Are You Enabling Addiction by Your Desire to Help?

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enabling addiction

Even though you have a sincere desire to help a loved one, you might be enabling addiction behaviors without knowing it. Read on to learn more about enabling and codependence, and how to avoid them.

What is Enabling?

While it is perfectly natural to want to help a loved one struggling with addiction, these lofty intentions can turn south. Over time, what began as a sincere attempt to help the person can become dysfunctional, even harmful. This happens when you find yourself doing things for them that they should be doing themselves, which is called enabling.

By cleaning up the person’s problems you prevent them from taking control over their recovery, only enabling addiction to continue. To succeed in recovery, it is necessary for the loved one to take responsibility for their decisions and choices. To wrest this control from them, even with pure intentions, enables the addict to the point where they slip back into substance use. Why? Because they know that someone will come to their rescue once again.

Signs of Enabling

It may be hard to distinguish between which behaviors are helping someone, or are hurting them. See if you recognize yourself in these classic enabling behaviors:

  1. Fear dictates your behavior. Enabling behavior is often a response to fear. The enabler is so afraid of their loved one succumbing to the substance use disorder that the fear keeps them forever engaged in their recovery. The enabler might pay the person’s bills, obsess about their whereabouts, and insert themselves into every aspect of their life. Fear stokes these controlling behaviors.
  2. You put their needs first. Enablers are often martyrs. They start feeling resentful because they have done so much for their loved ones, at the expense of their own. In fact, enablers may experience poor health or mental health issues due to self-neglect.
  3. You clean up their messes. There is a tendency to protect the loved one from the fallout of their choices. For instance, you lie or cover for them to prevent any negative consequences. Maybe you lie to their employer when they are hung over due to a relapse and can’t come to work.
  4. You turn a blind eye. Enablers tend to turn a blind eye toward the early signs of relapse. Acknowledging it would make it real, and this is something the enabler resists. The enabler might also believe that they alone can “fix” their loved one’s problem, and that professional help is not needed.
  5. You place the blame on everyone else. The enabler may feel embarrassed or ashamed of their loved one’s substance use problem. This shame may cause them to look for someone or something to blame, rather than consider their loved one’s choices.
  6. You stuff your own emotions. The enabler feels sad, disappointed, frustrated, and afraid. They will go to great lengths to hide or deny these feelings. Instead, they try to keep the peace and avoid confrontations.

How Enabling Can Harm a Loved One in Recovery

Unhealthy relating habits, like enabling, may hinder someone’s chances of succeeding in recovery. Even though no harm is intended, the enabling spouse or parent may further entrench the loved one in their addiction.

This occurs because the person has no motivation to change if they are having all their needs met. For example, why go out and try to find a new job if someone is paying their bills and stocking their fridge. The enabler’s desire to help only backfires on them.

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What is Codependence?

Another form of unhealthy relating is called codependence. This is when the family member or spouse becomes so enmeshed in the loved one’s substance use disorder that they become part of the illness. While you might think you are a concerned person looking out for the addict, codependence takes over your own life. You control every aspect of their life, you make decisions for them, and you encroach boundaries. In the end, you lose your own sense of identity. You give up your own interests and ignore your needs as a mistaken sense of sacrifice. Many times, the codependent person believes the person will die if they aren’t watching their every move.

The Importance of Family Therapy

One of the most important aspects of addiction treatment is the family component. Rehabs include family sessions for a reason. To send someone back home to a dysfunctional environment only sets the person up for failure. Family group therapy can be useful in helping family members make needed changes.

Offer Healthy Support Instead

Learning to “detach with love” is key for family members. A healthy dynamic is so important to both the person in recovery and their loved ones. Here are some tips for offering healthy support:

  1. Offer your loving support. Learn to limit your support to giving emotional support versus paying their bills. They will be more motivated to find work or to get a better job when they aren’t being coddled.
  2. Learn how to say no. For many, it is very hard to turn down a loved one’s requests or demands. For both your sakes, you need to establish and honor healthy boundaries.
  3. Keep lines of communication open. Continue to be available to your loved ones when they need someone trustworthy that they can talk to. If they are in recovery and feel their sobriety is threatened, they should be able to come to you for support.
  4. Resist the urge to find solutions. Enabling rests upon the belief that you are the one who can save the person, that you have all the answers. Realize it isn’t up to you to fix their life—that is their job.

Enabling addiction may not be intentional, but it is still destructive. Learn to offer your support without preventing them from helping themselves.

LifeSync Malibu Provides Luxury Rehab Services and Guidance for Family Members

LifeSync Malibu works with family members of the loved one in treatment, to guide them toward healthy relating behaviors. If you find yourself enabling the addiction or codependent, our family sessions will be very helpful. Call us today at (866) 491-4426.