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10 Signs that You May Be An Enabler

Addiction is truly a family disease.  It affects friends and family members as much as it does the person dealing with the disease.  When one person is struggling, it can be like you are struggling as well…

From birth we are taught to love and to help, but that instinct can sometimes work against you when it comes to getting someone to seek treatment or live a clean and sober life.  

Can what you perceive as helping actually be enabling, and can your actions actually do more damage?  The answer is yes!

It is understandable to want to help, especially parents who are watching their child go down a very dark and dangerous path, but there is a big difference between helping and enabling.   Enabling is commonly defined as providing help when the person being helped “can and should” handle the task alone. The key is in the words “can” and “should.” There are several things that addicts can and should be handling on their own, but their addictions are preventing them from succeeding on these tasks. Loved ones may be compelled to help.  Often in the short term, it even appears to be beneficial, but that help can be incredibly damaging in the long run. By protecting the addict from the consequences of their addictions, you allow him or her to remain trapped in the disease.   If you try to step back and allow the addict to experience consequences, you may actually help your loved one have an epiphany and seek help.

So Are You An Enabler?

Here are 10 signs that you may be an enabler

You put the addicts’ needs before your own

There is a reason they tell you to put on your oxygen mask before assisting others when on an airplane.  The reason is because you need to be ok before you can help others.  If you ignore your needs you are only risking your own physical and mental health.  You can’t be much help to the addict if you are not taking care of yourself.

You lie to your friends & family to cover for the addict

The stigma that goes along with addiction makes it difficult to be open and honest with others, but by lying and covering for things the addict is doing, you are only reinforcing his or her negative actions.

You blame yourself for the behavior and drug use

Every parent always questions if there was something they could have done differently.  The truth is that addicts come from some of the best homes, as well as some of the worst.  There is no benefit from putting energy into blaming yourself for their actions. You did nothing wrong.  

You bail the addict out of trouble, or provide financial support

If you are always “loaning” money to an addict, and are never repaid, it isn’t really a loan.  By paying his or her bills, or buying clothing and food you are allowing the addict to continue to avoid feeling the consequences of their addiction and feel too comfortable in the current situation.

You clean up the mess/ damage that the addict leaves behind

Whether it is a physical mess (i.e a dirty room), or an emotional one, it is important to realize that you must step back and let the addict deal with things and live in the “mess” they create.  Let them feel uncomfortable.

You threaten to stop supporting them but never fully follow through

Maybe you remember all the empty threats you may have gotten as a child.  Growing up you could quickly realize when your parents really meant it and when they were just trying to scare you.  Well addicts also have learned from your action, or lack of follow through in those threats.  If you say something, you need to stick with it, or you will never be taken serious.

You become controlling over the addict

As a loved one of an addict you often find yourself trying to control the uncontrollable situations.   This can increase tensions and resentment without affecting the root of the problem which is the addiction.

You find yourself talking care of the addict

By watching the children of an addict or constantly doing daily errands like grocery shopping so the addict does not have to do so while high or hung-over is not allowing him or her to take any responsibility.  If there is no consequence, why would they need to ever get clean?  

You treat the addict like they were still a child

This is similar to taking care of an addict, but goes even deeper because you end up waking him or her up for work or school or calling him or her “out sick” because the addict has been using all night. Addicts need to figure things out on their own and experience the negatives of their screw ups.

You accept the addict’s poor behavior

The worst thing you can do is give up and accept his or her behavior.  We know that no one can truly change someone else, but by giving up and accepting it is allowing him or her to ignore the impact that the disease is having and he or she may never fully understand and want to seek help.

Tough Love Can Be The Answer

In order to truly help someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol requires tough love. Someone who will feel the impact of consequences from his or her addiction is far more likely to seek recovery than a person who does not. Families can help their loved one recover without turning to enabling.

If you or someone you care about is suffering from an addiction, don’t hesitate to seek help. There are amazing treatment programs that will help you loved on learn how to live sober, and we can also help you -- help them -- by providing intervention services.


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