Dad handing credit card to addicted son

The Fine Line Between Helping and Enabling

May 2nd, 2017 Posted by Blog 0 comments on “The Fine Line Between Helping and Enabling”

The scenario that is replayed so often when it comes to addressing addiction is families believing they are helping their loved one when in reality they are making things worse.

Enabling is one of the key aspects of addiction and substance abuse.  Enabling is a behavior in which a family member, spouse, or friend, allows or assists the addict to continue with their destructive lifestyle.  The way family members respond and react to the addict’s behavior is crucial to steering them back on course.

Why is it so hard to distinguish between helping, supporting, and enabling?  An addict’s relationship with an enabler allows them to ignore and disconnect from the consequences of their behavior, and shields them from experiencing the full impact of their consequences.  Most loved ones such as parents, siblings, and spouse are naturally hardwired to want to help the addict get out of jams, as well as to keep a peaceful environment.  An enabler’s behavior may consist of providing emotional and financial support, helping them to hide their addiction, funding their addiction and even making excuses for them.  In more detail, an enabler often “care-takes” for the addict by doing what he or she is expected to do for themselves, giving money when it is not earned or deserved, taking the addictive behavior as the result of something such as loneliness, a broken home, or mental illness, and often by blaming others for the addicted person’s behavior.

Not only does enabling an addict allow them to continue to keep leading their destructive lifestyle, but enabling addiction can have disastrous consequences.  These consequences can include health problems, financial ruin, relationship breakdown, injuries and even death. A person who is continually allowed to abuse drugs and alcohol without any consequence or repercussions will most likely not face the reality of their addiction until it is too late.  Addicts often recognize a pattern of enabling, and will attempt to continue the relationship, even when it is strained. This is because they know they can use the relationship to their advantage- the enabler gives in every time.

“If things are not getting better, then you are not helping.”

The most common concern of an enabler is the consequence of doing nothing, along with the fear of push-back and possible retaliation.  It may sound cruel, but it is important to remember that the addict has caused the problem.    Ask the question, “will helping the addict one more time cause more pain in the long run?”  This process may prolong the addiction, so you need to weigh the consequences of experiencing short-term pain versus long-term misery.   It can be difficult to find the courage to not enable because the outcome is unknown.

It is possible to break the enabling cycle so that the addict can heal in productive, meaningful ways. For instance, it is vital to leave the aftermath of destructive behaviors intact so the addict can see how their drug use is affecting their lives.  The addict needs to be responsible for cleaning up the messes they make while under the influence, so leave them as they are.  A key part of breaking the enabling cycle is allowing the addict to see how their actions are putting other people at jeopardy around them.

Reclaiming autonomy can help to avoid suffering the consequences of an addict’s drug use.  Addiction can cause people to become unreliable and very good at manipulation. This means that making plans can come as a challenge and inconvenience for the enabler. Try to always have a plan B, else otherwise you can end up feeling like the victim. Once a plan is made, it is a good idea to follow through with it, whether it is keeping counseling appointments or social engagements that the addict may refuse to attend last minute.  This blocks the addict’s attempt to manipulate the family.

It is natural for families to want to support one another, protect one another, and insulate one another.  If you or anyone you know want to discover the road to recovery please contact Serenity Springs Recovery Center today.

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