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Enabling or Helping?

Enabling in Addiction

Enabling is a term commonly used to describe the family, loved ones, friends, or anyone who either directly or indirectly assists an addict or alcoholic to continue using. While enabling isn’t always as simple as giving drugs or alcohol to this person or people, it can usually be much more subtle. A common scene described is a wife calling her husband’s boss to let them know how sick her husband is, when in actuality her husband has been drinking or using and is too inebriated to make it into work. Another scenario is the mother who allows her child to steal from her, or offers them money, though she has a strong idea that they’re going to use those resources in order to get high.

Enabling isn’t always easy to acknowledge and change, as many times it means having to say no to the person that we love, and are usually terrified of losing. Sometimes, by saying no we imagine a scenario that they may go through to acquire drugs and alcohol or money for such that may be much more terrifying and heartbreaking. But enabling doesn’t always mean to turn your back or to adopt a tough love approach. In fact, by stopping enabling, you’re actually building a better relationship with your loved one.

A relationship is a two way street, and in healthy relationships each individual takes complete responsibility for their half of the relationship. When one or both of those people are drug addicts and alcoholics, they may find themselves taking zero responsibility or entire responsibility for the outcome of that relationships. Most often when we’re involved with an addict or alcoholic who is still using, we tend to take full responsibility for both parts of the relationship, usually feeling guilty for their use, and allowing ourselves to be taken advantage of. When we no longer accept responsibility for their actions or their circumstances, we begin to see that the relationship is one sided. When we stop giving them money, helping them find excuses, and helping them avoid their consequences, we see that we’re doing more of a service than when we were helping them to get high. Instead of giving an addict or an alcoholic money for food, buying them food instead is a more useful way to know that you’re helping them and not enabling them. Reminding your loved one that you’re willing to help them to find help is another useful way to let them know how much you love them.

Enabling or HelpingThere’s another common scene that’s become famous because of television, and it’s a dramatic scene where each family member tells the addict that they’re cutting them out of their lives unless they get sober. While this has been effective for some drug addicts and alcoholics, perhaps a different approach could also be as if not more helpful. By not offering resources for the addict to continue using, we’re leveling our relationship to exist on an even basis. Taking responsibility for our half, we’re setting a boundary rather than an ultimatum. Whether that boundary is that we aren’t going to call their boss for them, or that we’re not going to give them money anymore, we’re shining a light on the secret that’s become their addiction, exposing it for what it is. Many times, we’ve been cheating the person we loved out of their own experience of desperation, which can be a crucial part of the desire to change. Though, it’s scary when it’s your loved one, offering support can be as simple as calling and telling them you love them everyday. It can be mentioning treatment, and not pushing the topic if they’ve expressed a disinterest in going. Nobody wants to see their loved one suffer, and you want to do everything you can to keep them from ending up in a casket in the ground.

Enabling is an act of somehow allowing or indirectly approving of the behaviors of the addict or alcoholic in your life. Embracing, however, is an action of love. Every single drug addict or alcoholic is somebody who is sick, suffering, and has the potential to recover. Sometimes a reminder of love can be the catalyst for that person to want to get help for themselves.

There are also times when our loved one might agree to go to treatment, and we’re so delighted that they’re getting help that we offer them the world in order for them to be happy and to stay in treatment. This is another form of enabling that can be dangerous, as it can lead to entitlement, and ultimately rob them of their chance of growth. Once more, offering support or helping to supply necessities are a valuable way to show that you’re there for them. Giving a weekly allowance rather than encouraging the person you love to find a job is not only enabling, but it’s robbing them of the opportunity to participate in their own life, and their own recovery.

If you’re afraid that you’re enabling your loved one rather than helping, then finding a therapist who specializes in codependency or addiction is the best step to stop enabling. Support groups like Al-Anon also lend valuable advice and support to help you stop enabling your loved one, and to start helping. Asking yourself each time before you act whether you’re acting out of a place of love or fear is another way to become mindful of your intentions and the reasoning behind each action. Sometimes taking a breath and not reacting immediately to the situation is another great tool and can make all of the difference between enabling and helping.

There’s hardly a handbook for how to live with an addict or an alcoholic, but there are the experiences of others who have been through it that can serve as a valuable tool to help you be more helpful, and less harmful to your loved one. Finding a therapist, a support group, and taking care of yourself can prove much more valuable to you than you might realize. Focusing on your own well being, your own health, and your own peace of mind is another crucial step in being able to help the addict or alcoholic in your life.

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