Am I part of the problem? How to stop enabling addiction

If someone that you love is in active addiction, what do you do? An explanation of three (3) behaviors to avoid here, with a section at the end for your questions.

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Part of the problem with enabling is that the behaviors feel so much like help. Learn to identify three (3) enbaling behaviors here. Then, we invite your questions or messages about how to quit enabling an addict at the end.

How to stop enabling addiction?

No one who has a loved one with a substance abuse problem wants them to suffer. No one wants a person they care about to be in pain, to descend into the dysfunction of addiction, to lose their livelihood, their family, their life.

How many times have you heard someone say, “I would do anything to help them?”

We protect, we cover, we shelter, we defend and we do so in the name of loving and caring. The problem is that the very things we are doing to help someone, may be things that are enabling the addiction and keeping them from getting well. These may also be things that we are doing because it is more comfortable for us than dealing with the facts of the situation – and it we truly want someone to get well, sometimes we have to get worse first!

So, how do you know if you’re an enabler?

How do you know if you are enabling someone’s substance abuse? We may engage in a lot of behaviors that we think are helpful, or that we are told are necessary but if you start to dig deeper into what that action is all about you find it perpetuating or masking the problem – not solving it!

3 tips to identifying enabling

Here are three tips to help identify enabling behaviors and signs of an enabler. But take hope! You’ll also find alternatives to truly help improve the situation throughout the text!

1.  Interfering

It may seem like pouring out the alcohol, hiding the car keys, or throwing away the pills is the best way to keep your loved one from using. It will certainly force them to get more creative about where they keep their substance of choice and what lies they have to craft to hide their behavior. What is won’t do is cure them of their addiction, or convince them that what they are doing is wrong or harmful.

If their behavior is going to create a dangerous situation for you then you have to make the choice to keep yourself safe, interfering with how they engage in their addiction just provides opportunities for them to get smarter about how they use and you are teaching them how to be a better addict!

2.  Hiding and lying

Do you cover up for your partner? Do you make excuses for their behavior? Are you doing this for you or for them? Maybe you tell yourself I have to cover for them at work otherwise they will lose their job, then we will lose our house, etc. But deep inside, the true motivation may be fear of change.

In reality, you are helping them hide their behavior for your convenience, and you are helping them carry-on without having to deal with the reality of the situation. Maybe you are going to have to move, maybe you are going to have to ask for help and tell people what is going on, maybe you won’t be able to stay with this person anymore. Those are all uncomfortable situations, and they are all consequences of being involved with an addict. You have to be willing to confront the reality of a situation for everyone involved in order to address whatever that situation is.

3.  Compensating for the behavior

Money, food, computers, cars – do you give these to someone with a substance abuse problem? How many times do you give someone a computer because they have to have a computer to find a job, and they have to have a job to get sober, but they keep relapsing, selling the computer for drugs and staying in the cycle? How many times do you buy a new car for someone who keeps crashing under the influence? How much money do you give knowing that it won’t be used for rent?

None of us want the people we love to be homeless, to be hungry. We don’t want them to suffer, but when we protect them from experiencing the suffering they are in we take away the opportunity for them to make a decision about changing!

Give an addict room to take responsibility

REMEMBER: Enabling an addict does not help!

Enabling is really about preventing someone for having to take responsibility for themselves, and whether it is done with good or bad intentions it prevents the other person from fully living their own life. Moving out of enabling behaviors and into a relationship where you let someone experience the natural consequences of their choices isn’t easy, and often it can make it seem like things are much worse. But only if someone experiences for themselves the desire to do something different will there ever be a change, and that experience can’t come if we prevent our loved ones from having it!

Are you an enabler?

Do the above scenarios sound close to home? Please leave us a message in the comments section below and we’ll do our best to respond to you personally and promptly. We can help refer you to support services, treatment, or the help that you need. Or, we’ll just lend an ear.

About the author
Maggie Harmon is a writer, speaker, leadership coach and business consultant who approaches every engagement through a holistic understanding of the situation. Her consulting practice focuses on deeply understanding who or what you are and what you want to achieve, and from there helping to create a plan, develop tools, and access resources that let you get where it is you want to go, and do what you do, better! You can connect with her here or via Maggie's Blog.
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