As a parent, spouse, sibling, or other loved one of someone struggling with addiction, it is natural to want to help this person you care about in any way you can. However, trying to help support a loved one who is struggling can also cause a great deal of stress.
Addiction is complex, and can often cause rifts within a person’s closest relationships. This can cause emotional and physical exhaustion for all involved, and often lead to making personal sacrifices that can make loved ones feel resentful and helpless.
If you feel that you’re in a situation where you are making significant personal sacrifices or allowing your loved one to continue abusing drugs or alcohol, this can be a sign of what is known as enabling behavior. This is common in families and other close relationships of people with drug or alcohol addiction.
If you have a loved one abusing drugs or alcohol, understanding the difference between helping and enabling can be important to getting your loved one the treatment they need. To learn more about enabling behavior and how to support a loved one with an addiction, continue reading for signs of enabling behavior below.
What Does Enabling Mean?
When it comes to addiction, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines enabling behavior as contributing to a person’s continued use of drugs. This contribution, or encouragement of continued drug use, can be direct or indirect – that is, explicit or implicit.
An example of explicit enabling, for instance, may be purchasing drugs or alcohol for your loved one. Implicit enabling, on the other hand, can be more subtle and trickier to distinguish from what you may initially believe is helping. An example of this may be hiding your loved one’s drug or alcohol abuse from others, or ignoring that they have a problem.
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In a situation where you’re watching someone you care about struggle, it is not uncommon to be unsure about how to support them in the way they need. For many people, especially parents, the natural instinct is to protect your loved one from harm or pain in whatever way you can. This can include behaving in ways that are considered enabling.
Enabling behavior doesn’t always come from someone with negative intentions. On the contrary, many people who exhibit enabling behavior truly want to help their loved one, but are unsure of how to do so in a way that is healthy. Learning about enabling can help you find ways to better support your loved one and work towards healing your relationship.
Signs That You’re Enabling Your Loved One
Addiction is a struggle that can become all-consuming, not only for the person struggling but for those around them as well. If you are worried that you may be enabling your loved one, listed below are five common signs that can indicate enabling behavior:
1. Making Excuses For Their Behavior
It’s common for loved ones to want to protect and defend people they care about, especially in times of struggle. At times, this may extend to making excuses for a person who is abusing drugs by finding other sources such as other people or stressors to blame.
Many people often become exhausted from repeatedly confronting loved one about their substance use, and in those circumstances, making excuses or choosing to avoid confrontation can become a simpler option. This can be a protective act, but it also prevents yourself and your loved one from realistically facing the harm of their addiction.
2. Prioritizing Their Needs Over Your Own
Trying to look after someone who is struggling with something as insidious as a drug or alcohol addiction can require a lot more energy, patience, and time than caring for someone who is healthy. In time, as your loved one’s addiction grows worse, it can be harder to continue caring for them while also attending to your own emotional and physical needs.
You may find yourself staying up long hours to make sure your loved one is safe, or having trouble sleeping due to worry and other sources of stress.
Within a family environment, a family member’s addiction can also make others feel like they have to make constant sacrifices, such as:
- providing money to support drug or alcohol purchases
- driving your loved one to counseling or work
- lying about or hiding their drug use from other family, friends, or visitors
- hiding your own emotions to avoid upsetting your loved one
- missing out on social events or hanging out with friends to take care of your loved one
These personal sacrifices can leave a person feeling drained, hopeless, and lead to feelings of depression. Prioritizing your loved one’s needs in a way that allows them to continue abusing drugs can be harmful for you, and also hinder their own path towards recovery.
3. Accepting Lies Or Manipulation Without Consequences
There are instances where a family member or spouse may be aware that their loved one is lying to them – lying about their drug use, their drinking, or going to work – but after some time, accept rather than confront it.
Confronting a loved one in times you suspect they are being dishonest can, over time, become exhausting. They may lash out, or you may grow weary from confronting them without any meaningful or productive outcome. By accepting dishonest behavior from your loved one without consequence, however, this can send the message that it is okay for them to continue being untruthful.
Allowing your relationship to become clouded with dishonesty and manipulation can also hurt your own sense of self-worth and dignity. Regardless of the circumstances, having a relationship with someone that involves lies or manipulation is unhealthy for you and for them. Improving this relationship can best be served by getting your loved one into treatment and participating in family counseling to voice your concerns and needs.
4. Using Drugs/Alcohol With Them
One of the most direct forms of enabling from a loved one can be using drugs or alcohol with the person you care about, knowing that they have a problem. Something that is important to understand is that people with an addiction are unable to moderate their substance use in a healthy way. This means that, even if you are able to use these substances in moderation or recreationally, that does not mean your loved one is able to able to have that same relationship.
This type of enabling is very common in people with alcohol addiction. Although most people who drink are able to do so in moderation, alcoholics typically cannot. If your primary form of bonding involves drinking alcohol or using drugs, this can also be a time to consider ways to interact with them that don’t involve these substances.
5. Convincing Yourself They’ll Get Better On Their Own
If you’re watching someone you care about struggle with addiction, it’s common to want to comfort yourself with the thought that your loved one will find the motivation to stop using drugs on their own.
Although finding that internal motivation will eventually become essential, this framing does not take into account the physical and psychological pulls of addiction.
Substance abuse can make changes in the brain and body that make it difficult, and even painful, to stop using these substances alone. Although your loved one may claim that they’re going to “get better” or stop using a drug, following through on these promises can often be difficult without professional help.
Most people struggling with substance abuse require some form of professional treatment to help them detox and overcome their addiction. This does not signal any weakness of character, but rather highlights just how powerful and destructive a force addiction can be.
It can feel self-protective to want to step back and hope your loved one will find their path towards healing. Each day they do not seek treatment for themselves, however, is another day they are at risk for suffering the short and long-term effects of addiction.
How To Stop Enabling Someone With Addiction
The primary goal in helping a loved one with addiction is to support them, and not their drug use. Although this path comes with challenges, it is also the path most likely to lead towards positive life change.
The first step in breaking a cycle of enabling is to recognize your enabling behaviors. This is not always easy, and may require additional, outside perspectives. Talking to a professional, or even discussing your loved one’s problem with others in your inner circle, can often be helpful to gain insight on how to help get your loved one the treatment they need.
You may also find it helpful to attend a community support group for family members of those with addiction, such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. Listening to people who have gone through similar experiences can not only be a learning experience, but can also offer hope for your own loved one’s recovery.
Finding Treatment For Your Loved One
Watching a loved one gradually become more entrenched in their addiction can be both scary and frustrating. Unless you are struggling with a drug or alcohol problem yourself, it can be difficult to understand what exactly your loved one is going through.
If you have a loved one who is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, our treatment specialists at The Bluffs can help. Our Ohio treatment facility offers a safe and supportive environment for people to overcome addiction and find their motivation for recovery.
Our treatment programs offer a variety of treatment services that can be effective for overcoming addiction, including individual counseling, family counseling, adventure therapy across our expansive campus, and medication-assisted treatment (MAT).
Contact us today to learn more about finding treatment for a loved one and to get information about addiction treatment programs at The Bluffs.