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Since one out of every 13 American adults struggled with addiction in 2016, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), there are millions of families across the United States impacted by the disease.
Addiction not only affects the person battling the disease but also their partner, children, friends, coworkers, extended family members, neighbors, and others. Family and loved ones often unwittingly act as enablers to difficult behaviors, including drug and alcohol abuse.
Enabling is when bad behaviors are overlooked, compensated for, or excused by a family member or loved one. You may feel like you are helping a loved one out; however, enabling only allows the person to continue making poor choices. Enabling permits an individual to keep abusing drugs and/or alcohol and not pull their own weight at home, work, school, or in other situations.
Addiction has real and dangerous side effects, and enabling behaviors can blunt some of the natural consequences of the disease, causing the person doing the enabling to suffer the effects. By enabling someone to continue feeding their addiction, an enabler does not allow the person to fully realize the impact of the disease and get necessary help to make positive changes and recover.
Enabling fosters a negative and unfair relationship balance, which can skew the family dynamic, causing resentment to build up along the way. There can be a fine line between helping out a friend or family member and enabling them. It is important to understand what constitutes enabling and how to stop doing this in order to foster healthy relationships and family situations.
When a family member, friend, or loved one struggles with issues involving drugs and/or alcohol, it can be difficult to admit the scope of the problem. Denial is often a big component of the disease that is addiction, both by the person battling it and those around them.
Enabling behaviors often come from a place of love, out of a real desire to help. You may make excuses as to why your partner was late to work, helping them to cover up the fact that they were drunk and passed out, to aid them in keeping their job. Another example of enabling is cleaning up the messes of an addict, such as washing the sheets they vomited on, throwing away all the “evidence” like beer cans, or hiding drug paraphernalia so it is not discovered after use.
Enabling often leads to one person taking up the slack of the other, which in turn creates a shift in a relationship that should be two-sided. For instance, one spouse may do all the housework and chores due to the inability of the other to consistently fulfill obligations because of drug or alcohol use. An enabler will often feel resentment because of this, further damaging the relationship. Any excuses or compensations made to protect a loved one from the consequences of behaviors related to their struggles with addiction are considered enabling behaviors.
Continuing to act as an enabler allows your loved one to keep doing what they are doing and makes it harder for them to recognize that their substance abuse is even a problem. They may even expect you to keep covering for them and get upset when you don’t, potentially even resulting in aggressive or violent behaviors. Someone struggling with addiction will likely use manipulation to get what they want. They may pressure family and loved ones to keep accepting their actions, allowing for their continued use of substances.
The journal Psychology Today publishes that family members often enable loved ones because they don’t want to rock the boat, cause hurt feelings, be perceived negatively, or suffer retaliation as result of saying “no.” You may be worried that if you don’t help them, your loved one will end up in jail, get into an accident, or suffer some other negative consequence. You may keep doing things the same way out of fear or with the belief that things will be different this time.
Enabling a person to keep abusing substances and continue to act in ways that are harmful to them and those around them only makes things worse, however. Addiction can lead to financial difficulties, medical and mental health problems, isolation, criminal behaviors, and an increased risk for accident, injury, or even death. Learning how to stop being an enabler is a step toward getting a loved one help and moving forward into a healthy recovery.
In order to stop enabling a loved one, you must understand that continuing in the same fashion will merely prolong the disease of addiction, Psych Central warns. The long-term gain will outweigh the short-term difficulties of stopping the enabling behavior.
Enabling is extremely common, and it may seem easier to just keep doing things the way you always have; change can be hard. In the long run, however, by taking back control of your own life and stopping the enabling behavior, you may actually make things better and easier down the line. A person battling addiction may be able to finally recognize that their behaviors are unacceptable and that addiction has side effects and ramifications that impact everyone in their lives. By removing the enabling behaviors, your loved one will have to take responsibility for their own actions and suffer the consequences of their addiction.
Listed below are some tips on how to stop enabling a loved one:
By ceasing to enable a loved one, you can begin to feel better about yourself and hopefully get them into a treatment program that can facilitate a long and healthy recovery.