How to stop Enabling

What if the steps you were taking to help a friend or family member through a problem or crisis were actually the very things hurting them most?  And, what if the effects of your actions not only harmed your loved one, but brought pain and consequences to your own life? These consequences seem obvious. However, life isn’t always that simple — especially when we’re dealing with addiction and the relationships between individuals suffering from addiction and their loved ones.

Enablement is a Case of Mistaken Identity

Enablers are people who help facilitate a person's addictions by removing the natural consequences of addictive behaviors. Enablers are not necessarily direct supporters of addiction, but rather sustain a person's addiction by eliminating incentives for change. It may be that they feel compelled to solve the problems caused by addiction, effectively taking on the responsibilities of the person they are enabling. It is often an attempt to help; when in actuality they are causing more harm. For example, a person who is addicted to drugs may go to great lengths to purchase a substance, even neglecting household bills in order to maintain their addiction. As a natural consequence, the utility companies will shut off the lights, gas, and water until account balances are brought current.

Enabling Addiction

However, perhaps a close friend pays to have the utilities turned back on, ultimately enabling the addiction by removing the natural consequences associated with it. The intention was not necessarily to encourage the addiction, but rather to help a friend out. In this case, however, paying the utility bill balance merely freed up more money to purchase additional drugs in the future. Enablement comes in many different forms, from the extreme (financing a loved one's addiction) to the vague (ignoring an addiction in hopes that it will go away). Some people even enable addiction on purpose – often because it benefits them in some way. Unfortunately, enablers themselves – even those with good intentions – are often the ones that end up suffering from their actions. It is often the enabler who experiences the most direct consequences of someone's addictive behavior. As a loved one becomes more and more involved in addiction, enablers take on a greater role, over-compensating for the responsibility gaps.

Hitting "Rock Bottom" Often Happens

Furthermore, without negative consequences, there is no longer an incentive for a person to change. In fact, a person with an addiction may never commit to change until he or she 'hits bottom' and feels there is nowhere left to turn. When there is no 'bottom' – a term frequently used in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings – there is also little or no motivation for change. In the same way that people with addiction must first acknowledge their problem before they can solve it, people who are enablers must also recognize their role as facilitators of addiction.


Stop Enabling Behavior

It's never easy to stop enabling behavior – especially if you are the one who will be suffering consequences. You are sure to receive pushback and possibly experience some degree of retaliation. You may even worry about the outcome, fearing something bad will happen to your loved one without your help. There may be short-term pain and difficulty, but it is nothing compared to the anguish and misery a long-term addiction can cause. After all, the person with an addiction will come to face the consequences of alcoholism or substance abuse at some point; enabling will only postpone that time, potentially making it worse.


Ending Enablement: Don't Fear the Outcome

Maybe you drive your husband to and from the bar, because you know that a Drink Drivng charge or loss of license could make him lose his job and the income that supports your household. Or, perhaps you write your son's essay for him while he gets high, because you believe his drug use is just a phase and don't want it to ruin his future. As noble as those deeds may seem, they are only perpetuating a problem rather than compelling your loved ones toward a solution. NONE OF THESE ACTIONS ARE HELPFUL HELP! Be assertive as you tell them that you: 1. Will not give them anymore money, regardless of the need or circumstance 2. Will not lie on their behalf or make excuses for irresponsible behavior 3. Will not bail them out of jail 4. Will not fulfill commitments to others on their behalf 5. Will not handle their responsibilities at home, work, or in other situations Often, people close to a person who has addiction will find difficulty saying 'no' to requests for help – especially if they are fully capable of finding or creating a solution. If someone with addiction has always turned to you for help, expect that person to become angry or emotional when you deny that request. Do not give in to manipulation or threats – both of which are tools frequently used by people with addiction who have a need they want met.


Don't Let Another Person's Substance Abuse be a Threat to Your Wellbeing

People with addiction are often unaware of the danger they cause to those around them. It is important to remember that the consequences of a loved one's substance abuse should rest on them – not you or other people. For instance, allowing a spouse who has a substance addiction to drive you or your children is very dangerous and could be potentially life-threatening. You should never ride in the car with a person under the influence. However, you shouldn't offer a mutual solution either. Instead of offering yourself as a designated driver, allowing your spouse to drink or use substances free of accountability, take a separate car instead, forcing him or her to face the responsibility of those actions. If necessary, report hazardous driving to the authorities – it just may be the wake-up call your loved one needs.


Plan for Unreliability

When you stop enabling behavior, the people who once depended on you may become unpredictable in their own behaviors. They may act out against you, making you feel like a victim. It is important that you learn to expect unreliability and make plans to cope with it in advance. This type of preparation prevents you from being victimized and also deters any attempts at manipulating your choices. For example, if your family is leaving on vacation, but a member is too sick for departure because they spent the previous night drinking or abusing drugs, do not postpone your trip. Instead, leave exactly as planned, allowing your loved one to experience the consequences of his or her actions. It must be a conscious choice you make out of confidence and control – not a last minute decision in the height of emotion.

Don't Concede to Threats

People who are trapped in addiction use manipulation techniques to control their enablers. But when enablers stop facilitating those addictions, the person may become enraged, perhaps making threats in an attempt to regain control. Never concede to a threat. Instead, stand firm on your decisions, taking action as necessary. Threats are always made from a place of insecurity. Usually, the most severe threats come from a place of intense desperation – often a tipping point for people with substance abuse. If your daughter threatens to drop out of college and move in with her boyfriend because you are no longer enabling her substance abuse with your money and resources; let her. It is not your responsibility to solve another person's problems, accommodate their needs, or assume their responsibilities no matter how much it hurts.

In Conclusion

Just because you have decided not to enable your loved one's addiction does not mean that you cannot still help them. Ultimately, their desire to change must come from within. Forcing them to face the harsh realities of substance abuse and its consequences may be just the incentive they need to seek real help. Encourage those whom you care for to seek treatment. Give them a phone number to our Centre 03 58523777 and encourage them to make that first phone call. The road to recovery may not be easy and the journey may be long; but the help and support may be exactly what your loved one needs to begin the path to sobriety.