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How Do I Stop Enabling an Addict?

If someone you care about is dealing with substance use disorder (SUD), you may find it difficult to know how best to support them. You might offer them money, a place to stay, or even try to convince them to enter a recovery program.

But nothing you try is working. How do you know if you’re doing the right things? What could actually help your loved one versus enabling their behaviors?

Knowing the difference between real support and enabling is crucial if you want to help your loved one start their recovery. There are actionable steps you can take to stop enabling someone with substance use disorder and get them closer to the help they need.

What Does Enabling Mean?

There’s a fine line between enabling and helping. It’s not always easy to recognize when you’re doing one or the other. That’s because they both usually come from a desire to support a loved one.

Enabling happens when your behaviors support your loved one’s substance use. Therapists describe it as doing something for a person that they could do themselves if they were sober. In addition, your actions may downplay the truth or shield them from the consequences of their own behaviors.

When you enable your loved one with substance use disorder, you give them the authority or the means to delay the decision to seek treatment. You inadvertently grant them permission to continue their behaviors.

What Does Enabling an Addict Look Like?

Enabling a person with substance use disorder can take many forms. Some of the most common examples of enabling include:

  • Keeping secrets about their behavior, ignoring it, or avoiding the topic
  • Offering them financial support
  • Justifying their behavior or agreeing with their rationalizations
  • Deflecting blame to situations or people other than them
  • Attempting to control their behavior
  • Making ultimatums that you never execute
  • Putting their needs above yours or others’
  • Taking care of them

If you recognize your own actions from this list, you’re not alone. It’s easy to fall into the trap of enabling someone with substance use disorder. However, you need to recognize when you’re enabling and why so that you can change your approach effectively.

Why Would Someone Enable an Addict?

There are many reasons you might find yourself enabling a loved one with substance use disorder. Most of the time, it’s because you care deeply about the person and don’t want to see them get hurt. You’re probably doing what you’re doing in an effort to make the situation better.

While enabling might put off a hard decision or conversation, it will never fix the problem. The first step to ending your enablement is to recognize that you’re doing it, and to understand why.

Types of Enabling Behavior

There are four major types of enabling behavior:

  1. Fear-based. You may be enabling your loved one if you’re afraid of them, or to avoid conflict. They might make threats if you bring up the topic. Enabling can be done out of fear for your personal safety.
  2. Guilt-based. Your loved one may appeal to your guilt or sense of responsibility. If they’re a relative, they might blame you for their childhood or for something that’s happened to them in the past. You might blame yourself for their addiction and enable them to assuage your guilt.
  3. Hope-based. You might feel optimistic that your loved one can recover on their own. You may worry that their recovery won’t be possible if you stop supporting them. You’re holding out hope that they’ll make a breakthrough any day now.
  4. Victim-based. You might see your loved one as a victim of their disorder, or they may position themselves in that role.

Whichever the cause, it’s essential to understand that your enabling behaviors won’t fix your loved one’s problems, won’t absolve either of you from past mistakes, and won’t magically heal them. They need real help, which is entirely separate from enabling.

How to Stop Enabling

Enabling your loved one is a habit, and like any habit, it can be challenging to break. When you change your enabling behaviors, your loved one might push back against them. You have to stay strong in the knowledge that you’re doing what’s best for both of you.

Here are some steps you can take to end your enabling behaviors:

  • Learn about addiction–Knowledge is power. When you understand substance use disorder, you gain insight into what your loved one is going through. You’ll also learn more about what you can do to help them.
  • Stop making excuses–You both need to face the reality of what’s happening. Denial will only prolong the problem. When you recognize that your loved one is dealing with something serious, it can help them to understand that, too.
  • Don’t do things they can do themselves–When you take on your loved one’s responsibilities, such as chores, parenting duties, etc., you give them permission to continue their behaviors without consequence. They need to see the impact their issue is having on their life, even if it’s ugly.
  • Resist loaning money–There’s no amount of money you can lend that will solve your loved one’s problem. You’ll never get that money back, and you’re likely just funding their disorder. They need to see that they can’t use you as a source of financial stability.
  • Don’t lecture, argue, or scold–Yelling, blaming, and arguing never help the situation. If that’s the only consequence your loved one faces, they may accept that as a necessary evil for continuing their behaviors.
  • Never drink or use with them–Even accompanying your loved one to acquire substances in order to protect them can be enabling.

Taking these steps can feel painful, but they are necessary if you ever want your loved one to recover fully from their substance use disorder.

Setting Boundaries with an Addict

Ending the enabling behaviors is one thing, but you may also need to set firm boundaries with your loved one in order to prevent them from happening in the future.

Setting boundaries means establishing ground rules that govern the relationship between you and your loved one. While these boundaries can help your loved one face reality and make the choice to seek treatment, they are ultimately a protective measure for you. Your mental health can suffer when you engage in enabling behaviors, and you need to be honest with yourself about that.

If you’re ready to establish boundaries, tell your loved one that:

  • They can’t use around you or in your home.
  • You won’t be lending them any money or bailing them out of jail.
  • You’re not going to make excuses or lie for them.
  • They can’t live in your house for free, and you’ll require rent if they’re staying with you.
  • You’re happy to help them find treatment.

Boundaries can be powerful tools, but they only have power when you enforce them. Don’t make exceptions for the ground rules you establish, or you may find yourself slipping back into familiar patterns of enablement.

Get the Support You Need

While only you can end your enabling behaviors, you don’t have to do it all alone. If you need guidance or your loved one is ready to start considering recovery programs, Jackson House is available to offer compassionate, expert care.

We provide a person-centered, individualized approach that understands the uniqueness of every person who comes to us, with a strong emphasis on family and community. We’re here to help you get through this. Reach out about treatment today.

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