Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Patricia Sullivan, MD MPH
Have you been accused of enabling addiction? Enabling addiction simply means supporting a loved one’s addiction rather than supporting efforts to stop using.
Enabling behaviors encourage addicts to use, either directly or indirectly. While it is easy to point out the definition, it can be harder to identify enabling behavior. There are many ways to enable substance abuse, and we often miss our part in it.
Recovery is always an on-going process because addiction is for life. Therefore, there are many pitfalls and many choices to be made. It is natural to not know how to deal with a loved one’s addiction. In this educational resource, we discuss enabling addiction.
Thankfully, you do not need to make those choices on your own. Learn about how to curb enabling behavior, and reach out to use at (385) 327-7418 for more information on getting treatment for addiction.
- Avoiding or Stopping Enabling Habits
- What Enabling Behaviors Look Like
- Common Examples of Enabling Drug Addiction
- Why Do We Enable Others
- Helping Vs. Enabling Addiction
Avoiding or Stopping Enabling Habits
If you are trying to help a loved one overcome an addiction, it is essential to learn how to avoid enabling behaviors. Enabling drug addiction prevents addicts from seeking help.
In the worst cases, these behaviors prolong the battle with substance abuse.
Recovering from addiction needs support. To help your loved one beat their dependency, you will need to fill a supportive role in their life.
One of the first steps to being supportive is to identify the ways you are enabling their behavior. Once you have determined how you might be enabling drug addiction, you can help them directly (rather than help them harm themselves).
The worst form of enabling addiction is when you help an addict avoid confronting their addiction. Often, this requires treatment of some kind.
If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse, consider reaching out for help. After learning about the most common types of enabling behavior, take the next step. Decide to seek treatment and choose the best kind.
Seeing Addiction for What it is
One reason why enabling addiction is insidious; is it rarely feels wrong. We all want to help our friends and loved ones. However, helping each other is not always helpful. This fact is not only true of addicts.
Human beings don’t still know what we truly need, and sometimes we help each other harm ourselves.
When it comes to addiction, this typical human problem becomes even worse. When someone asks us to engage in enabling behavior—for example, when our loved one asks us to accept their need to abuse drugs—they might sound convincing. They might even believe what they say.
There is a natural reaction to give in to these rationalizations and offer our help. In these cases, sympathy gets the better of us. But compassion has become its enemy here.
Substance abuse is inherently harmful. By giving in to our desire to help, we are only contributing to further pain down the road.
In reality, the best way to help them is to confront the problem. Doing this will be difficult, but when we stop enabling our loved ones’ addictions, we open the door to real support.
For this reason, learning what it means to be an enabler is incredibly essential.
When you come to see addiction for what it is, you have passed a threshold. You now understand that you are no longer helping your loved one. You are only enabling a form of self-harm.
Remember this. It will help you to avoid further enabling behavior in the future.
When your loved one asks for help, make sure you are not enabling more chemical abuse.
What they truly need can only be found on the path to recovery. Real support will shepherd them to healing and possibly even treatment.
What Enabling Behaviors Look Like
There are many ways to enable drug addiction. Now that we know the meaning of being an enabler, we can get specific.
If you are enabling addiction, chances are you are engaging in one of the following behaviors:
Accepting Their Justifications
If you accept their justification for substance abuse, then you are enabling them. There is no justification for repeated substance abuse beyond addiction. By taking the reasoning, you prevent them from recognizing the problem.
Giving into Denial
Addicts often engage in denial, but so do their loved ones. By indulging in denialism, you prevent yourself from helping. Denial exists in several different forms.
- Denying the existence of a problem
- Believing an addict can “control” their problem
- Denying the fact that the problem is as bad as it is
- Believing you share more responsibility for their recovery than they do
Using Drugs with Them
Whether you happen to be addicted or not, using alongside your loved one is never helpful. You might attempt to justify it by “watching them,” but you are only encouraging them to use.
Taking on Their Responsibilities
If your loved one’s life is suffering from dependency, you might help them by taking on their responsibilities. But once again, by doing so, you are only preventing them from seeing how much damage they are doing.
Avoiding Conflict and Confrontation
We all want to be happy. Sometimes we try our best to avoid conflict in our relationships. But when it comes to addiction, this can be problematic. If we avoid addressing addiction to avoid conflict, we are only enabling it.
Blaming and Lecturing
While avoiding conflict is one side of the coin, blaming is the other. By blaming the addict for something they cannot control, you might encourage them to use more.
Are you worried about someone in your life abusing drugs? Do not hesitate. Call us today, and our professionals will help you get the help you need for yourself or someone else.
Common Examples of Enabling Drug Addiction
It might help to identify some common examples of what enabling addiction looks like in practice. The following cases should help you understand how enabling behaviors happen.
- Letting your child live at your house even though they are bringing drugs home
- Paying the rent of a significant other after they have spent all of their money on alcohol
- Repeatedly calling your child out of school when they are too high to make it
- Giving money to a loved one even though you know they are spending the money on drugs
- Allowing them to use your car when they have been taking it to meet with drinking buddies
- Giving in to their demands to use
Each of these is a different form of enabling listed above. You will notice the common theme between all of them is direct or indirect support of addiction. If you are giving money to an addict who is actively using, you are paying for their drugs.
Simple facts like this can be hard to recognize. Why? Enabling is often hard to see because we justify it to ourselves. When we give our loved ones money, we do it because we don’t want them to go hungry.
When we give an addict a place to live without boundaries, it is because we do not want them to be living on the street.
Unfortunately, both of these keep our loved ones from realizing the extent of the problem. Admittedly, the situation is a tough one, but there is a clear answer. We have a responsibility to help them find a path to recovery. We can’t do this if we are enabling their substance abuse problems.
Why Do We Enable Others?
Perhaps the greatest reason for enabling addiction is guilt. As we said above, it is natural to want to help our friends and loved ones. When they ask us to do something on their behalf, we often feel inclined to do something. But this does not explain why we personally feel guilty about their substance abuse problems.
The reason is we think we hold some part of the blame. Typically, we feel guilty about the addiction itself. Many family members think they are responsible for the addiction. This is never the case.
Addiction is the responsibility of the addict. However, this does not mean addicts are blameworthy either. Once they have become addicted, they can no longer “control” themselves. The reality is nobody is genuinely at fault.
Addiction is a disease, and those who catch it are no more at fault than someone who catches a common cold. But just as we are responsible for seeking treatment for all other diseases, we are also responsible for seeking help for addiction.
Likewise, you have a responsibility to encourage your loved one to seek the help they need. As an enabler, you might be contributing to the addiction.
When we feel guilty about addiction, we often hope to avoid creating more conflict. You might think that if you bring up the problem, you will only be making it worse. As we now know, this is false. Your guilt is making it more difficult to understand the best way forward.
But knowing you have been enabling addiction, you might once again feel guilty. Thankfully, there is a way to absolve this guilt through encouragement and help. Urge your loved one to confront their problem and find help.
Helping Vs. Enabling Addiction
Now that you know, enabling addiction’s meaning, you can make informed choices. One of the biggest questions you should ask is what you can do instead. Rather than allowing dependency, you can truly help your loved one.
First, attempt to approach the topic without blame. Then, you should set boundaries if you need to. These should never be overly strict, but they will need to be serious.
For example, if you are trying to stop enabling your son or daughter who lives with you, you could forbid them from bringing drugs into the house. Do not order them to quit or move out. Just quitting is not as easy as it sounds, and you do not want to cast blame. For an addict, this could be counterproductive.
The next step is to encourage them to seek treatment or help. They can join a 12 step program like Alcoholics Anonymous, attend counseling, or go to rehab. If the addict is your partner, you might suggest behavioral couples therapy.
Research has shown this type of treatment has better results than individual-based treatment. It often produces more extended periods of sobriety and better relationships. These statistics include less domestic violence and emotional problems for the couple’s children.
Get Help Today
No matter what choice you make, recovery will need to happen. If nothing changes, then nothing will change. Thankfully, thousands have dealt with similar problems and managed to get better. Recovery is a complicated process, but it is one you can do together.
If you have questions about potential treatment options or addiction in general, please call us at (385) 327-7418
- The Relationship Between Codependency & Addiction
- Have an Addicted Son or Daughter? Here Are Your Options.
- Myths about Drug Use for Loved Ones
- How to Support an Addict Without Enabling
- Supporting Vs. Enabling [Guide]
- How to Help an Addict [Guide]
Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Patricia Sullivan, MD MPH
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