The brutal shockwaves of having an addicted family member can be felt through generations. We know first hand how difficult it can be — mentally, physically, spiritually, and financially for parents, spouses and adult children of alcoholics/addicts. Almost every mom has been told she is enabling the addict in her life. Is it enabling or is it a mothers love and support?
What is Enabling an Addict?
Enabling seems like it is a straightforward idea to understand – doing for others what they are able to do for themselves. Distinguishing the difference between helping, enabling and supporting can be difficult. Parents naturally want to help our children out of their struggle. Siblings are often trying to keep the peace within the family unit, and spouses are desperate to “fix” their loved one’s Substance Use Disorder (SUD).
Enabling allows the addict to continue using and behaving irresponsibly, without facing the full effect of the consequences. While we can’t chastise a mother for wanting to help her child through the immediate consequences of their Substance Use Disorder, it is important to emphasize the difference between enabling and helping. Enabling can contribute to the continuation of the disease, and possibly proving to be fatal.
Loving your child to death can kill them just as fast as the drugs and alcohol.
Enabling behavior can come in many forms, including:
- Financially bailing the addict out of trouble
- Keeping secrets for your loved one
- Avoiding the addict, or having uncomfortable discussions to avoid confrontation
- Giving the addict money (cash) – for any reason.
- Making ultimatums with no follow-through
- Blaming other people, situations, and circumstances, for the addict’s behavior
How To Help The Addict In Your Life
Ultimately, we have to understand and accept that we are powerless in controlling our loved ones struggling with SUD. As family, most of us have tried to change our loved one’s behaviors and addiction with no avail. Having a certain level of detachment, with love, can plant the seeds of recovery, well before it’s visible to the addict or the rest of the world.
That being said, our loved ones struggling with Substance Use Disorder deserve our love and support. There are ways we can provide proper help without enabling them to continue using. Helping is defined as doing something for your loved one that they cannot do for themselves. Here are some things you can do to help an addict in your life:
- Communicate openly with the addict. Expressing how you feel, how their behaviors are affecting you and the rest of the family, can be helpful in allowing the addict to realize how catastrophic their disease is.
- Expect difficulties and be patient. Having expectations that the addict in your life recover the way you would like them to is highly unrealistic. Along your journey, you will find obstacles and hurdles. Stay patient, and understand that finding recovery can be a journey.
- Don’t buy or offer drugs or alcohol to the abuser. This may seem like an obvious tip, but as a last grasp at hope, some parents may think drinking a glass of wine, or a beer together may ease the tenseness of the conversation. Any mind or mood altering substance can push the individual struggling, further into his or her using.
- Let law enforcement work. Behaviors that are a direct result of addiction are many times illegal. This can include, driving under the influence, stealing, purchasing illicit drugs, etc. Even if your family has the resources to lessen the consequences, resist the urge to do so. These consequences and legal issues all play a role in the process of getting the addict to realize their “rock bottom.”
- Emphasize treatment as a solution. Substance Use Disorder is a progressive, chronic, and eventually fatal disease of the mind. In most cases, professional intervention and help is necessary. Don’t try and take on your loved one’s addiction as your problem to solve. Often times, family members are not licensed mental health and substance use clinicians, and should reach out for professional help with their loved ones.
Codependency and Enabling
A codependent relationship is a dysfunctional relationship in which one enables another’s destructive behavior out of fear and in need of approval. The person ultimately enables an addiction. A codependent person relies on another to validate his or her self worth. For example, a parent may try to overcompensate for another parent’s addiction by giving focus to the kids’ comfort. Children who have addicted parents often have to take on the role of the adult at an early age—especially if the parent is single. At the sane tine, caring for your addicted child without healthy boundaries that is beyond normal parenting can hinder your child’s self-sufficiency and independence.
It can be challenging to disable a loved one and not display codependent behaviors when dealing with an addict or alcoholic in the family. Sometimes, when you love someone and see them struggling, it can be even harder to say “no” to them. Codependency is often a major underlying cause for enabling behaviors to surface. When a family member is so personally affected by their loved ones actions and thoughts, it can push the family member to enable the addict by giving into their demands.
Seeking therapy and support for codependency is a crucial part in overcoming and healing as family together. Our licensed family and marriage therapists at All About Recovery work closely with our clients and their families through out their time in treatment. We believe it is just as important to treat the family as a whole, so the client can return to a healthy and supportive environment.
It is important to understand that your loved one is not purposely trying to hurt you. Most addicts don’t know they even have a problem. An individual who is struggling with active addiction will revolve his or her day around the next fix. This craving is perpetual. They are not hurting you with the intention to hurt you, but they may know what will make you uncomfortable and take advantage of that to get their next fix.
Setting healthy boundaries allows you to take care of your needs and wants with clear communication of what you don’t like. No matter the relationship, there are certain criteria in establishing a boundary in place with a loved one who is addicted. Setting boundaries is healthy for both your loved one and yourself, and can obstruct harmful behaviors. The boundaries ideal for your unique relationship with your loved one is not a “one size fits all” and will be different for every family, relationship or situation. If you are confused as to which boundaries are necessary in your relationship, speak with a professional such as a licensed marriage and family therapist who can help you walk through your boundaries.
Some examples of setting healthy boundaries with an addict are:
- No lying on their behalf to anyone.
- No financial assistance
- No legal assistance or bail outs.
- No drug or alcohol use in your home or around your family
- No drug-using friends and acquaintances around you or your family.
Support Groups For Families In Addiction
Finding the appropriate support group that has experience with a family member in active addiction may be the outlet you need to vent your feelings. Support groups can help you get a understanding and address your feelings in the chaos of addiction. Support groups can also help you practice enforcing boundaries and help instill the courage you need to handle an addicted loved one.
Al-Anon is a worldwide fellowship of families and friends of alcoholics, offering them support and a program of recovery for themselves. Find an Ala-non meeting near you.
Nar-Anon, officially known as “Nar-Anon Family Groups,” is a support group for family and friends of a person suffering from Substance Use Disorder. It is a safe place to go and connect with other members who have been in your shoes. Find a Nar-Anon meeting near you.
Co-Dependency Anonymous is a twelve-step program, similar to Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, for people who share a common desire to develop functioning and healthy relationships. Find a CoDA meeting near you.
All About Recovery Treatment Center is here to help you and your family find life-long recovery from drugs and alcohol, together. We have experienced, masters-level clinicians as well as a full medical and client support staff around the clock to provide excellent care for our patients and families. We are here if you need to talk, ask questions, or maybe even have a professional interventionist speak with your addicted family member.