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Enabling the Addict: What An Addict Really Needs From You

Addiction is a common disease that is ravaging families across America. Data shows that roughly 23.5 million Americans have a problem with substance abuse but only 2.5 million receive treatment. Additionally, about 19.5 million substance abusers saw no need for treatment or that their substance abuse was problematic.

Addiction is a disease that affects the entire family system and the data suggests that many people are in denial about the serious nature of their substance abuse and how it affects them and those in their lives. One thing that contributes significantly to a person maintaining their behavior of abusing substances within a family system is enabling. Enabling means that someone implicitly allows the substance abuse to continue and this can be very dangerous, as it discourages a person from accepting they have a substance abuse problem that requires professional help. When someone has an addiction, their neuro-circuitry and reward system in the brain is rewired and the chances of that person achieving and maintaining sobriety without professional help are bleak.

Enabling significantly increases the chances that a person will continue abusing substances, this can ultimately result in death. In 2017, more than 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses. Often, friends and family think they are helping when they are in fact enabling and making things worse. Addicts will take your time, money, and energy and will leave you broken hearted and drained. How a loved one responds to an addict’s behavior is critical to them seeking help for sobriety.

Here are some signs of Enabling:

  • Ignoring the addict’s dangerous and negative behavior.
  • Giving money that might possibly be used to buy drugs or alcohol.
  • Lying to cover behavior, such as calling an addict’s work to say they are sick when they are really absent due to their addiction. If you have to lie “to help,” you are likely enabling.
  • Bailing an addict out of jail.
  • Taking care of an addict’s responsibilities, such as paying their bills, taking care of day to day errands, housekeeping, and child rearing.
  • Making excuses for the addict and rationalizing their behavior.

If an addict claims they are going to quit using but it’s contingent upon you to doing something else for them, you must be able to say no.

If they make threats that they will cut you off or impose some sort of punishment, if you don’t “help” them, you are becoming co-dependent. Co-dependence will only prevent the addict from getting the help they need and will pull the family system into a never-ending loop of co-dependency. The nature of addiction trains the addict to become a master manipulator. By rescuing them every time they fall as a result of their addiction, it is re-enforcing that you will always be there to bail them out.

Stopping the cycle of enabling is a major component of providing the addict with what they truly need to realize they need help to get sober:

  • Leave the messes they make. Let the addict take responsibility for their addiction by letting them clean up the messes they make while on drugs or alcohol. This also involves letting law enforcement do their job. A “legal intervention” is one of the ultimate consequences of abusing drugs and intervening in this process will not help the addict in the long run.
  • Don’t make excuses or cover up the behavior. It is important that the addict sees the consequences of their addiction.
  • Get support for yourself. Al-Anon is a support group for family members that have been affected by addiction. Individual and family counseling can also help one deal with the emotions and feelings of addiction and the toll it takes on the family system.
  • Don’t help the addict buy drugs or give them money they might use to buy drugs or alcohol. Don’t let the addict put you in positions that put you or others in danger, such as having you drive them to buy drugs.
  • Follow through with plans, if you make plans to do something, you should go through with the plans with or without the addict.
  • Continue to emphasize treatment for the addiction. As families start to set boundaries and work on limiting enabling behaviors, the consequences of the addiction will begin to be felt. Families should continue to encourage treatment.

Research shows that family involvement in substance abuse treatment is a major precursor to addicts getting treatment. Addicts with familial support have a better chance of achieving and maintaining sobriety. One thing a family can do to show support is to learn and become educated on addiction. Learning how addiction affects the brain and behavior and learning how desperate they must feel to be so dependent on a substance. This can help minimize shame. Shame is at the core of addiction and co-dependency. Showing support will help minimize the shame addicts feel in the midst of their addiction and how unmanageable their lives have become.

Family members of addicts also benefit from seeking help. Learning more about co-dependency, enabling, and learning that you are not at fault for the addiction that developed in your loved one is important for your own mental health. If you need counseling to help deal with the emotions and feelings of addiction and the despair it causes, call the Meier Clinics at 1-888-725-4642.

If you know someone who is struggling with addiction and have questions on how you can help or if you yourself are struggling with addiction and need help; call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Originally published August 29, 2018