Any family that experiences addiction in any capacity will undoubtedly fall victim to enabling behaviors. It’s vital to know how to identify these behaviors and why they can be so destructive to people struggling with addiction.
Family members and loved ones of a person struggling with addiction will often look for any way to help. Unfortunately, these good intentions tend to lead to dangerous patterns of enabling that can prolong their loved one’s addiction, rather than ending it. You can prevent this within your family by knowing the signs of enabling and addressing them swiftly.
What Is Enabling?
“Enabling” in the substance abuse world a very broad term that can apply to any behavior that prolongs an addiction. A person struggling with addiction may enable is or her own habit with negative behaviors, such as:
- Selling personal property to pay for alcohol or drugs
- Neglecting financial obligations like bills and rent
- Committing crimes like burglary or theft
Ultimately, a person with an addiction will do whatever he or she feels is necessary to support the addiction. Family members, friends and other loved ones of an addict engage in enabling when they prevent their struggling loved one from experiencing the full consequences of the addiction.
What Are Some Common Signs of Enabling?
These are a few of the top signs of enabling the addicted person and shielding them from the consequences of their actions:
1. Ignoring unacceptable behavior. This can extend all the way from overlooking negative attitudes and actions to denying that there is a problem at all.
2. Feeling resentful of the responsibilities one has taken on. The enabler begins to feel angry with the addicted person while continuing to enable them.
3. Consistently putting the needs of the addict ahead of one’s own.
4. Having trouble expressing emotions honestly. Enablers are often unsure what kind of reaction they will get if they express their feelings openly – to the addict or acquaintances – and are afraid it will be negative.
5. Being fearful that something one does will start a big fight or make the addict threaten to leave. An enabler will do everything possible to avoid these frightening situations.
6. Lying to cover for their mistakes. The enabler will lie to keep the peace, rather than becoming confrontational.
7. Blaming other people for the addict or one’s own problems. Enablers know who is really responsible to protect the addicted person from consequences (the addict himself or herself).
8. Continuing to offer help when it is never acknowledged or appreciated.
Enabling entails several possible long-term complications as well, and these typically revolve around an addicted person’s one-on-one relationships with his or her loved ones.
When Enabling Evolves to Codependency
Patterns of enabling behavior may eventually evolve into codependency, a relationship in which both parties feed off one another for their emotional needs in an unhealthy way. A person struggling with addiction may manipulate or threaten a loved one into helping maintain the addiction, sometimes subtly and other times overtly.
The other person in a codependent relationship feels compelled to help out of fear of losing the relationship. The longer a codependent relationship exists, the more difficult it is to fix.
Why Is Enabling Destructive?
Ignoring negative or potentially dangerous behavior or allowing it to continue puts everyone involved at risk. When enabling relationships to develop, it’s essential for everyone involved to recognize their negative contributions to these cycles and work to change things.
Breaking Down Family Barriers and Bad Habits
Enabling typically occurs within families or intimate relationships. An enabler could be a spouse, romantic partner, sibling, parent or even the grown child of a person with an addiction.
When people who are enabling addiction acknowledge their contributions to these destructive cycles, change can happen in the family dynamics and the interpersonal relationships with the addicted loved one.
Stopping enabling behaviors often requires reflection over short- and long-term pain. While it may be painful to stop enabling a loved one’s addiction in the short term, doing so could potentially save his or her life and prevent other tragedies in the future.
The Importance of Interventions
An intervention is one of the most crucial parts of a recovery experience because it can set the tone for healing and rebuilding within a family or circle of loved ones. During an intervention, the people closest to an individual with addiction will let him or her know how the addiction has affected them.
It’s also an opportunity to encourage a struggling relative to enter rehab and show him or her that the family cares about what happens next. The best interventions provide opportunities to discuss and overcome patterns of enabling behavior within the family. If the enabling continues when the loved one returns home from rehab, the recovery is likely to fail.
Identifying and Avoiding Enabling Behaviors
During an intervention, the family and friends of a person struggling with addiction can address their enabling behaviors and explain how they will no longer continue. For example, if a parent has been covering an adult child’s rent because the child has spent all of his or her savings on alcohol, the intervention would be a good time to tell him or her that this financial support is over. This can come as a shock, but it must happen for him or her to recover.
We encourage you to explore our intervention resource page to learn more about how an intervention could help with your family’s situation. Addressing enabling behaviors is a crucial step in recovery, and an intervention is a perfect time for this to happen.