Are You An Enabler? – Hindering Your Loved One’s Recovery

by Josh

Could your well-meaning actions to “help” your friend or family member actually push them further on the path of addiction?  It’s very possible.

Enabling behavior can take many different forms, but it all has the effect of shielding the alcoholic/addict from the consequences of their own actions.  Enabling behavior encourages alcoholism because the alcoholic knows that – no matter how much they screw up – someone will be their to rescue them from their mistakes.

As long as an alcoholic/addict has enablers in place, they’ll be able to deny that they have a problem, because they never suffer consequences from their irresponsible, reckless actions.

Are You An Enabler?

  1. Have you ever called in sick for the addict, because they were too drunk or hungover to get to work/school?
  2. Do you find yourself making excuses for the addict’s behavior?  (They’re just stressed, misunderstood, difficulty coping etc.)
  3. Have you ever had to pay for the addict’s legal fees, or bail them out of jail?
  4. Do you ever lie to cover for the addict?
  5. Do you avoid confrontation with the alcoholic/addict about their behavior, because you’re worried they’ll get mad?
  6. Do you ever pay the addict’s bills or loan them money?
  7. Do you find yourself giving the addict “one last chance” multiple times?
  8. Have you ever done work for an addict that they were responsible for?
  9. Do you ever do chores and run errands that the addict should be doing themselves?
  10. Do you ever feel manipulated by the addict, but ignore those feelings because  they “need” you?

If you found yourself answering yes to any of these questions, than you’re performing enabling behavior – whether you realized it or not.

The Fine Line Between Helping & Enabling

There’s certainly a fine line between helping a loved one and enabling their behavior.  A lot of enabling behavior is helpful on the surface and is done with loving intentions.  As a general definition, enabling behavior can be defined as:

  • “Helping” the alcoholic do things that they can (and should) be doing themselves.  Example: Giving the alcoholic/addict money for food and bills, instead of pushing them towards getting a job.
  • Making excuses & emotionally shielding an alcoholic/addict from the consequences of their substance abuse. Example: Sympathizing with the alcoholic when they get arrested for drunk driving, or covering for them when they can’t make it to work because of their hangover.

Deciding Not To Be An Enabler

Making the conscious decision to not be an enabler can be extremely difficult.  How do you turn down a loved one who needs money for utility bills or groceries?  How do you not sympathize when someone you care about is destroying their own life?

You don’t necessarily have to leave your loved one on the street or starving.  You could take them to a shelter for example.  But you can’t let them continue to live the life they want to live, when they’re not taking any responsibility for their own actions (or lack of action).

Detachment With Love

In order to stop enabling behavior, you have to learn to be detached.  You have to separate your love for the person, from the actions you have to take to help them get better.  You have to allow the person to suffer consequences – understanding that its necessary for them to get past denial and understand how much of a problem their drinking/drug use has become.

This is not only important for the alcoholic, but its important for you as well. Unless you learn to detach your own happiness from your loved one’s lack of sobriety, you’ll be on a constant emotional roller coaster that will push you towards the brink of insanity.

Detachment with love isn’t about being heartless, it isn’t about condemning of judging the person you’re detaching from. It just means that you have to separate the negative effect of your loved one’s addiction on your own life.

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