Signs You Are Enabling Addictive Behavior in Someone You Love

Enabling is a term we often use when discussing alcohol or drug addiction. It’s considered a form of codependency and is especially problematic because it’s the enabler, not the person using, that suffers the brunt of the effects. How do you know if you’re enabling someone? Are you capable of breaking the cycle of enabling?

You Could Be an Enabler if…

…You do or say anything to someone with a drug or alcohol problem that removes the consequences they would normally have to face due to their substance habit and/or associated behaviors – then you are an enabler. 

Breaking the Cycle of Enabling

Mental health professionals from many schools of thought agree to what scientific research has provided. The damaging life circumstances that are generated by the course of addiction are what encourages those afflicted with the disease to make the change toward recovery. Also referred to as “hitting rock bottom,” the enabler prevents this opportunity for the user to realize the magnitude of the disease, so the cycle of addiction continues.

Signs of Codependency

A codependent person often feels they have a responsibility to solve other people’s problems. In the context of addiction, they often end up taking over the addicted person’s responsibilities as their own. What may start as a well-intentioned desire to help may turn into a vicious banter of give and take. The enabler continually gives everything they have to the relationship, while the person dealing with substance abuse takes from them and increasingly under-functions.

Over time, a skewed familial dynamic is created. Setting up a new “norm” that builds resentment on both sides. On the one hand, the addicted individual may develop an expectation that the enabler will continue to fix things, while the enabler grows resentful of putting someone else’s needs ahead of his or her own.

At the same time, a codependent person will feel guilty about not helping someone in need, even when that person caused the situation. You may be an enabler if you find it extremely difficult to say no, and give in to pressure from someone in your life who struggles with addiction. If you’re serious about helping someone overcome addiction, you need to identify whether your own behavior prohibits breaking the cycle of enabling.

Signs of Enabling

The Definition of EnablingIf you believe that you or someone you know may be enabling another, here’s some common signs that should give cause for concern:

  • giving money, shelter, or food
  • making excuses for absenteeism
  • screening phone calls on their behalf
  • paying bills to avoid delinquency
  • bailing them out of jail

Rock Bottom Benefits

One of the best ways to break the cycle of enabling is to let the person in your life who is struggling with addiction see the consequences of their behavior. For example, people who have substance abuse problems often black out and have no recollection of what happened. Instead of cleaning up their mess or moving them to a “safe place,” let them wake up to the reality they have created. It may sound cruel, but part of hitting rock bottom is allowing the user to see the destruction created by their problem, left untreated.

Most enablers have the best of intentions and don’t want to bring more harm to the person with the addiction. It’s easy to understand how fear about the consequences in doing nothing is what drives addiction enablement. For example, your child may lose a job, destroy financial credibility, or even spend a few days in jail. If the ultimate goal is to help someone recover, weigh the short-term negative effects of enabling them compared to the long-term benefits of addiction treatment.

Even Enablers Need Help

Codependency and breaking the cycle of enabling can be difficult. At The Treatment Center, we offer family-based sessions that will help you explore your relationship dynamics and discover healthy ways to move forward. Our interventions are designed to rebuild trust and ensure autonomy moving forward. Find support systems here and talk to others who are going through the same thing.

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