Those who have a loved one who is struggling with substance abuse need to realize that their response to an addict’s behavior can be harmful rather than helpful. Some actions that detrimental in some way may be characterized as those of an enabler.
What Is an Enabler?
Enablers engage in actions that help fuel a person’s addiction or allow it to continue without placement of restrictions on certain types of support.
Enabling actions may include the following:
- Buying drugs or alcohol for the addict or alcoholic
- Giving the addict money that can be used on substances
- Allowing an addict to stay in the home while they are using
- Comforting them when they are hungover or following a binge
- Calling into work for them, lying for them, and offering excuses for their absence or behavior to others
- Driving them to places where they can buy substances
- Bailing them out of jail or paying for legal fees
- Threatening to remove support if their behavior doesn’t change, yet failing following through on these threats
- Not confronting the addict about their problem due to fear of their reaction
The longer that an addict is enabled by those who love him or her, the riskier their behavior may become. Addicts often become very skilled at manipulation and have learned effective ways to evoke the desired responses in others—sympathy and enablement. They actively exercise this power over others to support their addiction.
Of note, not all addicts engage in these behaviors. Some may retreat into their world or rely on others who have the same or similar habits. If you are enabling a loved one, however, there’s a good chance that they are using you in some way. This behavior doesn’t indicate they are necessarily a bad person—it just means that the addiction has complete control over them, and they feel powerless to overcome it.
One effective tactic that an addict may use is to play on the sympathy of others when they are going through withdrawal from drugs or alcohol. All addictive substances can cause highly unpleasant effects when use is stopped abruptly. Depending on the drug of abuse, symptoms may include anxiety, depression, shaking and tremors, diarrhea and vomiting, and many more.
While these symptoms are rarely life-threatening, they can be quite painful, and witnessing someone going through this may not be easy. For this reason, enablers will often help the addict obtain more substances to relieve their symptoms. While the concern is entirely understandable, this is the wrong approach. Instead, the person should receive emergency medical attention.
When you enable a loved one’s addiction, you are not helping them—you are merely allowing them to continue engaging in addictive behavior without suffering adverse consequences. Moreover, the addict will likely continue to be unmotivated to change, and over time, of course, the problem grows progressively worse and more dangerous.
Unfortunately, those who love the addict the most are frequently the ones who do the most enabling. They end up taking on the loved one’s responsibilities while neglecting their own. These relationships may become co-dependent and unhealthy, as the addict’s desires are continuously and unfairly prioritized before the needs of others.
What Is Empowering?
Instead of enabling, the best approach you can take to help an addict is known as empowering. Although they may sound similar, empowering is the exact opposite of enabling. Empowering includes acting in ways that lovingly support the addict emotionally, while also nudging them toward seeking treatment. It does not include supported them in ways that contribute to their addictive behavior.
The number one rule of empowerment is simple: don’t do anything for an addict that he or she can do on their own. When you empower yourself, you have the added benefit of being able to see past an addict’s manipulative strategies and better evaluate whether certain actions will be helpful or harmful.
Moreover, enabling allows the person’s disease to continue and perpetuate, whereas empowering helps to interrupt the cycle and stop co-dependent behaviors. The ultimate goal of empowerment is to convince the person you love to seek professional treatment.
Empowering actions include the following:
- Not giving money to the addict that can be used on substances or procuring substances for them
- Not lying to others or making excuses for the addict
- Promoting independent and responsible behavior
- Taking care of yourself and not putting the addict’s need before your own
- Encouraging caring and supportive communication
- Identifying signs of improvement in both the addict and yourself
- Confronting the loved one about their addiction and urging them to seek treatment
When you stop being an enabler and start empowering, you can tip the scales in a healthy direction, but it may take time for the addict to realize he or she needs help and find the motivation to recover from their addiction. For this reason, some families make use of an intervention specialist that may help to facilitate this process.
Get Help Today
If you or someone you love is abusing or addiction to substances, we at Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery urge you to contact us as soon as possible to discuss treatment options! We are dedicated to helping people who need it most break the vicious cycle of addiction and reclaim the happy and satisfying lives they deserve!