Knowing how to interact with a loved one who has succumbed to substance abuse can be challenging. It’s natural that you’d want to ease their suffering , but there are many “do’s and don’ts” when it comes to the fine line between supporting them versus enabling their lifestyle. It’s even possible to cross the line without realizing it, but ultimately what’s important to know is that enabling them hurts not only them, but it hurts you, too, as the enabler. Being able to tell the difference can allow you to remain in your loved one’s life without inadvertently encouraging the continuation of their drug abuse.
The main difference between support and enablement is that one is helpful and the other is harmful. By enabling an addict, you directly or indirectly make it possible for them to continue in their substance abuse. With your support, you help someone that does not facilitate their substance use. But how can you tell if you’re supporting them or enabling them if you’re simply giving your loved one a place to live and food to eat? On the one hand, they might be homeless and destitute without you, but on the other, allowing them to do so could give them more financial resources to pay for their drug of choice.
Characteristics of Enabling an Addict
The most common type of enablement is giving money directly to your loved one with substance use disorder, but it isn’t the only way you can enable their bad choices or inadvertently make it easier for them to procure drugs. There are plenty of examples of enablement that are not so obvious, and it may surprise you to learn about them if they seem relatively harmless.
Some examples of enabling a person with substance use disorder include:
- Making excuses for their drug use, such as covering for your addicted loved one if they continually miss gatherings or events they said they would attend
- Accepting any verbal, emotional, or other types of abuse from the person with the addiction
- Taking over household or other life responsibilities of the person with the addiction, such as caring for their children
- Failing to acknowledge the signs of ongoing drug use such as their secrecy or irresponsible behaviors
- Covering up or minimizing the nature of the addict’s problem which can make it easier for them to dodge any consequences of their behavior
- Doing anything that stands in between the addict and their sobriety by unknowingly serving as an obstacle to them receiving effective treatment
How to Stop Enablement and Begin Supporting an Addict
It’s likely frightening for you to imagine stopping some of the behaviors that you thought were helpful to your loved one only to find out you were, in fact, enabling their addiction. Nevertheless, changing your behaviors will reveal that the addict intends on taking advantage of your kindness and has no desire to seek sobriety. Instead of excusing the addict’s behavior while drunk or high, you should let them face the consequences of their own actions. For instance, if they are frequently late to school or work or if they’re shirking their personal responsibilities, make sure you don’t answer on their behalf and let them answer directly to own up to what they’ve done. Doing so will give the addict the chance to see how they have impacted others and placed their livelihood in jeopardy.
If your enablement is driven by your fear of what will become of your addicted loved one without you, you can modify your behavior by addressing those fears. Remember that by giving your money to an addict or jeopardizing other important relationships you have will only make matters worse for everyone involved. Don’t expect that your friend or family member will be appreciative of your money, housing, or other forms of “help” you give them and feel guilty enough to check into rehab, because that is not how these situations typically work out.
Finally, remember that by changing your behavior from enablement to support that it doesn’t mean you’re giving up on them. The reason you were compelled to enable them was because of your love and desire to care for them. Learn to say “no” in the face of what is actually manipulative, selfish behavior on the part of the addict and put your foot down even if they plead for money or other forms of help you have decided to stop giving them.
Ways You Can Support a Loved One Who Is an Addict
The first way you can provide support is by establishing your intention to help, as they may be unsure or too embarrassed to ask for your help. Next, you need to set expectations of what actions you’re willing to take to help support them while setting boundaries at the same time. Remind them that most of your support involves being there and available to listen to them. Try not to be overly critical of their struggles, but offer constructive feedback without coming off as judgmental. If need be, remind them that you want to encourage them to take responsibility and that their recovery is ultimately in their own hands. Don’t be afraid to seek support for yourself, as well, in the form of counseling or therapy if you become overwhelmed or worry that your support might actually be enablement.
Get in Touch with Mount Sinai Wellness Center
You’re not alone if you’re worried about the wellbeing of an addicted loved one and feeling afraid of what will become of them if you stop giving financial help. At Mount Sinai Wellness Center, we understand the important role you play as a family member in helping your loved one get sober, and we invite your participation in their treatment through family therapy. These family therapy sessions are designed to explore your unique family dynamic so you can discuss how to properly support your loved one in recovery with the help of an expert counselor familiar with the damage addiction causes to family relationships.
If your loved one is in the throes of addiction and you want to help them without hurting their chances of lasting sobriety, it’s time to take action. Contact our team at Mount Sinai Wellness Center at (800) 353-4673 to learn more about our evidence-based drug and alcohol treatment programs.