Enabling involves doing for others what they can and need to do for themselves.
The concept of enabling sounds straightforward, yet it’s often incredibly hard to distinguish between helping, supporting, and enabling. When addiction is a factor, enabling refers to allowing the addicted person to avoid the consequences of their behavior.
People suffering from addiction or alcoholism often make promises to stop using or drinking. They may even intend to keep their promises. Unfortunately, real addicts and alcoholics will be unable to do so as a result of the neurobiological disease of addiction. All may even go well for a time. Then something else happens: The person doesn’t show up for work; they fail to stay on top of their bills; they land themselves in legal trouble. When this happens, many people with addictions look for someone that will bail him out. This person is often close to the user.
Oftentimes, families do not recognize all the things that have changed within the eroded landscape of the family system until a major catalyst event takes place (i.e. legal repercussions, overdose, etc.).
The relationship between the addicted person and the enabler is highly dysfunctional.
Enablers often think they are helping the person when they are actually supporting the addiction. As the behavior continues, the enabler may feel the need to control every situation, often at great cost to their well-being. The result is that the substance user often continues to drink or use. In turn, the enabler continues to suffer. Enabling behavior is harmful to the enabler, mentally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally.
Enabling behavior is also harmful to the addicted person.
Simply put, enabling shields people from experiencing the full impact and consequences of their behavior. Enabling is different from helping and supporting in that it allows the enabled person to be irresponsible. Since enabling discourages alcohol and drug users from addressing the problem with professional help, it can lead to situations that cause physical, mental, and psychological harm.
Learning to identify the signs of enabling behavior is vital.
- Protects the addicted person from the consequences of their behavior
- Ignores the addicted person’s negative or potentially dangerous behavior
- Involves overlooking problems or denying that a problem even exists
- Keeps secrets about the addicted person’s behavior from others
- Prioritizes the addicted person’s needs above the needs of others
- Makes excuses for the addicted person’s behavior
- Bails the addict out of trouble (pays debts, fixes tickets, hires lawyers, etc.)
- Blames people or situations other than the person with a substance use disorder to protect the addict from the consequences of drug use
- Sees “the problem” as the result of something else (loneliness, childhood experiences, anxiety, or another illness)
- Gives money that is undeserved or unearned
- Attempts to control that which is not within the enabler’s ability to control
- Makes threats that are inconsistent or have no follow-through
- “Care takes” the addicted person by taking responsibility for what the addict is expected to do for themselves
- Creates resentment toward the addict while simultaneously enabling the addiction
Both the person with addiction and the enabler deserve professional treatment.
Family counseling is an absolutely vital link in the treatment of those with substance use disorders. When families are courageous enough to engage in the difficult task of family counseling, the changes can be extensive and beneficial. Family counseling can not only breathe new life into the family system, it also significantly impacts the recovery process for the person struggling with a substance use disorder.
As enablers recognize ways in which they have neglected their own life and needs, they explore why they feel compelled to help compulsively. 12-Step support can offer support and a model for life with boundaries and enabling behavior reduction. Local 12-Step meetings may include Al-Anon or Alateen support as well as ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics).
When seeking treatment on behalf of a loved one, look for comprehensive addiction treatment that includes family program services.
Call the “life’s got to get better” people at 561-841-1296.