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Addiction in the family: How to stop enabling behavior

When the addict gets high, does your family stop what they are doing to go into crisis intervention mode? Learn how to stop this behavior and help your loved one by being on the same page with your family. Then, we invite your questions, comments or feedback at the end of the article. In fact, we try to respond to all legitimate inquiries with a personal and prompt reply.

When you want him/her to get clean…

When my husband was going on a drug binge, everything stopped. You could hear the sound of a pin drop in my home while I awaited his call and his safe return. Mothers, fathers, cousins and friends from both our families would stop what they were doing. We all wanted to help my husband get home and get clean. We promised each other that we were on the same side and our goal was to get him help. When things were over we all went our separate ways and continued our personal relationships with the addict as they were before. We started exhibiting classic signs of enablers: I picked up the slack at home with our child, and other responsibilities; his mother kept telling him his addiction was not his fault but his father’s fault; his friends told him he would be fine, he just needed to slow down; and the addict continued to manipulate all of us, just as he did before.

What is enabling?

What are some examples of enabling behavior? Enabling is doing anything that directly or indirectly helps the addict be able to use drugs or alcohol. Examples: 1. If you give the addict money to pay a bill and they actually pay a bill, you are still enabling. If they were not using drugs, they probably would be able to pay their own bills. You are helping them be able to get high by enabling their irresponsibility. 2. If the addict gets kicked out of their home and has no place to go and you let them stay with you, you are enabling their addiction. 3. If you make excuses for their drug abuse like, “He had a rough childhood,” or, “He grew up without a father” or, “He was abused as a child,” then you are enabling. Even if we think we are helping an addict, sometimes this behavior can really be enabling.  Instead of making him or her accountable for their actions you are blaming something else. This puts the addict in the position of victim and they will use this over and over again to play on your sympathies. So, how do you stop enabling?

Make it STOP!

If you are sticking to your boundaries with an addict and someone else in the family keeps posting bail or giving them money or food, then the addict still has a way to get high. An addict will most likely not stop using unless they have to. To STOP the enabling, you must break down its structure or the system that makes it possible. Each person involved in the addict’s life is a part of the enabling structure.  When you start to take away pieces of the structure eventually the structure will fall. To empower the family you must destroy the current system that makes it possible for the addict to use. Here is what you need to know:

  1. This will not work unless everyone is on board.
  2. This will not work if we all say we are remaining strong but one of the family members is secretly helping the addict.
  3. There should be a set of rules and boundaries in regard to dealing with the addict.
  4. Everyone needs to be on the same page at all times.
  5. The first person to break the rules can shatter the progress made.

Realizing Your Part

As hard as it is, every friend and family member must express what they are doing to “help” the addict. You must identify those behaviors and how they are actually helping the addict get high. Once all of the information is out there, then you can set up rules for what appropriate interaction with the addict should be for everyone. For example, no one can provide a place to stay when the addict gets kicked out of their apartment. When talking to the addict on the phone, no one should engage in “victim-like” discussions allowing the addict to place blame for their drug abuse. The rules will help keep your family focused on the end goal; allow the addict to hit rock bottom. The more family and friends that are involved the better the outcome. Some loved ones may think this is hurting or abandoning the addict but you can discuss that end goal is sobriety and in the addict’s best interest.

Get Help

An intervention specialist, a family group therapist, Al-anon, and community support groups are available to help the family. I recommend finding an outside party or a motivated family member to head the initiative. It is helpful to have a go-to person to keep the family on track with knowing what is and what is not enabling behavior. Finally, I recommend that you read the article “Zero Tolerance for Drug Abuse: Lessons for Families” for helpful approaches to take with an addict. And leave any questions your have in the comments section below. I’ll do my best to respond to you ASAP.

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6 Responses to “Addiction in the family: How to stop enabling behavior
Samuel
7:41 am April 7th, 2015

What if the addict was kicked out from his or her apartment? Would still the family let him to live in the street? What if the addict found another addicts on the street? That could be the time that he or she will not turn to his or her family anymore. We all know that it takes the decision of the addict to turn away from addiction to undergo recovery in a rehab facility. For me, this is a very challenging situation that needs patience and consistency.

Amanda Andruzzi
1:39 pm April 14th, 2015

Samuel,
None of this is easy. I know that firsthand. However, if you allow the addict to live with you while he is still using, what message does that send? That simply means the addict does not have to stop using. You do not have to kick the addict out immediately, you can have a plan. Please read my other article “Zero Tolerance for Drug Addiction: Help for Families” (click on my name Amanda Andruzzi at the top and all my articles will pop up) because it will help you come up with a step-by-step plan to help the addict and keep boundaries.
You can let the addict know that if they want a place to stay, they must be in recovery. Unfortunately, sometimes being on the street may be the wake up call an addict needs to get help. It is not an easy choice because it can go either way, they can go deeper into their addiction and things may get so bad, they may overdose or die. We do not know what will happen and that is scary, but we know that enabling and what we are currently doing is not working right?, or we would not be where we are, at this point.
Again, none of this is easy but we have to do what is best for ourselves and what could be potentially best for the addict. Every family and situation is different but an addict needs help and that will never change and if they refuse help and we help them stay sick, what does that tell them? I am here to help, I hope you find use in the other articles here.
Best,
Amanda Andruzzi, published author, Hope Street, a memoir from a co-addict.

AL
4:06 pm May 14th, 2015

My son is a full blown heroine addict , has been for years. Till the day he lies , steals and manipulates. Knowing that I do not condone this as his dad , he has pitted and played my wife against me going on 10-12 years. He is 27. I`ve read it`s the Momma`s boy ” drug. Very fitting in my situation. His mom buys everything he does. She enables and he manipulates her and others. He is the absolute biggest liar. Never has any money and has drained the family on many fronts including financially. He works but never has any money. Wife owns his vehicle and he lives rent free with his mom. After all I`m not the odd man out now. My wife moved out and he moved in with her. I want my wife back! My marriage! I`ve always wanted my son to get clean and be successful. Unfortunately as long as he`s in the picture my marriage is gone. He does everything to keep us apart . You see my wife is in denial , she enables , she complains , she sees the signs , etc. Yet she enables. I ask her this : “He works a job , and you complain he never helps with bills and yet lives with you. Where is all his money?” . He constantly is getting in brushes with the law and recently my wife knew about a arrest but hid it from me. Heroine destroys families! The whole family has PTSD I swear from all the crap that came with his addict . Jail , hospital , losses and confrontations to name a few. To the point none of us can interact right with each other now. Truly grabs a person and does not let go. Heroine took my son and my family.

Amanda Andruzzi
3:10 pm May 22nd, 2015

Al,
You are not alone. Heroine is a very destructive drug and it does not stop at destroying the addict, it destroys everything around it as well. There is not much more you can do if your wife is enabling him. If she does not stop enabling him he will go right on using. It is difficult for parents to admit they are part of the problem. they want to help, they want to fix and heal and what they end up doing is prolonging the addiction instead of allowing the addict to hit bottom. It is scary to let someone destroy themselves especially when you know it could result in homelessness or even death but each addict must come to the conclusion they need to stop on their own. I am glad you found this article because you understand what needs to be done and you are able to understand that you have to let your son go but unfortunately your wife does not. It may take her time and he may have to do something really bad to make her realize it.
I would stick to your boundaries and try therapy with your wife as well as al-anon. If she is willing, it would be helpful for her to work with someone who specializes in addiction, she needs to see she is an enabler. Once she realizes that she cannot do anything to fix him, you may both be on the same page at which time you can help one another help your son by creating an environment that does not allow him to use and does not make it easier for him. I would forward my articles to her, there are many more, just click on my name Amanda Andruzzi next to my picture and 30 articles will come up, send her, “8 Signs you are a Co-addict,” “Zero Tolerance for Drug Addiction: Help for Families,” and this one. You need to take your family back and align yourselves again as a unit if there is any chance to stop enabling your son and help him realize he needs help.
Keep your boundaries with him, you will not support him or his drug use and you love him but you will not support him unless he is ready for recovery. There are usually psychic scars and childhood traumas that may contribute to drug abuse or underlying mental health issues. It is important that your son not just stop using but have family support in understanding why he used in the first place, why drugs were attractive to him and what feelings was he trying to avoid. You have a hard road ahead of you Al but it can be done. Getting the support of a therapist for you and your wife and attending al-anon meetings or other community support groups may be a great way for you both to be on the same page and learn how you can really move on. I hope this helps. Keep me posted.
Best,
Amanda Andruzzi, published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict
View the Video trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t61EzoRqbmg&feature=youtu.be

Sarah
8:31 pm December 26th, 2015

My brother has been a difficulty for our family and has had a gambling addiction (bingo/poker) for over 40 years. He’s about 58 now and has become increasingly more angry, belligerent, rude and obnoxious in family situations and personally, no matter what kindnesses we show him. Yes, my 89 year old parents and I have enabled him by fully funding him for years (paying rent for his apartment, gas and car insurance, giving him food) so he doesn’t end up on the street (which he has been on as well as in and out of jail for 10 year of his life). He has some days where life is good and he’s kind and generous – and often he drives my parents to doctor’s appointments and grocery shopping in exchange for gas money, but he’s been chronically unable/unwilling to secure or hold a job for many years due to his difficult personality and criminal background (he was in prison several times from teen years to mid – forties due to petty theft, check forgery, etc.all in an effort to secure money for gambling). We have decided not to fund him any longer, giving him one month to secure a job, and begin to take care of himself financially. I know he’s in a lot of psychological pain, is lonely and mulls over his past and all the wrongs that have been done to him by others (and now he has daily physical problems like severe obesity, gout, high blood pressure and heart issues) and this has also been a factor in him not being able to get his life together. He shuns doctors and goes ballistic if family tries to give him any advice. He admits he has a gambling problem but refuses to get any help… After we set the limit of one month, we know he’ll not follow through. How do we continue to show love and support and not feel the pain of our own worry for him as we watch him eventually lose his home, his possessions, his health and possibly his life? I’ve tried to shield my parents from this as they are not in good health themselves at 89 and have tried to keep things status quo until they depart this world, but it’s not financially possible or psychologically good for anyone to continue what we’ve been doing. I think if my brother began to show any sincere effort to help himself, we could be supportive and drive him to look for work, give him food from our table as we have been, but not more – please, what advice do you have for managing the ‘aftermath’ that will come when we cut off funding his basic shelter? When I go to sleep at night under a blanket and in a bed, I cry that he will not have that basic comfort any more and I worry terribly for him (for I know he will refuse to go to a shelter). It’s cold where we live – please help me cope with these feelings and how to comfort my parents….

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
10:43 pm December 29th, 2015

Hi, Sarah. I’m really sorry that you and your family are experiencing this. I’d suggest you check out Allies in Recovery: http://alliesinrecovery.net/about-craft/. They are an NGO that works with families to intervene with problem addicts using the CRAFT intervention model.
Here’s another helpful reading: http://addictionblog.org/author/dominique-simon-levine/
Please, feel free to contact us if you need anything.

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About Amanda Andruzzi

Amanda Andruzzi, MPH, AADP, CHES, is a Certified Health Coach, founder of Symptom-Free Wellness, and the author of Hope Street. Her first book, Hope Street memoir is an inspirational story of one woman's frightening journey of co-addiction that led her to uncover courage, unbelievable strength and overcome great adversity. She resides with her daughter, husband, and two sons in Florida.

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