It’s certainly true that substance abuse is a family disease. Yes, the addict is the one that suffers the consequences of addiction, but those that love him/her are not exempt to the pain. As the parent, spouse, or friend of an addict, you can feel lost and helpless; confused at which way to turn. You probably ask yourself time and time again, “How can I help them,” “What can I do to make this better?” You’re in a constant state of tug-of-war.
It’s a natural feeling and instinct to want to protect your loved one, whether it be your child, your significant other, or even your parent. Nevertheless, in the case of addiction, “protecting” often blurs the lines of enabling the addict in your life. While these behaviors of the family member are often “well-intended,” they are harmful all the same. We understand the subject of addiction is often very overwhelming, and knowing how to help is confusing. Thus, we would like to go some very basic examples of enabling behavior, and provide some insight into helpful resources for the affected family unit.
What Is Enabling?
By definition, enabling is to give (someone or something) the authority or means to do something. Psychology Today tells us that enabling can have one of two meanings. On one hand, it means lending a hand to someone in hopes of helping them accomplish something they could not have done themselves. In this sense, enabling actually mean empowering. On the other hand, enabling has taken on a more negative connotation in recent years, especially in regards to addiction. In the realm of substance abuse, enabling means to offer help that often perpetrates rather than solves the problem.
Signs of Enabling Behavior
Ignoring or accepting unhealthy/dangerous behaviors. | This can include stealing, lying, driving under the influence, using drugs in your home, coming home late or not at all, etc.
Consistently put your own needs/feelings aside | We sometimes have to put our own feelings aside to help someone else. But, when it happens on a continual basis and if your own value system is jeopardized, this is a clear sign of enabling behavior.
Making excuses | The enabler often makes excuses for the addict’s behaviors and/or whereabouts to other family members or friends. Sometimes, they go as far as to make up stories to “cover” for the addict.
Compromising Morals/Values/Beliefs/Household Rules | Sometimes, the enabler will make exceptions for the addict that they never thought they would allow. One example is allowing the addict to use drugs in the house, so they know the addict is safe. Another would be giving the addict money for drugs, so they don’t rob a person or store.
Blaming others | Often times it is easier to blame the addict’s problems on other people or situations, rather than seeing the addiction for what it is. “He has a drinking problem, because his father was an alcoholic.” “Her boss was a jerk and was always looking for ways to fire her; it’s not her fault.”
Codependency & Finding Help
Those who continuously perpetrate enabling behaviors toward the alcoholic or addict are many times referred to as a codependent. This person, while they most certainly mean well, often wind up creating more harm than good. In the beginning, it seems as though they are doing what they can to provide for and protect their loved one, but before they know it, they spiral into this chaotic, codependent, dysfunctional relationship with the addict. Their self-esteem and emotional temperature are completely dependent upon the addict and their needs. Many times, the codependent doesn’t feel fulfilled unless they are able to be of assistance; unless they are able to solve whatever problem it is that lies before the addict.
Consequently, by always cleaning up their messes, the addict never feels inclined to change. Why should they? If they are able to continue using drugs and alcohol in the comfort of your home, with food on the table, clothes on their back, and money in their pocket, then why would they ever stop? As difficult as it may be, setting boundaries and holding firm lines needs to be done when it comes to addiction. By doing so, the addict is then held responsible for their own actions, which in turn may motivate them to seek help and change. In short, enabling is equivalent to “loving someone to death.”
It is also imperative that the entire affected family unit receive the help they need. Family members often suffer from denial, shame, guilt, anxiety, a sense of failure, and stress-related ailments. Here at Clearbrook, we believe that family treatment and therapy is an indispensable aspect to the recovery and healing process, for both the addict and the each individual family member. Additionally, there are several support groups available for family members and loved ones, including Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, and Alateen. If you have a family member that is suffering from addiction, we encourage you to seek out these support groups and other resources, so you can get the help that you need.
Contact Clearbrook Today
If you or someone you love is struggling from alcoholism or addiction, Clearbrook Treatment Centers can help. With over 4 decades of experience in treating the chemically dependent person, we can certainly provide you or your loved one the undivided attention and quality care that they deserve. While they are beginning their journey to recovery, you and the rest of your family will have the opportunity to take part in our Family Educational Program. For more information about our program and services, please contact our Admissions Specialists today.