How to Stop Enabling an Addicted Loved One

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How to Stop Enabling an Addicted Loved One

What is “enabling”?

A simple definition of enabling behaviour is one that will keep the addiction going. Enabling is defined as doing things for the addict they normally could and would do for themselves if they were sober. Anything that you do that protects the addict from the consequences of their actions could be enabling behaviour. Enabling an addict could delay a decision to get help for their problem.


Is there a difference between enabling and helping?

Helping is doing something for anyone, addict or not, who cannot do it for themselves. Enabling is doing something for an individual, again addict or not, who could and should be doing for it themselves.


Signs of Enabling

Morteza and Karen Khaleghi list several clear signs that someone is enabling an addict:

  • If you ignore, overlook or deny the addict’s negative or potentially dangerous behaviour (for example, drunk driving)
  • If you are afraid to or have difficulty expressing emotions – Enablers often fear conflict or are unsure how to express their feelings, especially if there are negative repercussions for doing so.
  • If you prioritize the needs of the addict above your own – While it is natural to want to help loved ones, enabling takes helping a step too far, where the addict has their needs taken care of while the enabler neglects their own.
  • If fear motivates you to help an addict to prevent fights or frightening events.
  • If you lie to protect an addict from keeping the peace and keeping up appearances.
  • If you blame and accuse others as the cause of the addict’s problem
  • If you feel resentment for the addict because of anger and hurt, all the while, you are enabling by all the behaviours listed above.

Why do we become enablers?

A few reasons that Candace Platter, Addictions Therapist, discusses could be why we are enabling addicts.

1.       Are you feeling guilty?

Do you feel responsible for the person’s addiction? The truth is you did not cause the person’s addiction. You might be enabling it now with contributing behaviour– but you did not cause it. If this is true of you, you can start by working on yourself. You might need to learn new coping skills and ways to handle the addict without enabling them by getting help yourself – mentor or support group. It will lessen your guilt, and you will gain back the self-respect you lost during the enabling process.


2.       Are you scared of conflict?

Often people who fear conflict say ‘’yes’’ when they mean ‘’no’’. They comfort themselves by believing they do this because they are actually ‘’nice’’ people. But they are, in truth, ‘’people-pleasers’’ and this is co-dependency. You are again putting other people’s needs above your own. People who do this are usually terrified of conflict, and they will go out of their way to avoid it. Trying to maintain a calm exterior where there are no fights or disagreements makes you lose your self-respect. It is better to learn how to handle conflict, deal with people’s anger and disappointment to set firm, healthy boundaries with consequences to addicts.


3.       Dare to be uncomfortable

We need to do the opposite of enabling to really help an addict towards recovery. They need to be kept as uncomfortable as possible to prevent them from remaining in active addiction. They need to be held responsible for everything they do. When you enable an addict, you take away their belief in their own resilience and capabilities. Setting boundaries and rules for an addict makes things uncomfortable for us as loved ones too. There is a saying that says – ‘Be the change you want to see in this world’’. So be prepared to endure the change.

You’ll need to love your addict enough to say, ”I care about you so much that I’m not willing to support you in your active addiction anymore. I love you so much that it’s tearing me apart to watch you continue to hurt yourself like this—so if you really need to keep doing that, you’ll have to do it somewhere else. When you’re ready to be in some active recovery, I’ll be happy to support you in that.”


Practical examples of stopping enabling:

  • Stop helping out financially.
  • Reduce temptation in the home. When addiction is in play, all offers of alcohol and drugs should cease immediately.
  • Let them see and feel the brunt of their actions. Don’t clean up after them when they come home drunk. Stop making excuses for them.
  • Try to talk to your loved ones about their substance abuse when they are sober and in the best state of mind.
  • Take steps to protect yourself and other members of your family. Don’t get into a car with a drunk driver.
  • Participate in counselling and therapy both for yourself and for the family.
  • Make a plan to cope with your loved one’s unreliability. Follow what you need to do for yourself and what needs to happen in your own life.
  • Make concrete boundaries and consequences and stick to them.
  • Attend family support group meetings.
  • Take back control of your own life and do things you want to do. Stick to a schedule, whether or not the loved one decides to participate
  • Seek help from a professional. Medical and mental health providers can offer referrals and resources for families struggling with addiction.
  • Self-care is essential for families of addicts. Getting out and doing something that doesn’t involve the addicted person, or doesn’t involve thinking about the addicted person, can help.

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