When someone struggles with addiction, multiple aspects of their lives tend to suffer. Substance abuse takes priority over everything else, causing relationships to become strained, financial struggle, and professional or academic performance to decline. Seeing a loved one go through these difficulties can be hard and it is easy to try and step in to help them. Unfortunately, while some of these nice gestures may seem like the right thing to do, in reality, they actually can cause more harm than good. These gestures, which are intended to help, can actually enable a person with an addiction to continue using.
Enabling is something many loved ones struggle with. It comes from a good place and is intended to help a loved one not experience loss, consequences, or struggle because of their addiction. While it can feel like you are doing a favor for them, these actions reinforce behaviors that derive from addiction and increases the likelihood that they will continue to use. Without having to experience the negative repercussions related to substance abuse, there is less incentive to change because it feels as though nothing bad happens. Instead, there is a feeling of protection and a sense that there is a safety net that will always be there no matter what happens.
Behaviors to Identify If You Are Enabling Addiction
In some cases, enabling behaviors are not done solely to protect the person with the addiction. They can be performed to avoid dealing with stressful situations, arguments, or other outcomes. Sometimes, it can feel easier to just do things on your own than to hold someone else accountable. While it may save you the temporary headache or stress you would have experienced otherwise, it is another example of an enabling behavior that teaches someone that things will work out in their favor regardless of their actions.
Not every nice act you take is necessarily an enabling behavior, which can sometimes make it difficult to determine what actions are helping or hurting. There are absolutely ways to support someone in recovery from addiction without enabling. However, if you are not sure below are some signs that may indicate you are enabling someone’s addiction:
- Financial assistance: One of the most significant enabling behaviors is financial assistance. You may provide money because you want to help them afford food, pay rent, and cover expenses, but in reality, the money you give is being used to enable continued substance abuse. Even if the money you provide is being used for living expenses, it is still enabling because it allows them to use their own income for substance abuse instead. Financial assistance prevents them from experiencing the negative repercussions of using their expenses solely to fuel their addiction.
- Removing consequences: Much like providing financial assistance, not allowing a person to experience the repercussions of their actions does not create space for them to realize the true impact of their addiction. If you begin to fill in for them by taking care of their responsibilities and not allowing things to go wrong, they never see the consequences of their actions which provides no incentive to change.
- Using substances in front of the person: It is especially difficult to change behaviors when you are surrounded by others who do the same thing. Using substances in front of a person who has an addiction can make it easier for them to access it, increase the temptation to use, and make it seem as though it is not a big deal. Continued use of substances while asking someone else to change can make it seem like you do not fully support or believe in the change you want to see them make.
- Making excuses: If you find yourself excusing their behavior, you are enabling addiction. Pointing to a stressful job, difficult personal situations, or mental health issues as a reason to justify substance abuse allows it to continue. Rather than encouraging the development of positive coping mechanisms, you can always find more excuses to allow the addiction to continue without end.
- Not encouraging treatment: Ignoring an addiction or denial about its severity can cause more harm than good. Sometimes, this is because a person has heard excuses and promises too many times to continue following up. It can also come from a place of hoping the addiction will resolve itself eventually. This can make it feel as though the addiction is not severe enough to follow-up on and allow it to continue.
- Lying on their behalf: Lying to protect a loved one with addiction allows them to never truly feel the consequences of their actions. Things like, calling an employer or school and making up reasons for an absence, or denying there is a problem to a loved one can further enable substance abuse.
- Empty threats: If you continuously threaten consequences related to substance abuse, but never follow through on them, addiction can continue without interference. Expressing consequences without acting on them makes it so that a person does not seriously consider making a change.
- Acting on their behalf: Cleaning up after them, taking care of their responsibilities, paying their bills, and other actions that do not allow them to feel the consequences of their addiction can make it easier for them to continue using. With someone there is always cover for them, there is no reason for them to make significant changes.
- Allowing them to use: Allowing someone to use in your home as a “safer alternative” to using elsewhere does not help the situation. It sends a message that substance abuse is permissible under specific circumstances, which enables continued use.
- They are not getting better: If you think the actions you are taking are helping them, but their substance abuse stays the same or gets worse, there is a good possibility that you are enabling their addiction. While you may have overcome some hurdles, overall, their abuse of substances persists and there appear to be no signs of that changing.