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7 Ways You Are Enabling an Addict & How to Stop it

When you love someone, it’s natural to want to protect them. However, protecting someone from the consequences of their actions—especially if that someone is an addict—can make a bad situation worse.

Enabling an addict makes it easier for them to deny the need for treatment, which is something most addicts are already inclined to do. Almost 20.5 million Americans are currently struggling with substance use disorder, but only 10% are receiving treatment—a percentage that has held more or less steady over the past several years. In 2012, it was found that 95% of the Americans with substance use disorder who were not getting treatment, in fact, saw no need to seek help for their addiction.

This article will outline seven common forms of enabling to help families of addicts recognize how to support their loved ones in healthier ways that encourage recovery instead of denial.

What Does It Mean to Enable an Addict?

In a nutshell, enabling an addict means doing things for them that they could and would do for themselves if they weren’t using.

For example, filling out and turning in job applications for an unemployed addict is enabling, because if they were sober, they would be able to do that for themselves. Helping an addict is doing something for them that they couldn’t or wouldn’t do for themselves, even if they were sober. For example, giving an addict a ride to a job interview because they don’t have a car is helping, because even if they were sober, driving is not something the addict could do for themselves. Basically, helping does not protect an addict from the consequences of their addiction, while enabling does. Enabling allows an addict to get by in life without having to recognize the need for change.

Enabling is an emotional reaction to the addict’s behavior and the destruction it causes.

Sometimes you might enable an addict by ignoring the problem or pretending it doesn’t exist at all because the addiction is too frightening and upsetting to face. Sometimes that fear leads you to attempt to take care of your loved one and protect them from hurt, not realizing that the protection is actually doing more harm than good. In fact, enabling not only hurts the addict by making it easier for them to ignore their problems and avoid seeking treatment, it also hurts you, because it can cause you to become emotionally and physically drained, and to feel resentful of the addict.

Enabling can also be a reaction to guilt you may feel because you feel responsible for your loved one and their actions. Don’t be taken in by these feelings. You didn’t create your loved one’s addiction—in fact, neither did they; no one ever intends to become an addict. All either of you can do now is take responsibility for what is within your power to change. You need to figure out if and how your behavior might be contributing to your loved one’s addiction, and your loved one needs to stop denying their problems and seek professional help.

7 Ways You Are Enabling an Addict

1. You are making excuses for them.

Calling up an addict’s boss to say your loved one has to miss work due to food poisoning when the truth is they are crashing after a meth binge, or hungover from a night of drinking, is enabling their behavior. Apologizing for the addict’s inappropriate behavior with friends by coming up with excuses like your loved one would normally never act that way, may seem helpful, but it is also enabling.

Apologies and excuses that come from you allow the addict to continue believing that their drinking or using really isn’t that bad. Letting an addict get chewed out by their boss or their friend, on the other hand, makes sure that the addict comes face to face with the consequences that show there is a problem, and that life would be better if that problem were solved.

Making excuses won’t help your loved one; get them treatment today!

2. You are helping them financially.

Paying an addict’s bills or loaning them money may help your loved one get out of a bad situation in the short term, but it will only make the source of their financial trouble worse in the long run. Be honest with yourself about why they need money from you in the first place—they spend too much on drugs or booze, or they can’t hold down a job because they are never sober, or they’re having to pay for property damage they caused while intoxicated. If you take away the money trouble, you take away the evidence of how addiction is ruining your loved one’s finances.

3. You are providing them a place to live without setting up any rules about using.

Removing the burden of paying rent while the addict is still using allows more money to be allocated to their habit. It’s natural to want your loved one to have a roof over their head, but if doing so allows them to pretend that life as an addict is working out just fine, then you aren’t really protecting them at all.

4. You are taking on tasks or responsibilities that belong to the addict.

enabling an addict

Taking over someone’s responsibilities is enabling, not helping.

Enablers often find themselves picking up the slack for the addict—you do the yard work the addict used to do, you clean their laundry, you keep up with appointments. Taking over any responsibilities the addict should rightfully be doing and would be doing if they were sober, is enabling, and not helping. The only time you may not have a choice about this kind of enabling is when it comes to children. For example, refusing to pick up your children from school because it is meant to be your spouse’s responsibility isn’t really an option if it’s going to result in your spouse driving drunk or your children not being picked up at all.

5. You swoop in to rescue the addict from bad situations.

Rushing to pick up an addict who is stranded at a bar without cab fare, bailing them out of jail, or paying their lawyer’s fees may seem necessary because such situations can seem frightening. Also, if you’re honest with yourself, helping in this way probably makes you feel useful or important. But all rescuing really does is put a soft cushion underneath the addict so that they never have to land on hard ground—and never have to feel the pain that should naturally follow tripping and falling.

6. You are drinking or using with the addict.

Addiction can create a distance between the addict and their loved ones, and you may feel tempted to try and reclaim some closeness by joining them in drinking or using drugs. Or maybe you join in because you are stressed and overwhelmed and you’d like to escape the reality of those feelings for a while. Whatever your reasons, taking part in substance use with an addict will never result in anything good.

Until they get treatment and get sober, the addict will always have a stronger connection to the booze or the drugs than with you, no matter what you do or don’t do. Second, taking part in the destructive behavior is like putting a stamp of approval on it, tacitly telling your loved one that you’re okay with their substance use. And third, drinking or using alongside an addict could lead you to develop your own addiction.

Get help for you or your loved one’s addiction today!

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7. You are putting their needs above your own.

The desire to help the people we love is natural, but you should never neglect yourself in order to do things for an addict. Putting the addict’s needs before yours may seem nice, or noble, or generous, but it’s actually destructive. Sacrificing your wellbeing for an addict hurts you while allowing the addict to continue to hurt themselves. Everyone ends up damaged.

How Can You Support an Addict Without Enabling Them?

There is nothing wrong with helping an addict. Making sure that you aren’t enabling addiction does not mean giving up on the addict altogether; it means figuring out what kinds of actions actually help your loved one, and what kinds of actions merely enable them to keep hiding inside their addiction. You will likely have to change how you are doing things in some major ways, and you should prepare yourself for some negativity, hostility, and guilt trips from the addict. Keep reminding yourself that you can handle being uncomfortable, and so can the addict. In fact, it is essential that the addict feel uncomfortable. They were initially drawn to substance use as a way to feel like things are better, so if it has since become something makes things worse, the addict needs to feel that reality so that they can recognize the need for change.

If you are having trouble identifying what behaviors are enabling addiction and which are genuinely supportive, you may want to consult a therapist and/or join a group that provides help for families of addicts, like Alanon or Naranon. Getting outside perspectives, especially from people who have a personal understanding of your current situation, can often be the key to breaking through denial to face the reality of your situation.

Outside perspectives can also be key to learning how to accept that you can’t “fix” your loved one’s addiction. You can offer support to a point, and you can stop doing things that contribute to their substance use, but you can’t solve an addict’s problems for them—that’s work they have to do for themselves. You can even drive your loved one to a rehab facility, but you can’t force them to walk through the doors. It may be difficult, but it is important to detach from your loved one enough to recognize that you are separate from them. This will allow you to stop taking responsibility for the addict and start taking responsibility for yourself.

The process of shifting from enabling an addict to supporting one isn’t easy. In fact, you may find yourself temporarily feeling especially anxious, guilty, and worried. This is another reason to seek counseling for yourself and/or to join support groups that offer help for families of addicts. You may need professional help or peer support to learn how to manage these feelings. Journaling, meditation, or even simply taking time to do something just for yourself for a change can also be extremely helpful. Over time, your anxiety will lessen, and you’ll find it easier to resist enabling and create positive change in your life.

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Find Your Loved One the Help They Really Need

If your loved one is ready to get professional help, or if you simply want to be prepared for the moment when they do become ready, then one of the best things you can do is to look into treatment facilities in your area, so recovery can begin as soon as possible. Look for local treatment facilities on our directory, or you can call 800-996-6135(Who Answers?) to get help today.

It is time to admit that the best way to show your love for an addict is to stop fighting their battles and cleaning up their messes, and instead allow them to heal by taking responsibility for their own lives. Putting an addict’s need to keep using ahead of your own wellbeing hurts everyone and helps no one. Recovery is a journey, not just for the addict, but for everyone who loves them, and sometimes you have to start off on the journey ahead of the addict. Be brave enough to take the first step forward today.

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