how to stop enabling

Watching a family member struggle with addiction is one of the hardest things anyone can go through. Whether it is a parent, child, sibling, or spouse who struggles with addiction, it is always a difficult situation. Many times, the first instinct is to help the person struggling with substance abuse. After all, don’t family members help each other out? But what may feel like helping may actually be enabling a drug addict, helping them get through life without the natural consequences of their addictive behavior. Hard as it is, it is critical to stop enabling an addict so that he or she can feel the pain and consequences of their addiction and move on to a sober lifestyle.

What Does It Mean to Enable a Drug Addict?

Enabling a drug or alcohol addict is to cushion them from the consequences of their addiction by taking on actions or responsibilities that they are capable of performing. Enabling behaviors often feel like supportive behaviors, but enabling actually shields addicts from the very real effects of their addiction. Enabling can feel like love, but in fact allows the addict to continue engaging in the addiction, and that is not loving at all.

For example, consider a husband struggling with alcohol abuse. He regularly drinks too much at night, passes out drunk on the couch, and oversleeps the next morning. A loving wife with good intentions might tiptoe around in the morning, pack her husband a lunch, make him breakfast and coffee, and let him sleep until the last possible minute.  She might then wake him up with just enough time to grab a quick shower, take his breakfast and coffee to go, and leave with just enough time to make it to work. This is a clear example of enabling behavior. The husband is surely capable of getting himself up and ready for work, so his wife is doing something for him that he could do for himself. His wife, while well-meaning, is shielding him from the natural consequences of his addiction: oversleeping and being late to work or missing it entirely, and suffering the repercussions. If he actually came in late to work, he might get in trouble with his boss. That might make him realize that his drinking is a problem.

Signs of Enabling a Drug Addict

If you are concerned that you are enabling a loved one, take an honest look at yourself for signs of enabling behaviors. Signs of enabling include:

  • Lying about his or her behavior to other people
  • Making excuses for his or her behavior while under the influence
  • Offering financial support to someone with addiction
  • Managing tasks for an addict that he/she could do for himself
  • Tacitly condoning their addictive behavior by normalizing it, such as by having a drink with an alcoholic

It is easy to justify any of these behaviors. Many of these signs look like help. For example, if you lie for your spouse by calling in sick to work for them, you are helping them to keep their job. But you are also helping them to continue functioning as an addict, which is not truly helpful at all.

While it may be difficult to stop enabling an addict, it is the best thing for both of you in the long term. Enabling is a habit, so it will take hard work to break that habit. Here are some straightforward suggestions on how to stop enabling an addict:

  • Enlist support: Join a support group such as Al-Anon for people with family members who struggle with addiction.  Hearing from other people who are in similar situations can give you new perspective on how other families deal with the same challenges.
  • Be open with your loved one: Choose a time when your loved one is sober to tell him or her that you will no longer enable their addictive behavior. Tell them the specific changes you will no longer make; for example, “I will no longer call in sick for you if you oversleep for work.” Emphasize how much you love this person and how much you want to support their recovery, not the addiction.
  • Stop lying or making excuses: Do not lie to cover up their behavior. Allow him or her to experience the natural consequences of addiction, even if that means alienating friends or losing a job.
  • Cut off financial support: As much as it hurts to think that your loved one may be evicted or lose a car for missing a payment, do not offer any more money. When you give an addict money, you are either directly or indirectly allowing them to buy drugs or alcohol.

Be firm in your resolve to change. You can learn to stop enabling the addict in your life. If you are a family member or friend of an addict, please contact Blu By the Sea for more information and support. We are here to help.