When someone you love is stuck in active addiction or alcoholism, it can be heart-wrenching and painful to watch. Part of the reason it is so difficult to love someone with untreated addiction or alcoholism is that it’s hard to know how to react or what to do to help them. Many people who love an addict or alcoholic find themselves walking a thin line between supporting their loved one and enabling addiction. It’s hard to set boundaries with someone who is struggling with substance use, but it is possible to support someone you care about without enabling their destructive choices. When someone is able to care for the addict or alcoholic in their life without crossing that line, they are better able to help their loved one and ensure that they protect their own emotional health.
What is Enabling Addiction?
Enabling is a term used to define any behavior or decision that allows an addict or alcoholic to continue their use of drugs and alcohol without facing the natural consequences of their behavior. Essentially, enabling addiction allows the individual in question to use or drink without having to ever hit their “rock bottom.” Addiction and alcoholism are unsustainable in the long term- eventually, consequences will catch up to the addict or alcoholic.
Enabling addiction allows people to avoid these consequences for longer periods of time and to keep using and drinking past the point at which most people would say “enough” and get help. However, it is a very common behavior- when we love someone, we want to protect them, and sometimes this can cross the line into enabling. In fact, most addicts and alcoholics can only continue to live in their disease with the help of well-meaning enablers surrounding them. Enabling addiction doesn’t make someone a bad person. It usually means that they want to help their loved one, but that desire is misdirected. Identifying enabling behaviors and replacing them with truly healthy patterns can help an addict or alcoholic to address their problem, and can also help their loved ones to feel better about themselves and live healthier lives.
Enabling Behavior vs. Being Supportive
Sometimes it can be hard to tell what is helpful and what is just enabling addiction. A good rule of thumb is that anything that makes it easier for an addict or alcoholic to use or drink is enabling addiction. This is a broad definition, but it’s important to remember that for someone with an active substance use disorder, the center of their thoughts and behavior is getting their next drink or drug. This means that a lot of the normal things we would do for someone we love are actually some of the ways that active addicts and alcoholics are able to keep using and drinking.
Enabling addiction doesn’t always mean that we physically hand someone a substance- sometimes it can be subtle things that seem like kind favors but are actually just making it easier for someone to maintain their drug or alcohol use. Being supportive to a drug addict or alcoholic sometimes means using tough love. Helping them can sometimes involve making it clear to them that you won’t help them to do anything unless it involves getting into addiction treatment.
Listed below are some common behaviors that could be enabling addiction in a loved one:
- Paying legal fines and bills, or bailing them out of jail
- Paying general household bills or rent
- Driving them around (besides to meetings, treatment, or the doctor)
- Giving them money or other forms of financial assistance (like gift cards)
- Calling out of work for them or helping them to smooth over issues at their job
- Lying for them to others about their whereabouts or behavior
- Cleaning up for them after a binge
- Emotional enabling- telling them that their behavior is okay or pretending that it doesn’t affect you
Instead of engaging in enabling addiction, there are some things you can do to help. The best way to help is often through tough love- by telling the addict or alcoholic that you will not take them anywhere, give them money, or offer any help while they are using or drinking, but that you will do anything that helps them to get into treatment. You can also offer emotional support by reminding them that you love them and are willing to support any steps they take toward recovery. It can be hard, but it just may save their life! If you want to get a loved one into a treatment program at All About Recovery, call us today at 888-712-8480 for information.