What is an Enabler?
Enablers may exhibit a variety of different signs. When considering whether you or someone else may be enabling someone in your life who has an addiction, it is important to ask yourself the tough questions and to aim for full self-honesty in your answers.
Enabling behavior is counterproductive to helping people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Whether you or another family member engage in enabling behavior, it is important to pinpoint the source and make changes right away.
Behavior that constitutes enabling can take many different forms. Even people who may otherwise appear to be very matter-of-fact and unbiased in other areas of their lives may also act as enablers toward friends and family members who have a drug or alcohol addiction.
Enablers often have a very close relationship with the individual. They are typically the addict’s parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or sibling. The following examples illustrate behaviors that may enable people to continue to abuse drugs and alcohol and avoid committing to an effective treatment program.
1. Ignoring Secretive or Irresponsible Behavior
Most people who abuse drugs do not use their substance of choice in plain sight. A friend or relative who has begun abusing alcohol or drugs may begin staying out later than usual. They may ignore social obligations or suddenly become the subject of penalties or even termination from their job or expulsion from school.
Enablers may disregard these critical symptoms because of pride or due to fear of facing the implications of having a friend or family member who abuses drugs. An enabler may make excuses or blame others for negative feedback that the individual receives from work or school. They may ignore the fact that it is unusual for the person to remain away from home until late at night or early morning.
2. Resenting the Addict
It is common for people who are close to the addict to become angry at the individual. However, even people who feel angry or resentful toward the addict may exhibit enabling behavior. Sometimes, a friend or family member may enable an individual who has an addiction while simultaneously resenting the individual because he or she continues to abuse drugs or alcohol.
This vicious cycle creates a phenomenon that is known as a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is important to note that resentment may take place quietly. Hiding and ignoring facts regarding an addict’s behavior while expecting the behavior to change is a recipe for passively encouraging continued drug use. Friends and family members should instead take action to intervene, even if they have to go to the lengths of hiring a professional interventionist to confront the addict.
3. Blaming Others for the Addict’s Behavior
Addiction to drugs and alcohol causes physical and behavioral changes. When these changes result in unmet obligations and poorly kept responsibilities, enablers sometimes blame others for the addict’s behavior.
For example, a spouse of a person whose alcohol addiction causes him or her to forget to take out the trash may lecture the couple’s child for never taking out the trash instead of addressing the fact that the addict is neglecting their regular chores. An enabler hides the addict’s behavior in an effort to avoid conflict.
Sometimes enabling behavior is fueled by the fear of damaging the relationship with the addict. Enabling may also be rooted in deeper issues. Families often work around an enabler by hiring an interventionist to work with the addict and the family members who are desperate for the addict to receive treatment.
4. Lying to Others to Cover Up the Addict’s Behavior
Oftentimes, drug and alcohol addiction will cause an addict to miss out on social occasions or even miss time from work. An enabler may cover the addict’s behavior by lying to friends and family members, coworkers, and employees to minimize their absence or failure to properly handle a responsibility.
Lying to cover up the addict’s behavior allows the enabler to feel as if he or she is able to maintain some degree of control over the situation. While the enabler may be working to prevent the addict from experiencing conflict, the addict is simply thinking about the afforded opportunity to continue to use their substance of choice. When people who are addicted to a substance seek treatment, they must eventually make firm decisions regarding their relationship with enablers.
5. Difficulty Expressing Emotions
When an enabler fully understands that their loved one has an addiction but then continues to make excuses to cover the behavior, the underlying cause of the enabling behavior is often the inability to properly express an emotion of some type. In these instances, fear is typically the governing emotion.
In the mind of the enabler, confronting the addict may jeopardize the relationship or expose the addict to consequences that the enabler may consider unsafe. Sometimes enabling behavior requires professional counseling to address the issue separately. In the event that an addict relapses, enablers should have a thorough understanding of why they must avoid enabling behavior to increase the addict’s likelihood of remaining clean and sober.
6. Allowing Fear to Dictate Behavior
Enablers typically stand in between the addict and rehabilitation. The reason enablers may knowingly or unknowingly serve as an obstacle to their loved one receiving effective treatment is the fear of losing them to conflict or, in some cases, even fear of losing them to the rehab itself. Sometimes, enablers exhibit behaviors that may not be healthy for the addict once he or she is in recovery, and the enabler may be afraid that the individual’s treatment program will call for him or her to avoid people who behave in a manner that may trigger the urge to use drugs or alcohol.
7. Prioritizing the Addict’s Needs
A person who enables a friend or family member’s drug addiction may prioritize the addict’s needs over their own. A family member whose rent is due may give an addict a few hundred dollars knowing that they are unlikely to return the money due to their addiction. It is never too late for enablers to reprioritize themselves and to break the cycle of putting the addict’s requests first and then feeling resentment after they continue to use drugs.
How to Stop Enabling an Addict
For people who have developed a pattern of enabling, the prospect of doing the opposite may seem frightening. Nevertheless, if you are an enabler, changing your behavioral pattern will force the addict to reveal their true intention to take advantage of your kindness and continue to use drugs. The following suggestions can help enablers correct behaviors that may otherwise be an obstacle getting in the way of the addict receiving treatment.
1. Acknowledge Secretive or Irresponsible Behavior
If you notice a change in your family member’s behavior, speak to other family members about the changes you observe. Discussing the behavior with others will allow you to compare notes to better ascertain whether there is cause for concern. Bringing the subject up will also allow others to hold you accountable if you feel tempted to lie or cover up the addict’s behavior in the future.
2. Try Not to Harbor Resentment
Resenting the addict will only make matters worse, especially if you are simultaneously enabling him or her. It may help to remember that the addict is not in their correct frame of mind currently because drugs are controlling their behavior.
3. Allow the Addict to Be Held Accountable
Instead of covering for the addict’s behavior, allow him or her to be held accountable. For example, if the individual is frequently late to work or misses family obligations, allow the workplace or family member to confront the addict and require them to answer directly for the behavior. Doing so will give the addict a chance to see how their addiction is impacting others and placing their relationships and livelihood in jeopardy. This realization will bring the addict closer to accepting that they need treatment.
4. Stop Lying
Oftentimes, the people who are closest to the addict may want to create the impression that everything is “fine.” While misrepresenting the nature of the addict’s problem may seem like a small lie, this act of protecting the family’s dirty laundry only makes it easier for the addict to avoid facing the consequences of their behavior. It also makes it easier for them to refuse to seek treatment.
5. Communicate Emotions More Openly
It is completely normal to be concerned that directly confronting an addict may strain the relationship or even cause the individual to leave home. If you struggle to express your feelings and concerns, contact an interventionist. You may otherwise mask those feelings, and they will resurface as resentment. You may not even be aware that you are exhibiting resentment toward the addict. However, if the addict perceives resentment, the relationship is still very likely to become strained.
6. Address Your Underlying Fears
Because enabling behavior is primarily driven by fear, you can modify your behavior by confronting fear head-on. You may be able to do this on your own by making a list of your concerns and rationally thinking through each of them until they seem less frightening. If listing your fears is not helpful, you should seek the support of a counselor. To help you control your fear during your interactions with the addict, consult an interventionist who can help you communicate your concerns more effectively without dissuading the addict from seeking treatment.
7. Prioritize Your Own Needs First
Lending money and jeopardizing your livelihood and relationships in other ways to support the addict will make matters worse for everyone involved. Because an addict’s behavior is fueled by their substance of choice, they will not appreciate the money you lend, the housing arrangement you offer, or any other forms of assistance.
Friends and family often offer assistance with the intent that the addict will be “appreciative” and stop abusing drugs and alcohol as a result. That is typically not how those situations work out. Additionally, helping an addict in a way that puts their needs before yours will only build resentment and add fuel to the vicious cycle that keeps them away from a rehab facility.
Encourage the Addict to Seek Treatment Away From Outside Influences
For people who have an addiction to drugs or alcohol, a residential rehab facility can be a great option because these types of rehabs separate the addict from outside influences. Residential programs also allow counselors and medical staff to implement a structured routine while supervising the addict. Moreover, the inpatient nature of the program acts as a barrier between the addict and their loved ones’ enabling behavior that may otherwise deter them from remaining committed to a clean and sober life.
Green Mountain Treatment Center
Situated between New Hampshire’s White Mountains and the Lakes Region, Green Mountain Treatment Center offers your loved one a tranquil escape from the day-to-day stressors of life with an addiction. Clients take in the fresh mountain air and fragrant fruit orchards as they work with clinicians to navigate their individualized road to recovery.
Clients who are entering recovery may undergo detox at the on-site detox center prior to beginning their treatment program in the same calm setting. The curriculum at Green Mountain is based on a traditional 12-Step program model. However, counselors incorporate a variety of therapies based on each client’s unique set of needs. Gym work, meditation, yoga, and experiential adventure therapy are just a few unique practices clients may choose to participate in.
NFA Behavioral Health
NFA Behavioral Health, another of our rehab facilities, offers its residential location in the New Hampshire countryside, set upon 17 private wooded acres. The facility offers a low client-to-staff and client-to-clinician ratio as the program accommodates up to 20 clients at a time.
Program participants receive a variety of therapies, including individual therapy, process groups, motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectic behavior therapy, grief and loss therapy, and treatment for co-occurring mental health conditions. Holistic therapies such as meditation, yoga, and exercise are also available to clients. New Freedom even offers a weekly Family Recovery Workshop and educational programming. Clients also enjoy paintball and mini-golf outings.
Navigating a relationship with a friend or family member who is addicted to drugs or alcohol can be a challenge for anyone. If you struggle with modifying your own behavior and communicating effectively with the addict, call a professional interventionist to support you in beginning a conversation that can positively change the lives of everyone involved.