Are You an Enabler?

We all know that enabling an addict is not a good habit to get into, yet so many loved ones struggle with this every day. How can you show love to someone, yet not give them what they “need?” How can you convince your loved one to enroll in a treatment program, and still get them to see that you love them? When it comes to addiction, many loved ones find that they have to treat the active addict much like a child, not giving in to their begging and pleading, but rather helping at certain times and in ways that will encourage them to get their life back together, and not continue in addiction. Here are some questions to ask yourself if you are at all concerned you are enabling the addict in your life.

Do you feel bad for the addict?

Most people start out enabling because they truly feel sorry for the person. A worried family member might see that the addict does not have money to pay rent. They see the person struggling with money, so they give them some. A concerned friend might understand that the addict will lose their job or get into legal trouble if they don’t step in and make excuses. No one wants to see their loved one suffer, and it is certainly tough to witness someone heading toward rock bottom. But, if stepping in because you are concerned means the person will then be able to continue in their addiction, chances are you are an enabler. Sometimes the natural consequences of one’s behavior serve as the best motivation to get someone to stop the harmful behavior in which they are engaging.

Are you overly concerned about your own reputation?

Other people enable the addict in their life not just out of concern for the addict, but also for their own reputation. Families of addicts must deal with the questions and judgments of friends, family, and co-workers. Sometimes it just seems easier to make excuses for the addict and try to cover for them instead of trying to explain the bad situation to others. In the same way, families often try to handle the issue of addiction on their own instead of taking a stand and making the person get help, all in the hopes of preserving the family’s good name. They would rather keep the problem a secret if at all possible, but in doing so, they are allowing the addict to continue on in the addiction.

Are other areas of your life suffering because of the addiction?

If you are enabling your addicted loved one, you probably notice disruptions in other areas of your life as well. You might give up your own comfort, financial security, or free time in order to give more of these things to the addict. You might let your worry for the person carry over into your dealings with other friends and family, or you might let your own work performance slide because you are more concerned with the addict’s wellbeing than your own.

Have loved ones confronted you about your behavior?

Caring family and friends are often the first ones to notice a problem with enabling. Listen to their advice instead of getting defensive and upset. If your loved ones warn you that you are throwing your money away, making too many excuses for the addict, or letting the addict get away with treating you in a certain way, you should take a close look at your relationship to see if you are indeed enabling.

Is your loved one considering getting help, or are they comfortable in their current situation?

Finally, the best way to tell if you are enabling your loved one is to gauge his or her willingness to get help. If, because of your enabling, the addict in your life is not willing to consider getting help, you might not be doing enough to convince him or her otherwise. If you make their life too easy, they will not see the need to stop using. If, on the other hand, you show tough love and make it clear that you will not fix their mistakes anymore, you won’t give them money so they can buy more drugs, and you won’t make excuses to get them out of trouble anymore, the addict in your life might just think twice about getting help for their addiction. If the consequences of their addiction get to be bad enough, many people will resort to getting help. Your life and interactions with your addicted loved one should be a constant reminder and encouragement for them to get help.

Get Help Instead of Enabling

One of the hardest things loved ones have to do is balance showing love, with doing what they have to do to get their loved one to accept help. If you are unsure of just how you should be acting toward your addicted family member or friend, ask for help. Find a treatment center you trust and meet with staff that can help you build a healthier relationship with the person and also get the addict to admit they can’t do it on their own and needs help.

No one is perfect, and there will be times that you find yourself being an enabler. When that happens, take a step back and give yourself some time away from the addict so you can think and regroup. Then, with the help and advice of a professional, work on developing skills that will help you interact with the person in a loving, non-enabling way.

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