When a loved one is struggling with addiction1, everyone in the family suffers as well. There’s no escaping the effects of addiction, yet too many family members engage in behavior that allows the addict to avoid facing the consequences for his or her actions, taking on responsibilities that alleviate the need for the addict to do so, and other counter-productive actions. This type of behavior is known as enabling.
10 Signs of Enabling Behavior
Specific signs of enabling behavior aren’t hard to spot. They are, however, a little more difficult to overcome. Before you can change your enabling behavior and do something more proactive to support your loved one as he or she wrestles with addiction, you must know the 10 signs that characterize enabling.
- Shielding the addict from consequences for his or her actions. If you feel compelled to solve your addicted loved one’s problems caused by drug and/or alcohol addiction2, you’re not doing him or her any favors. When you remove the natural consequences from his or her life, you’re giving the addictive behavior3 a pass. This does nothing to support recovery. Instead, it allows the addictive behavior to continue – and it will.
- Giving the addict unlimited chances. Undoubtedly, you’ve heard your addicted loved one say time and time again that, “I’ll do better next time, I promise.” By allowing the addict to get away with behavior that fuels his or her addiction, there’ll never be a reconciliation. He or she will not change their addictive patterns, as there’s no incentive to do so.
- Ignoring the addict’s problematic behavior. Burying your head in the sand about your loved one’s drug or alcohol addiction, as manifested by ongoing addictive behavior, will only exacerbate the situation. Your loved one needs rehab, either through an alcohol treatment center or drug rehab center. Even after completing rehab, there’s the possibility of relapse4. If you notice signs of addictive behavior, more treatment, additional counseling, greater participation in 12-Step (such as Alcoholics Anonymous5) and/or self-help support groups is necessary. Ignoring the addict’s problematic behavior won’t solve the problem.
- Finding it tough to express your emotions. Enablers6 often find it difficult to say what they’re feeling to their loved one who’s addicted. Instead, they stifle their emotions, which causes unnecessary additional stress and emotional pain. Telling yourself that things will get better on their own is a fool’s dream. You must learn how to express your emotions, perhaps through the aid of counseling that you get for yourself. At least talk with a friend who knows the situation and can lend emotional support for the journey you’re going through with your addicted loved one.
- Putting the addict’s needs ahead of your own. Enablers always tend to whatever their addicted loved one needs before they take care of themselves. This leads to personal physical exhaustion and mental anguish on the part of the enabler, and it again allows the addict to go about doing what they want, when they want. Recognize that you have unmet needs. Then, construct an action plan so that you can act to help yourself meet those needs. You’re no good to your addicted loved one if you’re a doormat.
- Letting fear dictate your actions. Do you allow fear to direct your life? Do you get a sick feeling in your stomach that if you don’t do everything “just so” to keep things smooth and in balance at home so your addicted loved one won’t lash out in anger? This is no way to live and it won’t have a good outcome. You need help determining the best way to support your addicted loved one as he or she, hopefully, gets treatment7 and then in recovery. Join a support group for the loved ones and family members of addicts. It’s the only way you’ll feel sane and be able to gain perspective.
- Lying about your addictive loved one’s behavior. Covering up for the addict’s misdeeds will only last so long before others find out. Plus, it’s physically and mentally debilitating for you to continue manufacturing falsehoods about your addicted loved one’s behavior. Stop lying. You don’t need to blurt out the truth to every person you meet, but you must stop offering excuses for all your loved one’s addictive behavior.
- Engaging in the blame game – it’s everyone else’s fault, not the addict’s. A common trait among addicts is to blame everyone else for his or her problems, never themselves. This also holds true for the enabler in the relationship. Rather than have the addict accept responsibility for his or her actions, it’s a crutch to say it’s someone else’s fault. Don’t fall into this trap. If you’re already in it, curtail the urge to shift blame elsewhere. The addict will only begin to heal when he or she is able to accept responsibility for his or her actions.
- Holding resentment against your addicted loved one. Bottling up your emotions can lead to tremendous stress8, as well as physical and mental consequences that can have long-term effects. When you’re not able or don’t feel free to say what’s on your mind, resentment builds to the boiling point. There’s no good side to resentment. You must let it go and take positive action to encourage change on the part of your addicted loved one.
- Taking on the addict’s responsibilities. Taking over and taking on the responsibilities of the addict is another hallmark enabling behavior. By paying the bills, the penalties, shouldering certain parental or family responsibilities without any assistance from the addict (whose normal responsibilities fall in this area), will only lead to further resentment and a deteriorating situation with the addict continuing his or her self-destructive behavior. It can be very confusing and scary to figure out the appropriate way out of this enabling behavior, and here is an excellent example of where self-help or support groups such as Al-Anon9 and/or personal counseling or therapy can help you to stop enabling a loved one’s addiction.