affects The Entire Family, Not Just The Person Who Has An Addiction
If you have a family member who has an addiction, you are probably already aware of how profoundly an addiction can impact the entire family unit. Family members will run around frantically trying to take care of the addicted person, only to be met with hostility and an obvious lack of gratitude for their efforts. Those in relationship with an addict or alcoholic are driven by fear, stress, worry, frustration, anger, and confusion.
Because unhealthy dynamics develop as the result of having an addict or alcoholic in the family, it is important for you and your loved ones to get help. Setting healthy boundaries and learning coping skills can be difficult. Families often need professional support to make the changes necessary to restore balance and sanity in their lives.
Resources To Stop The Cycle of Enabling and Codependency
Want more information about how you can help someone with a substance abuse problem? Here are nine steps family members can take right away to help an addicted loved one.
You can also read this article from NIDA that tells you what to do if your adult friend or loved one has a problem with drugs.
Need help convincing your loved one that they have a substance abuse problem? Tell them to take this quiz.