The Enabling Cycle: When Helping isn’t Helping
Last Updated on November 18, 2021
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Drug addiction does not discriminate, it doesn’t care if your rich or poor, famous or unknown, a man or woman, it doesn’t care what race or age you are. Many people can relate first hand to the effects of the drug epidemic in America, and parents are crying out with pleas of help. Everyone connected to the person abusing drugs can and will get hurt, husbands, wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, babies, other family members and friends.
Drug addiction doesn’t only hurt the user, but everyone else connected to him or her also. Substance abuse and addiction is a very serious problem for many people. The 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that, in the year before the survey, more than 23 million people needed treatment for substance abuse. However, only 2.5 million received drug treatment. Even more staggering 21.5 million of them reported that they saw no need to seek help. This figure suggests that many people are in denial about the severity of their substance abuse.
What is an enabler?
The reason behind this denial are complex, but one common reason is enabling. This means that someone close to the user is accepting their substance abuse and allowing it to continue with relatively few consequences. Enabling can be extremely dangerous, both for drug user and their loved ones. Since enabling discourages users from addressing their problem with professional help, it can lead to situations that cause physical, mental and psychological harm.
Enabling protects them from the consequences of their choices and actions. The more you let them depend on you and take you for granted, the less motivated they are to change. Most enablers start off doing a nice thing for the drug user, usually something to help them out. They always have the best intentions and fully believe they’re helping, but they fail to realize that drug users are selfish and use manipulation to get what they want. The enabler enables because it gives them a false sense of self and makes them feel needed. They also feel control over the other person (through guilt) by helping them. However, they ironically still end up feeling resentful, frustrated, or unappreciated. Thus starting the cycle of enabling which can be extremely difficult to break. In my recent years of working in the addiction field, I’ve come to understand deeply the effects of enabling on the user and the enabler. Here is an example chart of the cycle of enabling.
What are examples of enabling?
Other examples of enabling are:
- Ignoring the addict’s negative or potentially dangerous behavior – This behavior can involve anything from overlooking problems to denying that a problem even exists
- Difficulty expressing emotions – Enablers are often unsure how to express their feelings, especially if there are negative repercussions for doing so
- Prioritizing the addict’s needs before her own – While it is natural to want to help loved ones, enabling takes helping a step too far, where the addict has her needs taken care of while the enabler neglects her own
- Acting out of fear – Since addiction can cause frightening events, the enabler will do whatever it takes to avoid such situations
- Lying to others to cover the addict’s behavior – An enabler will lie to keep the peace and to present a controlled, calm exterior
- Blaming people or situations other than the addict – To protect the addict from the consequences of drug abuse, the enabler might accuse other people of causing drug abuse
- Resenting the addict – The result of the above behaviors is that the enabler will likely feel angry and hurt. She may act on these feelings by resenting the addict all while continuing to enable the addiction.
How to stop enabling an alcoholic or drug addict
While enabling can be a serious problem for everyone involved with addiction, it is completely possible to break the enabling cycle so the addict can heal in productive, meaningful ways. Here are some suggestions to help someone stop enabling:
- Don’t lie for anyone. Don’t be the parent or wife who gets on the phone and says her husband or son is sick when he’s hungover or using.
- Don’t make excuses for others when they don’t fulfill their obligations.
- Don’t clean up after a substance abuser. They should see the damage they’ve done and the chaos they’ve caused.
- Be accountable for your bills only. If you’re not responsible for it, don’t pay it. Especially when dealing with consequences that addicts create. Don’t bail them out of jail, unless they want drug treatment help.
- Stand up for yourself. You don’t have to be mean, but you do have to put your foot down. Setting and creating healthily boundaries allows you to gain your own life back.
- Don’t rescue. A person must suffer the consequences of their actions. Which means don’t pay for lawyers or post bail. Many enablers turn from helping to saving and recusing quickly. Soon all of their thoughts and actions surround only the user, and they’re missing out on their own life.
- Stop trying to fix everybody. You’re not a magician and you’re not God. Work on yourself. Get the support of friends, family members and counselors. Join Al-Anon or some other 12-step program. Do whatever it takes to stop yourself from hurting somebody else with your notion of helping.
Real love for somebody is being able to step back and allow them to suffer enough to recognize their need to change. That’s the only way to help a drug addict. For the addict to realize the consequences of their behavior, their loved ones must stop enabling drug abuse. This is sometimes the only way an addict will ever get professional help.
If you think you are enabling a loved one’s addiction, then call us today for help. Our rehab in Austin, Texas addresses enabling behaviors and helps loved ones of addicted individuals establish new, healthier behaviors. Please call (888) 427-4932 today to learn more about our Austin recovery center and evidence-based treatment program.