Enabling Addictive Behaviors – The Co-dependents Nemesis
Allowing a loved one to do something may not be in their best interest, or yours. This may come as a surprise, since we usually think of making something possible for someone a good thing; but in families struggling with addiction, “enabling” means giving “help” that actually makes the situation worse.
An example of this may be calling in “sick” for the addict whenever they miss work because they are drunk or high. Or letting them borrow money over-and-over so you don’t see them wind up on the streets or going hungry. In the long term these examples only reinforce the addictive behavior, and lead away from the possibility of recovery.
Understanding exactly what enabling is, and learning ways to recognize enabling addictive behavior is an important first step in helping you and your family.
Examples of Enabling Addictive Behavior
It isn’t always easy to recognize that we are playing a role in supporting the addictive behavior of a loved one or friend. Do any of these examples sound familiar? Each of these is a common action of an “enabler.”
- Paying their bills
- Cleaning up vomit or other messes made while they were drinking or using drugs
- Calling in sick for the addict or alcoholic, making excuses for why they can’t go to work
- Bailing them out of jail or getting legal help for them
- Accepting the addict or alcoholic family member’s excuses
- Avoiding discussions of their substance abuse, afraid that it will “make things worse”
- Calling a teenager’s drug abuse “a phase” or “well, I did it when I was young, and I’m fine now”
- Making addictive behavior seem “normal” to your children, or expecting them to act as if nothing is wrong in the family
- Letting your addicted friend or loved one change the subject when you bring up their substance abuse problem
Dysfunctional family relationships tend to act in ways that prevent the healthy physical and emotional growth of each member. Enabling behavior is an excellent example of dysfunctional behavior in a family with addiction.
By enabling, you help the addict or alcoholic avoid taking the hard steps towards recovery, and can promote the increasing severity of their addiction.
Origins of Enabling Addictive Behavior
After reviewing the definition and examples of enabling you may have recognized yourself, or someone else in your family. And now you may be wondering where and how the enabling began.
There are many reasons why enabling occurs, and many of these are based on emotions that we may not even know we are feeling: guilt, fear and love are among the most common.
- Enabling behavior that is based in guilt may have roots many years before you married or became involved in an alcoholic relationship. You may have been born into an alcoholic or addictive family, and have felt that in some way you should have been able to “save” your loved one.
- Guilt may also occur for no specific reason, but is powerful enough that you began to enable your friend or loved one by thinking that it is your behavior that pushes the addict into using drugs, that if only you tried harder he/she could recover.
- Fear is a strong ally of enabling. You may be afraid that if your addicted loved one goes through treatment and recovery, then they may not need or want you anymore. You are afraid of being alone.
- You may also fear that helping your loved one the ‘hard’ way by not enabling their addiction will hurt your relationship for the future. The reality of fear and addiction is when your loved one reaches addiction recovery, they will ultimately realize the hardships the disease put on the entire family and be grateful for your efforts.
- Because you do love your friend, spouse, child or other family member, it seems only normal that you want to help them. It feels wrong NOT to help them. But when love becomes enabling, you may go from waking them up when they occasionally oversleep, to calling in sick for them after a binge. Love stops being helpful, and actually begins to support their addiction.