The Role of Enabling
So often we talk about the role enablers play in addiction. Much like those who are actively compelled to use substances to cope, those who enable are actively compelled to take a part in comforting their loved one who is using drugs and alcohol. The relationship between the addicted person and the enabling person is symbiotic: one can’t survive without another.
The stereotypical image we conjure up of a person addicted drugs may be the person shooting up heroin on the street, scraggly and unshaven. We know that’s not true. People from every walk of life, every social and economic level, every race, men, women, old and young – have found themselves in the grips of addiction. The same goes for those who enable: there is not a “stereotypical enabler.” Anyone who loves someone, whether it be a parent, child, spouse, significant other or close friend – runs the risk of enabling if a loved one becomes addicted.
It’s easy to enable when you love someone
If you know or suspect that someone you love is addicted to a heroin, painkillers, alcohol – or any drug for that matter, you’ve probably found yourself at a loss for what to do. What can you do? It’s not like we are ever taught in school how to cope with an addicted loved one. No one ever thinks about addiction and enabling – until they’re in that position that forces them to do so.
When you love someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it’s pretty easy to transition from “loving” to “loving and enabling.” This transition happens, not because you want to hurt your addicted parent, child, spouse or friend – but because you don’t want to hurt your addicted parent, child, spouse or friend.
Enabling behaviors aren’t always obvious
Enabling means removing the natural consequences to the addicted person. It is the person who enables, rather than the person who uses drugs or alcohol, that suffers the consequences. Some acts of enabling an addicted person are more obvious: buying a case of beer for him, paying her rent because she blew all her money on pills, allowing him to live in your home when you know he’s shooting heroin in his room, drinking with her, taking him doctor-shopping or getting a prescription in your name for her to use, giving him cash. The list goes on and on.
But what about the less obvious ways you may be enabling? The subtle ways of enabling are just as dangerous – if not more so – than those listed above. Here are the top seven indicators that you may in fact be enabling an addicted loved one, without even knowing it.
Putting an addicted loved one’s needs before your own.
It is natural to want to help those whom you love – especially if they are sick and hurting. So it is no wonder that if your loved one is actively addicted to drugs or alcohol, you will be drawn to bringing them comfort and aid. After all, you can see them hurting, and hurting themselves. However, enabling takes comforting and aiding too far. Those who enable find themselves neglecting their own needs in order to appease the addicted person. You may have convinced yourself that you’re only doing it to help; that you’re doing it because you’re a “good person”; because no one else would help your loved one if you didn’t; or if you didn’t help him, he may never speak with you again, or worse. If you’ve been in this cyclical pattern for an extended period of time, you may not even realize that your needs have become secondary.
Lying to cover for him or her.
A person who is in active addiction often exhibits behavior that is inappropriate or unacceptable: missing family events, hungover for work, especially irritable or argumentative. You may find yourself making excuses for your loved one to other family members, employers, even yourself. You may even blame others for your loved one’s situation. “He’s been under a lot of stress lately, between work and the kids and everything” or “She won’t make it to work today because she’s been running a fever all night” or “The only reason he lost his job is because his boss is a jerk” or “She’d stop using if she wasn’t with that loser, drug-dealing boyfriend.” Lying to cover for your loved one prevents him or her for taking responsibility for inappropriate behavior – and it makes being addicted, that much easier.
Resenting your addicted loved one.
Enabling behaviors are usually well-intentioned, however enabling can often lead to resentment. Family members and loved ones who see the underlying motives of their addicted loved ones can become resentful of their addicted loved ones for using. You may feel angry or hurt. Rifts may form between you and your addicted loved one – as well as other family members. But just because you’re angry doesn’t mean you’ll stop enabling.
Ignoring and denying negative or potentially dangerous behavior… And smoothing over the bad situations.
Are you overlooking bad behavior or crossed boundaries? Denying that any problem exists? Smoothing things over just to keep the peace? Just because you ignore it, doesn’t mean the addiction will simply disappear. Addiction is a progressive disease; meaning that if it isn’t treated, it doesn’t stand a chance of getting better. By refusing to accept that your loved one is actively addicted to alcohol or drugs, you’re not only not helping them get better – you’re aiding in their decline.
Discounting the impact his or her behavior has on your life, or other people’s lives.
Whether you choose to acknowledge it – addiction has played a major factor in your life. You’ve been hurt, angry, cried, pleaded, and threatened. It’s taken a financial toll, and emotional toll, a physical toll and a spiritual toll on you and your well-being. Your loved one is sick, and you’ve been sick too. Take a self-evaluation. Look at yourself instead of looking at your loved one. If you’ve been discounting the impact the addiction has had on your life, it’s time to stop – and take care of yourself.
You take on your addicted loved one’s responsibilities.
Addiction tends to get in the way of everything: jobs, parenting, bills. Living in active addiction leaves little time to fulfill normal obligations. Have you adjusted your schedule to pick up the kids from school because your spouse has been too inebriated? Given up your weekends to waiting for a phone call to pick her up from the bar? Completed work or school assignments because your spouse has been too high – or too hungover? Doing so doesn’t help your loved one to get healthy – it helps them to continue their lifestyle of using.
You avoid talking about the addiction.
You walk on eggshells in your home. You avoid bringing up your daughters prescription painkiller use because you want to keep the peace. You avoid mentioning any concerns – because it always leads to arguments, tears and slamming doors. You feel like it’s easier to let it slide, just so you can keep him or her happy. However, addiction doesn’t go away on its own. As a loved one, addiction is best addressed by – as painful and difficult as it may be.
Enabling isn’t usually done on purpose – and it’s not always obvious. Evaluate your relationship with your addicted loved one, how you’re reacting to his or her addiction, and what you’re doing to help yourself. As a loved one, you may be just as sick as the person you love who is using substances. There is hope for both of you – but it starts with taking a step in the right direction to get healthy.