What does it mean to ‘enable’ an addict, and why is this such a common phrase when talking about substance abuse and rehabilitation? At its core, enabling behavior is any action you may take that prevents or stalls an addict’s progress to recovery.
A lot of the time, those who enable addicts may not realize what they’re doing is harmful; the line between support and sabotage can be hard to navigate. To help you better understand what enabling behavior can look like, here are seven signs that you may be enabling an addict rather than helping them.
1. Lying about or covering up an addict’s behavior
The actions one takes while suffering from addiction can be embarrassing and destructive. It is easy to want to clean up after an addict to avoid either yourself or them from feeling ashamed. But, facing the consequences of one’s actions is integral to realizing one’s problems.
Lying about a loved one’s addiction or covering up the painful results of their behavior enables them to continue to behave in the same way.
2. Taking on an addict’s responsibilities
Most people instinctively want to help their loved ones when they’re suffering. This is especially true if they are suffering from something as severe as addiction.
But prioritizing an addict’s needs above your own can lead to a dangerous system of codependency. By taking on an addict’s responsibilities, you halt their progress and provide them a way out from having to change or address their behavior.
3. Giving an addict money
Requests for money, in amounts large and small, are exceptionally common when dealing with someone suffering from addiction. They could say it’s to help pay for gas, for rent, for food, or any other number of things.
Ultimately, no matter what the reason, giving money to an addict allows them the opportunity to fund their addiction. It can be hard to say no. But, by providing them a source of funds you enable them to continue their habit.
4. Displaying resentment towards an addict
While dealing with a loved one’s addiction is often stressful and exhausting, it is important not take that frustration out on an addict by blaming or punishing them.
Negative attitudes towards those suffering from substance abuse like alcoholism or drugs can lead to a worsened mental state that encourages destructive behaviors. By being too controlling or punitive, an enabler may push an addict away from those that care about them and into the confidence of other users.
5. Understating the seriousness of addiction
While many examples of enabling addiction are active, simply doing nothing can be a serious problem too.
Downplaying or ignoring the severity of an addiction can suggest to an addict that their substance abuse habit isn’t that bad, or that they don’t have a problem at all. By not confronting the reality of the situation, you could be enabling the continuation of dangerous and potentially life-threatening behaviors.
6. Staying quiet about your feelings
Not being open and truthful about your concern for a loved one makes it easier for them to keep using. Sometimes enablers are fearful that talking about their feelings with an addict will create unnecessary conflict. Also, you might hope that by not saying anything the problem will resolve itself on its own.
Without honest dialogue, an addict won’t feel obligated to seek treatment or work on their sobriety. This and continue their substance use uninhibited.
7. Falling victim to false hope
It’s easy to feel hopeful for an addict you know and love, and it’s easy to look for signs of breakthrough and progress. Many promises will be made to you, like:
- They’re going to start treatment the next day
- This is the last time they’ll use before they quit
- They just need a little more time to get back on track.
But these misleading hopes mean nothing without actions to back them up. By falling for false promises and providing too much support or leeway for an addict, you are enabling them to continue their habit without them ever having to take real responsibility.
How can you help in a positive way?
While enabling behaviors can make matters worse for a person suffering from substance abuse, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to help.
Speak up about how their addiction is affecting them and the people they love and help them to set reasonable boundaries and limits with their addiction. Most importantly, encourage them to seek professional help if they can’t or won’t help themselves. After all, it’s not only destroying their life, it’s destroying yours, too.
To find out how Tikvah Lake Recovery can not only help an addict, but also help you approach and handle an addicted person, contact an expert today.
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