If you have a loved one who is addicted to drugs or alcohol or who suffers from an eating disorder, it is easy to engage in enabling behavior without even realizing you are doing it. This happens more often, especially with drugs and alcohol, than people realize. Many people are often horrified to hear that they are actually helping their loved one’s problem be worse. It doesn’t make you a bad person, it is simply important to have awareness and to know what enabling means and how to put an end to it.
Signs of Enabling Behavior
First and foremost, don’t ever allow anyone to blame their addiction on you. While sure, certain situations and relationships can contribute to an addiction, at the end of the day the addict is responsible for ingesting their substance of choice. Therefore, even if you are inadvertently enabling them, their addiction is NOT your fault.
Here are some common ways that you might find you are inadvertently enabling your loved one:
The biggest enabling behavior is drinking, using drugs or participating in disordered eating with the person who needs help. If you are constantly bringing the substance around, you can never expect them to actually get away from it and get the help they need. Addicts need complete abstinence from their substance of choice so that it isn’t right in front of them, tempting them every step of the way.
Giving your loved one money. It is an unfortunate fact that addicts lie and steal from their loved ones. So, if your son – for example – is constantly asking for gas money, barely uses the car, and keeps coming home high, you are enabling him by giving him money to go get more drugs. The same goes for a spouse who can never pay their portion of the bills, or a sister who can’t make rent. If you pay for them, they will continue to have a means to get more drugs or alcohol.
Making excuses for and covering up for your loved one’s behavior. You may find that you are embarrassed or don’t know how to explain many of their behaviors, like if they leave a party early, or forget things easily, or refuse to eat certain meals. Making excuses for them means that you act as a buffer so that they don’t have to own up to their behavior. In the end, it doesn’t help anyone.
Placing blame on others. As we said in the beginning of this post, the addiction is the fault of the person who is addicted, no one else. If you are blaming their friends, or circumstances, you are avoiding looking at the real truth which is that the addict is to blame.
Taking on their responsibility. Enabling behavior includes things like picking up the addict’s kids at school when they forgot to do so themselves, or doing their work for them, or paying bills for them. Each time this happen the addict gets further validation that they are doing fine and can get away with their actions. The more they think that, the more they will try to get away with.
Once you have recognized that you are in fact enabling a loved one, it is time to make some changes. You can’t worry about the past, because there is nothing you can do to fix it. It is essential to look at the future and make sure that your enabling behaviors don’t happen again. Make sure that you are living your own, independent life that is not always focused around their addiction. Practice tough love, so that you aren’t constantly cleaning up their messes and making excuses for them. When they have to face up to their own actions, they will be a lot more quick to realize they need help.