Being a family member to a loved one who struggles with an addiction can place large amounts of stress on you. It is important to keep perspective and balance your thoughts, behaviors, and emotions in a manner that is healthy for both yourself and your loved one. Sometimes, it is easy to become overwhelmed by your emotions or the situation to a point that you begin making choices that can be detrimental to both yourself and your family member. In some cases, these behaviors and actions may actually contribute to your family member’s struggles and the addiction itself. This is called enabling.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse cites that “Enabling behavior occurs when another person, often a codependent, helps or encourages the addict to continue using drugs, either directly or indirectly.” When you enable a person with an addiction, you are aiding them in continuing within their addiction, and are in most cases disabling them from witnessing both the immediate and long-term effects of their drug or alcohol use by protecting them from the damage it is causing.
Here we explain five of the most common and detrimental forms of enabling that a family member might engage in.
In the majority of instances, a drug or alcohol addiction takes money. As a person’s use and tolerance increases, they find that they require more of the drug or alcohol to feel the desired effect. Again, in most cases, this requires more money. A person might try to obtain this money by various means, including stealing or lying. In both instances, you’re often in a position to either acknowledge the situation or look the other way and let the behavior continue.
Examples include when a person steals things from around the house, from you, or from others to pawn for money or to trade for the substance. More commonly perhaps is when the addicted person approaches you and asks for money for seemingly benign or essential things—food, rent or mortgage payments, medical expenses, or college tuition—and you give them the money.
In many cases, a person may never have intended on using the money they obtained from you for these purposes—from the get-go they may have planned on using the funds to obtain more of their drug of choice. On the other hand, the person may have really wanted and used the money for its rightful purpose. Even then, by giving them money you are enabling their addiction. Imagine that you’re adding to a fund that will in some way pay toward drugs, whether by using your money directly or by saving their own for drugs when you’ve given them money to relieve them of their financial responsibilities. Either way, you’re contributing to easy-access drug use.
In addition to the amount of money needed to fuel the addiction, the addiction itself leads a person to let other elemental aspects of their life fall to the wayside. They might begin to let their vocational, educational, and personal responsibilities deteriorate. By giving them money to cover these things, you are freeing up their other finances to be used towards their addiction. You are also insulating them from experiencing the full impact and weight of their bad judgement. By giving them money they do not fully encountered the devastation that is occurring at the expense of their drug or alcohol habit.
Enabling by relieving consequences:
Drug and alcohol addiction carries a host of consequences. Sadly, many times a person’s family members may unwittingly enable the person as they strive to alleviate the strain that the drugs or alcohol exerts on their lives. This can be very difficult for a person to recognize, as they are often motivated by love, concern, or support.
Regardless of your reasons, shielding a person from the repercussions of their addiction only helps to further perpetuate the cycle. The greater distance a person has from the effects of their drug or alcohol abuse, the less of a chance that they will realize the dire nature of their situation.
Examples include taking on additional responsibilities or tasks to compensate for the decreased or even nonexistent role that the addicted person has, such as assuming an increased role in parenting, household chores, and financial planning or obligations.
Family members might find that they themselves begin to lie to cover up their loved one’s behaviors. They might explain an absence or “sickness” as something other than it is—a direct result of a person’s drug or alcohol abuse.
Using the substance around addicted person:
It can be very hard to have a partner who struggles with an addiction. This is for many reasons, but many times a partner may struggle with having to moderate or stop their own use of the problem drug or alcohol. Perhaps it is something that the two of you did together within a social setting. Now you might feel as if you’re not able to have the fun or freedom that you once had, to the point that your judgement might become clouded.
One example is alcohol use. Oftentimes, the partner of someone who struggles with an alcohol addiction will continue to drink and may even keep drinking alcohol around the person addicted or keep alcohol in the house. Not only does this provide the person struggling with greater access, temptation, and potential triggers, but it can make them feel as if you’re not entirely behind them, or that you don’t take their needs seriously.
Sometimes, a person may even drink or use drugs with their partner or spouse, convincing themselves either that they’re going to do it anyways or that with your support, the person will really be able to reduce the quantity or frequency of their use. This sends mixed signals and puts your loved one directly in the face of danger, the danger of perpetuating the drug use.
Ignoring, denying, making excuses:
Confronting a person with an addiction is no easy task. Often, family members have made attempts in the past that have not had favorable outcomes. This becomes emotionally and mentally exhausting to the point that some people become resigned and begin to believe that the behavior is beyond their control. Ultimately, an addicted person must commit themselves to their recovery, however, this is not to say that as a family member you do not exert an influence toward their behaviors.
Many people are afraid of the confrontation that will result if they acknowledge this situation. They might worry that the stress of the encounter could drive their family member to further abuse drugs or alcohol, shut them out, or that they might simply be overwhelmed and unable to find the words to have the conversation.
Sometimes people look the other way because they are too worn down to confront the intense emotions that might accompany these conversations. Some people may even begin to convince themselves that the addiction isn’t as bad as it seems and tell themselves that they are blowing things out of proportion.
Going hand-in-hand with this is the act of making excuses. If a person has a stressful job or life circumstance, you might find yourself saying that they are really overwhelmed right now, and that when things settle down their substance abuse and addiction will decrease or stop altogether. If a person is shy, you might tell yourself that they only use a substance to help themselves become more outgoing or engaging. If they are hungover or sick after using drugs or alcohol, you might convince yourself that it really is just a headache or other physical ailment due to a different cause.
Believing addicted loved one can resolve addiction alone:
This is in effect a more extended form of denial and avoidance. Often, a person with an addiction really does want to succeed and become sober. That is to say when they tell you that they don’t want to use anymore or that it’s the last time, a large part of them really believes it, but the reality is that the substance has such a dominating effect on them mentally, physically, and emotionally, that it is often very difficult to follow through on these statements without a form of assistance.
A family member may believe these statements out of fear or hope, even out of exhaustion. Sometimes a person is so worn down from dealing with the day-to-day implications and complications of the drug use that they don’t have the energy to try anymore; these statements provide them with an easy way out.
Other times, a person might simply be so overwhelmed from shouldering the burdens and worry incurred by their family member’s addiction that their reasoning and decision making abilities are compromised. Whatever the reason, know this—an addiction is very hard to combat on one’s own, in many cases treatment or rehabilitation might be the difference between continued drug or alcohol use and finally finding sobriety.
Learning How To Stop Enabling Behaviors
The difficult thing about enabling behaviors is that some of them don’t outright appear to be detrimental to your family member. In fact, many of them may outwardly seem to be an action or statement that is helpful or supportive. Sometimes, when you have been steeped in this situation and cycle for a prolonged period of time, it is difficult for you to recognize that you are enabling a person and to differentiate between what are helpful behaviors versus those that are unhealthful.
Being the family member of a person who struggles with a drug and/or alcohol addiction can be a very physically, mentally, and emotionally trying ordeal, one that can deplete your energy, morale, focus, and perception to the point that it clouds your judgement and distorts the situation.
In these circumstances, you yourself might benefit from seeking the support and guidance of therapy. In addition to this, programs exist solely for the purpose of aiding family members in traversing these tumultuous waters. Some examples include Al-Anon and Nar-Anon. These programs will provide you with a venue by which you can share your experiences and hear those of others—granting perspectives that foster hope and perseverance, while also teaching you skills to help you cope and stand your ground.
Within these programs you will have an opportunity to speak to other people who have encountered situations or struggles similar to yours. This will help you to see that you are not alone, while aiding you in finding the strength and perspective that is necessary to to be resilient and supportive family member during your family member’s time of need and beyond.
Enabling During The Threat Of Relapse
As a person walks through their recovery, they and their family must consider the possibility of relapse. Whether it be drugs or alcohol, the chance of relapse is present for anyone who has struggled with an addiction. As a family member, this is a crucial time, one during which your interaction and support can greatly influence how a person reacts to the situations that might incite their cravings. Here, too, your actions can enable a person in moving towards relapse, or on the other hand, your mindfulness and resolve can aid them in staying strong and steadfast within their recovery journey.
During recovery, it can be easy for both the individual recovering and the family members to get comfortable, less attentive, or undisciplined. This can open up a potentially dangerous territory. As you both become less attentive and lackadaisical about the situation, you might become less apt to notice problematic or tempting thoughts, emotions, actions, or situations that might outright be a trigger or evolve into one.
Lastly, you might convince yourself that they’ve been sober long enough to allow for a small measure of drug or alcohol use. This can be because you desire the company or camaraderie or because you’re afraid of causing a confrontation when things have finally been better between you. For many people, all it takes is a small foray back into substance use to set the stage for relapse and a renewed addiction.
Find The Strength To Offer Your Loved One Support Today
Contending with a loved one’s drug or alcohol addiction can be a very daunting and exhausting process. It is something that can affect most every aspect of your life and deplete your mental, emotional, and even physical wellbeing. As much you love your family member and ultimately desire to see him well, you might not be supporting him in a manner that is conducive to success. At DrugRehab.org, we can help you to find the clarity and answers that both you and your family member deserves. Contact us today and start getting the help you need.